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Organising a company pōwhiri or whakatau in the age of alert levels

By Kirstin Te Wao, Head of Māori Development

There’s a lot of learnings one tends to collect over ten years working in the same company, in the pursuit of normalising te reo Māori in the workplace. This is the third of a series of posts where I share learnings in celebration, commemoration and commiseration of Te Wiki o te Reo Māori – feel free to read the first and second posts here:

A five-point plan to celebrating Te Wiki o te Reo Māori
Some learned “Do”s and “Don’t”s of adopting a project of team name in te reo

Pre-Covid times, Vodafone had a strong kapa haka team in Te Hā Whero and an established process when welcoming new executive members as part of our organisational tikanga. In Covid times, we’re having to adapt to the different definitions of each evolving alert level. While we haven’t tried all of these out yet, it’s nice to have a plan to respond to each scenario.

Alert Level 4 & 3: virtual whakatau

A virtual whakatau is something I observed play out slowly across many organisations during level 4 when we were all on lockdown. Online discussions about cultural practises such as tangihanga and pōwhiri in a social media setting took place by some of Aotearoa’s great Māori minds.

In the Vodafone whare we use an online platform called Workplace to keep our people connected, and so this became the place to host any form of meeting, event, company update or in this case, an online welcome.

A virtual whakatau takes a bit of organising, and it helps to have a knowledgeable AV person on hand (shout out to Jono P in our team!). Here are some things to think about:

  • Event invitations and/or communications – do you email a link out or set up an event online?
  • Livestreaming platform – how can you ensure all those participating can be seen and heard?
  • Online waiata – can you share the lyrics to the waiata on the screen so people can join in?
  • Preparing your manuhiri (visitors) and speakers on the process, pronunciation and what is appropriate to say during the welcome.

Just like any kaupapa, putting the time and effort into the preparation will sing benefits for you when it comes time to execution.

Alert Level 2: limited numbers

Physical distancing at alert level two is still a high priority and gatherings of ten or fewer is our new reality (especially in Tāmaki Makaurau at this time!). When we welcomed a new executive to Vodafone in this alert level we considered two different options:

  • Option 1: a reduced whakatau with a maximum of 10 people in the room and livestreamed for the rest of our team over Workplace.
  • Option 2: have someone from Te Hā Whero act as the welcome crew for our new exec member.

At the start of the month, we decided to go with option 2 and one of our Pouarahi (leaders) met our team member bright and early their first start day in front of the building. They welcomed the newest member of the Vodafone whānau with a brief mihi, talked to them about the significance of the area and the cultural practises of our organisation, before taking them around the building and dropping them off to their team for the day.

The key drivers from the team’s perspective was ensuring wairua and connection could be maintained and that our manuhiri were welcomed appropriately.

Alert level 1: open event spaces

This was our tikanga (i.e. standard operating process) when alert levels weren’t a thing. To ensure sustainability of our tikanga, we developed a pōwhiri guide to make the expectations clear for our team. The guide has a 21-step process, is supported by a pōwhiri run sheet and a one-week to pōwhiri checklist. Of course, none of these steps are possible without the people to bring the tikanga to life which is a great reminder to value our people and the additional skillsets they bring to their technical role.

Learning to change and adapt to the different ways of working and living we have found ourselves in over the last year has certainly been interesting. My hope is that through sharing the processes we went through we can all learn and grow. I’d love to hear to hear about ways others have managed a pōwhiri or whakatau throughout the various Covid alert levels – please feel free to connect and share.

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