Leadership Training: Lessons from Spaghetti and Marshmallows


Written by Nozinhle

12 Apr 2022

Being a leader is about continuous improvement. In one of my previous blogs, I mentioned that one of the benefits of being an SI scholar is that there are many training opportunities. Well, over the weekend, I got the chance to join other SI scholars studying various engineering and technology Masters programmes for a self leadership training fully paid for by the Swedish Institute. In this truly enlightening experience, I got to learn a lot about how to be a better leader in my field. So, in this blog, I will share about this experience.

An idea board documenting scholars perceptions about the future
An idea board of scholars’ perspectives on the future Photo: Nozinhle

The beginning

Participation in this particular program was through a successful application. This year’s leadership training had three application pools: one for Global Health, Engineering & Technology, and Sustainability. SI scholars could apply for the programme that best fits their profile. I chose to apply for the Engineering & Technology programme.
The programme has 3 parts. The first is an introductory online session. This is followed by the physical meet-up. This year’s physical meet-up was done in Stockholm. The last part is another online session to conclude.

Day 1: Spending Time in the Future

A powerpoint presentation during the leadership training
Photo: Nozinhle

Our first session was on ‘Technology and Engineering driving Change in Business and Society’. Here we learnt a lot about the Swedish Tech environment. Particularly, we discussed this era’s disruptive technologies and their business and societal impact. From big data to robotics to cryptocurrency to Sweden’s tech unicorns; the conversations were very insightful.
Thereafter, we did an analysis of Sweden’s technological transition over the past few decades. This led to a very interactive discussion on what the future might hold, not just for Sweden but the world in general. The key takeaway from this discussion, for me, was the importance of spending time in the future. This means taking time to reflect on the emerging and disruptive technologies and the impact they will have in the future so as to proactively align myself to that imminent change.

A power point presentation during the leadership training
Photo: Nozinhle

Day 2: About the Spaghetti and Marshmallows

The main focus of the training was to help us gain more insight on self leadership. As such, the second day was dedicated to that. We had a lot of discussions and group activities focusing on collaboration, team dynamics and leadership. My favorite exercise was the Marshmallow Experiment. Here, we were put in teams of 4 and were given 18 minutes to build a free-standing structure using 20 spaghetti, 1 metre of tape, some thread, and a marshmallow to be placed on top. Sounds simple enough – until you actually do it!
All in all, this experiment taught me a lot about collaboration, team dynamics and the different pressures that can impact team performance. Having fun while learning is the best combination.

Nailing the marshmallow challenge
Nailing the Marshmallow Challenge Photo: Johanna Lundin

Day 3: Questioning Values

The final session was centered around learning more about our values and beliefs. This gave us a chance to question some of the individual biases we harbor as well as to better understand why we value the things we value. This was also an opportunity to re-think some of our beliefs, particularly in light of how they may affect our ability to work with others. Overall, the session was an insightful way of taking stock of our values and beliefs and deciding which ones might need us to re-look into so as not to compromise our ability to be good leaders.

When in Stockholm

SI scholar Nozinhle posing outside the ABBA museum
The ABBA Museum Photo: Nozinhle

Visiting a city like Stockholm is always an opportunity to be a tourist. Although we had limited time to tour the city, we still managed to get a bit of the tourist experience. This started off with feasting on some delicious Swedish cuisine at the hotel that hosted us for the duration of the stay. We also found some time to visit the famous Gamla Stan, Royal Palace, rode a ferry to Grona Lund, visited the ABBA Museum and Sergel’s Square.

A view of Sergel's Square in Stockholm at dusk
Sergel’s Square in Stockholm. Photo: Nozinhle

In conclusion

This was one of my best experiences here in Sweden. I got to meet other scholars in person and made new friends from other institutions. I also got to enjoy the beauty of Stockholm. Most importantly, I got to learn, unlearn and re-learn a lot of things about being a leader.

SI scholars posing for a photo during leadership training in Stockholm
SI Scholars during Leadership Training in Stockholm Photo: Johanna Lundin

You can read more about other SI scholars experiences in these blogs from myself, Anita, and Redwan. Till next time, hej då!!


Written by Nozinhle

12 Apr 2022