November 2014

November 12th, 2014 by Robbie Swales

4.00am on Saturday November 1st finds me landing at Hyderabad Airport after a nine hour flight from London. As I land I make the mental note that this is my 20th visit to India (me? Obsessed with numbers?). We launched Steps in India in March 2010 and I have been mentoring our Head of Steps India, Mohan Madgulkar, since that time. A hotel car is waiting for me at the airport and I get to bed at 6.30am.

Mohan has been in Hyderabad for two days delivering training on the Thursday and Friday. We meet for a long two hour lunch in our hotel, when I finally get up at 2.00pm. We haven’t been physically in the same place since June, when Mohan attended the Steps Annual Business Planning event, when we assembled the entire company in a hotel in Kent for two days. We have, however, had countless phone calls, Skype’s and emails since June!

Steps India is growing, and I have come to India to spend a couple of weeks to talk to and meet clients, audition for new actors and train our existing acting team in enhanced facilitation skills.

Sunday finds Mohan and me writing a scenario which will take place between Mohan and me the next day. Steps are delivering an Unconscious Bias programme at an IT company. We have delivered the programme before. When Mohan told the client that a director was over from London, our client thought it would be fun for me to make a ‘guest’ appearance in the programme. We write a scene between a Brit and an Indian which we tack on the front of our existing opening scene. Later on that day Shruti Sridharan our Senior Associate in Mumbai flies in, soon followed by B.V.Bharath, our Senior Associate from Bangalore. They are both going to deliver the programme with Mohan (with a little bit of help from me!)

The Unconscious Bias programme is very well received on the Monday at the IT Company. Delegates find the scenes relevant, engaging and funny. And full of learning. We are in a multi-story modern office block and there is an amusing diversion at one point when a window-cleaner descends in front of the window, swinging in his cradle he makes a big noise as he sticks his large sucker to the outside of the window to anchor himself. He then proceeds to enthusiastically wash the window.

While we are in Hyderabad, Shruti and I hold auditions. We have built up teams of actors in Delhi, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata and Bangalore. We are now getting more work in Hyderabad, so we need to recruit local talent, rather than having to always fly actors in from other cities. Shruti managed to identify five actors who were happy to come along for an audition workshop. Shruti and I show the candidates how an interactive scenario works and then we give them some pre-written scenarios and ask them to prepare and then act them out. We have a fun two-and-a-half-hours session. Shruti and I think that three of the five have the talent that we are looking for. As so often in India, there are UK connections: one of the selected actor’s studied drama at the University of Kent at Canterbury for four years.

Mohan and I fly from Hyderabad to Pune, which is where Mohan lives and the Steps office is located. One of the really exciting developments for us is that work which Mohan has won in India is now generating work outside India. Mohan and I go for a meeting to an American Bank with a back-office function in Pune, where Steps has been successfully delivering a Diversity and Inclusion Programme. The Head of Diversity asks us if we could deliver workshops in New York, London and Hong Kong. At moments like this I get ‘flashbacks’ to our one small room, first office in Borough High Street in 1994. Did I ever imagine then that I would be having a meeting in Pune, twenty years in the future, discussing the brilliant work that our India team was delivering and being asked if we could roll the programme out globally? Well, to be absolutely honest – no! Because I was probably struggling with the very first desktop PC that we had just acquired, and which I couldn’t work out how to turn on!

The weekend of Nov 8th & 9th was a particularly high moment. We flew our core team of actors from Delhi, Kolkata, Bangalore and Mumbai into Pune to run a weekend master class in the skills required for drama based training. It was very good fun.

Shruti started the session off with some Augusto Boal Theatre of the Oppressed Games. The actors threw themselves into the exercise with enormous energy. I lead on a one-to-one skills practice session, assisted by Shruti. The final exercise was a three hour long simulation: we divided the actors into three groups. Each group interviewed a client (Mohan, Shruti and I role played clients) wrote a scenario and delivered it! I had to be a client who wanted a Values programme. I invented a mobile phone company, ‘Talk-To-All’ whose values were: RICH. Respect, Inclusion, Co-operation and Honesty. I was rather proud of myself - and my team, who were absolutely brilliant!


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