Culture first, collaboration then just happens

The last two foundation years of building Intrepid Landcare has been a bit of a blur. It only feels like yesterday when I met Megan for the second or third time in a Sydney cafe in Chatswood only moments before meeting Landcare Australia to pitch our idea of a national movement that connects, inspires and empowers young people to act and lead with Landcare. Back then it was just the two of us, and our parents and friends who were probably like, yes, this is another great idea, “go for it and best of luck!”

I knew it was a great idea, and so did Megan.

From that initial meeting with Landcare Australia it took us about 3 months to figure out if we should be our own identity or be part of another identity. Having hindsight from many failures before with trying to setup young people movements I knew that we had to be our own identity. An identity for young people, created by young people so that it can become their identity. A movement becomes a movement when people embody the core of who you are, and part of this is your organisational identity.

So, how have we created an identity for Intrepid Landcare?

We soon pooled together a brilliant tribe filled with passions and skills that were similar yet different to our own passions and skills. We knew we needed what we didn’t have, along with having what we had lots of, that being energy! We pieced together a constitution, governance structure and without any face to face meetings we soon became an identity over Facebook chat, phone meetings and Google Hangout. We then raised enough cash through our initial crowdfunding campaign, which we are always grateful for the donors who initially backed us, to fund flights and food to pay for our first Board Retreat, our first face to face meeting. Thanks again!

It was as if we already knew each other but didn’t. We met in Berry NSW, and stayed in this beautiful log cabin filled with love and international treasures, the home of Bill and Leslie Pigott, who are worldly legends on all things Landcare and leadership. The Pigott’s opened their home to us for a weekend, and also baked muffins and refilled (and still do) our hearts with worldly insights into Landcare and leadership.

We had a packed agenda for this first face to face meeting (which we now call Board Retreats), yet somehow had lots of time for laughing, sharing stories and enjoying nature (which is of no surprise when you are around Megan!). First off the agenda was how we expected each other to communicate, recognising that we all are different, have different needs and work and live different lives and in different parts of the country. We started with this because we knew we wanted to create the right culture.

We are ever so grateful for this initial work we worked hard to get right, and still do! We continually put ourselves on the line to share our deepest flaws and greatest assets. We discuss what we like and don’t like to do, and work out how to share the load and keep us moving forward. We clearly know what we don’t want what people think comes inherently with organisations – gossip, hierarchical structure, power and generational indifference with gender, age, ethnicity and disabilities, among much more. None of us either have time or want to tread water through murky waters. Our cause doesn’t deserve the impurities of human beings’ inequalities, it deserves equality.

It has been two years and if we wrote a plan – which we kind of did – it wouldn’t have been filled with the characters we have met and the conversations we have had. Although while I think it is important to have a plan, it is not essential to be first off the rank with designing and defining organisations, rather, you need the right culture to be the heart of what is and has to come. This is my biggest lesson thus far, and it is the why of what Intrepid Landcare is and is becoming.

Culture is the beating heart of any organisation. We can talk about intellectual and emotional intelligence all you like, or the super-drivers of organisations. I think the most important part is getting over yourself and having the listening of others and granting yourself the listening of others that speaks what you or your organisation wants – collaboration and all that super-driver talk. What other organisations do not do enough of is working hard on the essentials, and that is figuring out what organisational identity do we want to create and need to have to be and do what those strategic and business plans suggest we need to achieve.

Once you have the right culture sorted (which is always in a state of flux, meaning that this part needs consistent work, and needs to be the heart of every conversation) in a blink of an eye your movement will have its own wings. The next challenge is not letting others’ impurities diminish your identity – it is best to leave gossip, hierarchical structure, power and generational indifference with gender, age, ethnicity and disabilities, among much more at the door 🙂

Honesty and humility – Part 1

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Taking in the sunrise show across the south coast

Last Sunday and well before dawn my friends and I woke up energised and some not so energised for a sunrise hike to take in the view of Drawing Room Rocks in the Barren Grounds Nature Reserve on the south coast of New South Wales, not far from Berry. As we arrived at the beginning of the hike the black sheets of darkness around us blinded any beauty that was yet to be explored and experienced. With the starry-sky slowing turning from black to blue-black but before fluorescent orange, yellow, pink and purple, we started to ascend.

There were five lights ahead of me, one behind, and mine gave me enough light to make my way up the mountain through the forest and heathland then onto the plateau. Weaving through weathered-stunted tea-trees and leaping from one rock to one boulder, the weathering Hawkesbury Sandstone also illuminated my path with speckles of glitter. My imagination romanticised with the idea of following the bioluminescence of a mystical creature as I climbed the foreign mountain.

The morning choir of birds was yet to begin so besides the sounds of the wind, deep breathing, some panting and stomping, there was silence. We were focused on reaching the plateau before the blood orange sun broke over the horizon, across the Pacific in the near distance. With only a warm breeze to cool the body, sweat poured from my glands, so when I could I gracefully wiped my forehead free from my salt-infused perspiration. Not knowing how far or hard the hike was yet to be I paced myself, and reminded myself, there was no need to rush.

