At a time when some Batswana (including an ex-president) are complaining about the imperfections of the kgotla system, a European company based in Amsterdam is rolling in millions of dollars, courtesy of a business development model based precisely on how that same system works.
To be clear, there is no information on how much money Kgotla Company is making but when you have clients like the Netherlands Red Cross, De Beers mines in South Africa, Debswana mines in Botswana, KLM – a major Dutch airline, and the Netherlands government, you will most definitely be making a bundle.
The case of a Dutch blogger named Charly van Goch shows how popular the kgotla system has become in Netherlands. Goch is part of a project to create a Facebook page ‘Kgotla Inspiration Tour.’ Earlier this year, he embarked on one such tour that took him to Germany and Belgium to “personally share Kgotla principles.” His team also plans to start a publication called KIN, ‘Kgotla Inspiration News.’
In the same way that Gary Gagliardi adapted battle strategies outlined in Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” to corporate management, the Dutch company adapted operational systems and processes of the kgotla to the work environment. The company proudly touts its ability to “facilitate complex decision-making and transformation processes for corporations, countries, and communities.”
Quite fittingly, a local theatre company called Millennium Production House has managed to bag some of the windfall that has blown Kgotla Company’s way. Millennium’s chief executive officer, Sam Setumo, says that his company has collaborated with Kgotla on theatrical productions about how the kgotla system can be applied to the workplace. He gives an example of dramatising the mediation process in a make-believe kgotla set-up to show how workplace conflict can be resolved. Millennium puts up authentic shows because being Batswana, the actors fully understand how the kgotla process works. It has staged performances both in South Africa and Botswana as part of Kgotla Company’s consultancy process. Locally, the performances were at Debswana mines in Jwaneng and Orapa. Setumo says that they collaborate with local musicians like Ntirelang Berman and KayZee to imbue their performances with the richness of Setswana culture.
On its website, the Kgotla Company notes how stories may contain a message or a wise lesson about how difficulties can be overcome, a threat deflected as well as how stories can be used to illustrate a vision, a moral principle or a code of conduct. It also holds kgotla meetings in Botswana’s Kalahari desert, with the belief that “in such a beautiful and impressive setting, getting to the essence of your issues and developing a vision takes perceptibly less effort; it seems almost to come by itself.”
Save for who would be attending, the Dutch kgotla resembles the Setswana kgotla in every respect.
“In a traditional kgotla meeting, tables are not allowed and all people bring their own chair, so everyone sits in their own space. Of course in many western situations, bringing your own chair causes logistic problems, so we provide them. But we avoid tables at all times. Ample space is necessary to interact with respect for each other’s opinions. The chief sits alone, while all the other attendees sit in a one-third circle around him or her. In this way the CEO is exposed and takes a natural vulnerable position,” says Kgotla Company’s website.
Nine habits of kgotla leadership are identified as: taking a vulnerable position, trusting your environment, listening to people’s perceptions, sharing the truth, thinking positive, giving meaning to your company’s products and services, thinking about your identity and enhancing the identity of the community and facilitating the community with a healthy work-environment and focus on authentic action.
Founded by Martjin de Liefde in 2003, the Kgotla Company was inspired by a book written by Willem de Liefde. It is unclear whether the two men are related. The latter developed a nine-step approach he named the Universal Life Cycle that he outlined in his book, “Lekgotla: The Art of Leadership Through Dialogue.” The Kgotla Company subsequently developed a codified process guide for organisational transformation from the Cycle. The Company works closely with German artist and philosopher, Klaus Elle, and has an extensive network of guest speakers (over 40) in South Africa, Botswana and Europe.
Traditionally, this system has always come out of presidential prose smelling of roses but what came out President Sir Ketumile Masire’s mouth last month about it would make some want to hold their noses. Speaking at a panel discussion of his Masire Foundation, the former president suggested that the reliability standard of the kgotla as a consultation forum was very low.
“Kgotla meetings are not ideal. We know that at a kgotla, mmua lebe o bua la gagwe [all viewpoints are welcome] but a kgosi would want somebody who would speak in support of him,” Masire is quoted as saying in a local newspaper.