Our adaptive leadership program met the aspirations of the City of Mitcham to be a leader in local governance in South Australia and beyond.

Context

Many reduce Local Government (LGAs) to the three Rs (roads, rates and rubbish), which misrepresents the array of community building services and initiatives led by communities and supported by councils. Local government does so much more. How does the local level of Australian democracy serve communities and tackle adaptive challenges? How do administrations meet their technical obligations while lifting their eyes to the horizon and respond to a changing climate, shifting demographics and rapidly evolving values in the community? For a range of reasons, good and bad, local government doesn’t get the love it deserves when it comes to ambitious leadership development. 

Thanks to the work of Joanna Giannes, Matt Pears and Matt Romaine, we found ourselves working with the City of Mitcham’s senior executive team and people managers (28+ people). The brief we were given was gutsy and generous: “help us think adaptively and model facilitative practice so we can develop fluency in working on adaptive challenges for the community at Mitcham” (Joanna Giannes). 

So, we jumped on a plane (novel in the early post-lockdown era) and headed to the Flinders University, Tonsley Campus, where we found self-driving cars, mind-boggling robotics labs and a group of exceptional local government executives who were up for a deep dive into Adaptive Leadership. 

Approach

Over the course of 4-months, we laid the groundwork for this group of ambitious public servants reorient their meetings, reconfigure their work around technical and adaptive challenges respectively and reimagine their collaboration with each other for the community. The process consisted of two, 2-day adaptive leadership intensives with the senior executive team and people managers. 

The first intensive consisted of a deep dive into the foundations of adaptive leadership. We focussed on cultural adaptation and the resistance to change through loss aversion, identifying and approaching adaptive challenges, distinguishing between leadership and authority, and the importance of rigorous interpretation of the challenges they face. 

During the second intensive, we focussed on designing and implementing interventions to make progress on adaptive challenges. For this, we used the Harvard Peer Consultation process to give participants an opportunity to seek fresh perspectives and feedback on the specific adaptive challenges they were facing. The process provided an opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities that exist across the organisation.

Outcomes

We caught up with Joanna, the brains behind the leadership development work at City of Mitcham and she had this to say about the impact of our work: 

“Overwhelmingly the feedback from the participants (all who are senior leaders) was that this was one of the best developmental experiences they’d undertaken. Since the sessions with Polykala, there has been consistent language that has been introduced into the organisation and a collective understanding of diagnosing problems (and opportunities) through multiple lenses creating stronger internal efficiencies. As an architect of leadership development programs, my personal experience in collaborating with Ananth and Polykala was an experience that was professional, insightful, thoroughly prepared and an absolute bucket load of fun!”

Joanna Giannes, Organisational Development Specialist, City of Mitcham (South Australia)

Imagery sourced from City of Mitcham, 2023

Client

City of Mitcham

Year

2022

Number of participants

45

Number of sessions

2

Location

Adelaide (SA)