There was no need to rush. I reached the lookout before the sun-broke the new day. I found some carved rocks among a patch of healthy-green lomandras to soften a bed as I nestled into the bowls of the unique-looking volcanic rocks. I was surrounded by my friends as each of them also chose a space to rest and reflect while taking in the sunrise show.

As the sun rose the colour of the sky highlighted the low-lying clouds as they transitioned from fluoro orange to yellow and pink over what seemed to be a lifetime. Conversation soon turned from what cloud would you be, to favourite colours, and other favourite things. Then the conversation got more meaningful as we shared our favourite goals for 2017, and opened ourselves to embrace honesty and humility to show our real cards on self-awareness and development.

The practice of honesty with others and myself around my responsibilities is my favourite self-awareness and development goal for 2017. I think I am an honest person, however, I do know I do withhold information which I should be more generous with. What I do know is that I will struggle with practicing honesty, thus, I need to practice humility as well; rather than being honest for the sake of being honest (which I know and have been told can be disruptive and aggressive).  What I do know is that I have the best friends around me , which some of them were around me, and they will help me negotiate honesty and humility throughout this year.

Why is honesty and humility a hand-in-hand value? I will explore this next time!


This tangent is part of a reflexive journal for my Phd (these are my opinions and ideas about institutional leadership and change). This tangent is a reflection from an experience during an Intrepid Landcare Board Retreat 2017 (a pretty sweet meeting spot!). Enjoy, and credit where appropriate.

 

The perfect organisational relationship

 

Either a tiny room or oversized flag?!

Either a tiny room or  an oversized, gigantic flag?!  

Since I first saw this photo on Sunday I haven’t been able to stop laughing. The room is either really small or we underestimated what 4 meters looks like in reality. Talk about an impact statement, hello, we are here, you’ll easily find us, we are the organisation with the gigantic flag!

Never heard of Intrepid Landcare? Well, you are bound to see us.

Oversized postcards / Megan has really small hands?

Oversized postcards / Megan has really small hands?

Pedal backwards to September, Megan Rowlatt (the other co-founder of Intrepid Landcare) sent me the other photo (to the left) when she picked up our postcard inspired flyers. Yet, again, what are postcards. Pfft. We don’t do mail, we are Gen-Y. But seriously though I definitely designed A6 cards and somehow they came out as A4.

What I am gathering to understand everyday with Intrepid Landcare is that we are definitely learning the ropes of un-schooling for social impact and design for change.  I pretty much race home (well, we are all flat out with work, study and other life commitments so I can speak for myself and say I  intentionally and presently race from place to place, task to task), to  get onto Google Hangout to discuss how we can test the waters and challenge our own institutionalised conditioning to come up with other ways of doing community engagement, youth leadership and Landcare. After all this is how and why we were founded as this is our trademark, to be innovative, bespoke and adventurous to inspire young people to act and lead with Landcare.

In all honesty we do have this change making stuff sorted. Our board, volunteers, advisors, mentors and supporters are a big deal (big deal almost / has made it into our membership structure, this will democratically go to a vote of course). We have an empowered, high performance team, with different skills, ideas and culture, though, grounded and connected with similar morals, ethics, values and beliefs. Setting up a national organisation for social impact in the Landcare space could have been hard work, challenging and emotionally draining. However, it’s been like a perfect marriage, maybe it is (I have nothing to compare at this stage).  I’ll go with the perfect organisational relationship.

Why? It’s been nothing short of incredible! We past our one-year anniversary and I actually can’t remember if we did anything, which goes to show the type of relationship I have with Intrepid Landcare (in a good way, time flies when you are having fun). It’s been a labour of love that so far hasn’t tied knots in our stomach, stabs us in the back or broken are hearts. As I said, the perfect relationship, maybe my perfect relationship or maybe a good excuse to be single as I am too pre-occupied to be bothered to have knots in my stomach, a stabbed back or a broken heart.

So, how have we achieved this?

Because we are serious about making an impact we started our organisation with discovering ourselves. This started with us and then internally as an organisation. What impact did we want to create for ourselves, each other and Intrepid Landcare, and who was going to be responsible for what, and what could we expect from each other?  How did we want to work and what is the best way to communicate with each other. For instance, there are a few of us that love tables, for others it’s about spreadsheets, some it’s all about verbal communication and then we have purposely made sure we have two Board members  living in the same city / close by to catch up face to face and share those random ideas when passing. This approach helps us to learn how to be effective communicators with all people and overcomes isolation when setting up a national organisation.

To start Intrepid Landcare from this conservation and lens has  given us the space to form deep connections despite being spread across the country. It has also even us the permission to be honest, straight and frank with each other. Criticism is seen as a contribution in our circle for change and if you can reach this in your organisation from the beginning impact will happen. Trust me… a 4 meter flag for impact, easy done! It will also make you more attractive to potential partnerships as people will want to work with you. They will want what you have, buzz, energy, ideas…

This is how and why I can sit back and laugh until I cry over the gigantic flag and postcards. Was it a stuff up, a lesson to be learnt or an intentional accident that still happens to align with what we stand for? A big impact.

I’ll accept all contributions.