The Australian Rural Leadership Foundation grown rapidly over the past few years. Our work has supported this values-led expansion, maintaining its warmth and rapport while enhancing its capacity and reach.

Context

Over the past six years since Polykala has been involved with the foundation, CEO Matt Linnegar has overseen phenomenal growth; both in terms of the size of the team and the volume of work they are doing. For good reason, the Australian Rural Leadership Foundation (ARLF) is renowned for providing world-class leadership development opportunities to regional, rural and remote Australians. Their programs have inspired some of the most influential political and social movements in regional Australia. In particular, the Voices for Indi group and the regional independents movement.

When Polykala was invited to run a two-day staff retreat for its staff out at stunning Wee Jasper (outside of Canberra) in 2017, little did we know that it would be the beginning of a long-term partnership that continues to this day. But for now, we would be strangers working out whether our approaches to leadership and regional empowerment might align. Thankfully, from the moment we met the team, we realised we were values aligned and pedagogically perfectly matched: they valued rigour, experimentation, robust conversations with a healthy dose of irreverence. 

We were invited back in 2021 to their all staff retreat at the St. Clements Retreat in Galong (also outside of Canberra). Only this time, the staff numbers had jumped from 10 to 40! Therein lay the adaptive challenge of maintaining organisational culture amidst rapid growth.

Approach

The first retreat in 2017 focused on the core conceptual pillars of adaptive leadership. We distinguished leadership (actions that shifts the status quo) from authority (a role or position we occupy to provide order, protection and direction); we considered the technical and adaptive facets of complex challenges and the different approaches required to solving or making progress on those challenges. The sub-plot of the retreat was how we shared the adaptive leadership ideas. We used a range of experiential learning activities and reflective learning methods to derive personal and organisational insights from those experiences. Here’s where the ‘how’ of Polykala really gelled with the ARLF way; conceptually cogent while being highly engaging and accessible. 

In the second retreat in 2021, we refreshed the core ideas of adaptive leadership for the new staff members and moved onto applying them to this, much larger organisational context. The content and facilitated conversations had a particular emphasis on organisational cultural adaptation and the negotiation between what aspects of ARLF culture, values and norms they choose to keep, discard and grow. This was particularly valuable given the adaptation of the organisation. These conversations centred around whether it would be possible to maintain a sense of family despite the growth of the team and the remote work that many of the staff would be undertaking across the continent. Again, the second retreat also served as an opportunity for us to showcase our approach to leadership development and facilitation practice. We used the Deep Democracy’s moving conversation process, to elicit different perspectives and build a stronger sense of collective purpose for the organisation as it grows into its new form. We then helped the team feed that data back into their formulations helping Foundation make better decisions going forward.

Outcomes

Our partnership with ARLF over the course of several years is incredibly special to us here at Polykala. We’re happy to report that over the course of our relationship with the ARLF, Adaptive Leadership has become increasingly core to the work of the foundation and far-reaching work across Australia. 

The success of the team development sessions we ran for the ARLF was due in large part to the openness, curiosity and experimental mindset of Matt, Andrea Hogg and the amazing team. It’s a source of ongoing pride to work with the ARLF. Few organisations pay close attention to the relationships that underpin truly ‘adaptive’ work. 

“I initially chose Polykala to work with the team at the ARLF because I believed they offered a unique and engaging approach to working with groups of people. The ARLF is a learning organisation with a focus on leadership development and so inviting external groups in to work with our team in their own development can be tricky! The way in which they approached this challenge over two separate occasions was innovative, adaptive and, critically, responded to the changing context within which they found themselves. I have great respect for Polykala, their work and approach.”

Matt Linnegar – Chief Executive, Australian Rural Leadership Foundation

Imagery sourced from Australian Rural Leadership Foundation, 2023

Client

Australian Rural Leadership Foundation

Year

2017 – 2021

Number of participants

50

Number of sessions

2

Location

Wee Jasper (New South Wales), Galong (New South Wales)