Two and a Half Days in Nong Khai
July 19, 2013

Nong Khai is an important town located right alongside the Mekong River in the northwestern part of Thailand, known as Isan, a mostly agricultural region. Vientiane, the capital of Laos, is right across the Freedom Bridge.

People here speak their own dialect of Thai. And, they face the many challenges of a rural life, impacted by the vagaries of nature, often resulting in various degrees of poverty.

Nong Khai - Friendship Bridge
Friendship Bridge
Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - grounds

The Good Shepherd Sisters have three facilities in the Nong Khai region and do a great deal to assist the people here. Their main center, and convent, is located in the center of town on a beautiful 5 acre plot of land. Here, in addition to the convent, is the Fatima Self Help Center where about 65 local women earn a living wage doing sewing and embroidery work on the many products sold by the Center. I stayed here with them for three days.

In addition, one of the sisters here heads up a “Sponsorship Program” whereby 555 impoverished children living with their families in the nearby villages are provided with the financial and other support necessary for them to continue their education. On my next trip (later this year) I will be traveling with Sister Sutisa to visit several villages, to meet with the committees she has established there, and to see first-hand how this program is working to the benefit of these children.

I’m very much looking forward to that opportunity.

Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - weaving

At another nearby facility they also operate a large weaving program preserving the traditional art of Isan weaving, while providing important employment for local women. Very beautiful fabric to say the least.

From this location (a 20 acre site) they also offer agricultural and related training and assistance to those living and working in the local villages. Quite the energetic, service-minded group, these Sisters.

Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - sign
On this particular visit, I was asked by two of the Sisters, Supatra and Anurak, to help them improve teamwork to address some of the issues they are experiencing in their sewing, embroidery, and weaving groups. So, they planned a group meeting for two full days — with 60 people in attendance — to experience some teamwork training and to work on some of the real-life challenges of their complex manufacturing processes.
Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - group meeting
Our meeting site was unusual — at least for me it was. No tables. No chairs. Just the hard tile floor. (I must admit that I am envious of the ability these women have to sit, and work, on the floor like this for hours on end.) Take a look! Amazingly, everyone seemed quite comfortable throughout our time together.
Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - group meeting
We worked for two days. In small groups we spent time exploring why teamwork is important. We did the “Team From Hell” exercise. We did the “Team From Heaven” exercise.
Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - group meeting
We clearly assessed where they are now. And, we also clearly said where they wanted to go as a group in terms of teamwork. (That small group of outliers in the “I Want To Be” section is an interesting Thai value-related story that I’ll not take the time to go into now.)
Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - position chart
Position Chart

Just to practice the notion of teamwork we did the “Lifeboat Exercise” to demonstrate how the team so often makes better judgements than any one individual. (Non of us is as smart as all of us.)

The following day was spent on real life issues. We looked closely at the relationships among Customers — the Sisters — the Group Leaders — the Members (team members) — and the Customers and realized that success depended on their working around this circle and doing so successfully.

Then we examined the critically important question of “What do we need to do our very best work” Many, many ideas emerged from the small group conversations. Those ideas were all brought forward, duplicates eliminated, and then arranged into nine separate categories. The group then ranked those categories to see where the immediate needs were. We selected the four highest (actually five because we had a tie for fourth) and went to work on them.

Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - priorities chart

A lot of conversation ensued about how to best address these five high-priority concerns. To continue that energy, we created a three-person team to carry on with the work in each of these five areas. Each team has a deadline (varying from three days to 30 days) to report their ideas back to the Sisters so they can take further action.

We completed the meetings with each individual making a “Personal Promise” — signed and publicly announced — about what they will do to support this effort. And then, the group photo.

Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - the group
The Group
And I even got a cool new shirt — and my picture taken with the lady that made it for me.
Good Shepherd Sisters - Nong Khai - new shirt and lady who made it
New Shirt

All-in-all a most delightful, challenging, and productive time together with these wonderful, receptive, cooperative people. (We also taught them how to dance the Hokey-Pokey, but that’s another story for another time.)

Now it is off to Bangkok to work with the Good Shepherd Group there for a day and a half. More to follow.