The MacDonnell Regional Council comprises an area the size of Victoria. It has a fraction of the population, services and infrastructure but a multitude of complex challenges; navigating fundamentally different cultural contexts is but one of the challenges they face. Delivering calibrated community services to spatially disparate First National communities alongside ‘town’ is an ongoing challenge.


The MacDonnell Regional Council’s community services team invited Polykala to run a series of workshops focussing on Adaptive Leadership and workplace culture. The engagement involved delivering three two-day workshops to the Community Services, Youth Services and Bush Safety teams.

The Community Services and Youth Services teams consisted mostly of Mparntwe/Alice Springs-based staff, some of whom would spend lengthy periods working out on remote communities delivering services and programs.

The Bush Safety Team was composed of residents from the remote communities within the boundaries of the MacDonnell Regional Council, including Amoonguna, Docker River, Finke, Kintore, Papunya, Mt Liebig, Hermannsburg and Titjikala. The participants came from several different language groups, some with limited English. The brief was to design distinct programs for, probably, the most differentiated client groups we’ve ever worked with.


Each morning we woke up at dawn and walked along the Todd River to work with, and learn from, the staff of the MacDonnell Regional Council – a far cry from the busy capital cities.

The Community Services and Youth Services sessions focussed on collaboration and Adaptive Leadership in shifting and, at times, emotionally challenging environments. We used the Harvard Peer Consultation process to bring together the concepts and apply them to the individual challenges of the participants. The teams were generous enough to share their challenges with candour allowing us to use the room as a case-in-point for wider challenges facing the department more broadly. It was particularly heartening to have members of senior management present and fully participating.

The Bush Safety Team session presented a challenge of translating the foundational concepts of Adaptive Leadership in a way that was useful for the work of the participants. It was a challenge for us to radically redesign the way we work in order to accommodate for the linguistic differences in the room.

Helpfully for us, during the session the participants intervened and took us to task for culturally mis-calibrated training and our over-reliance on a discursive learning mode, which is to say: we talked too much and gave too little time for silence, digestion and integration. In response, we took our principles of collaboration and workshopped them through drawing, debate and multiple layers of linguistic and cultural translations. The participants demonstrated leadership in exactly the way we were theorising, by revealing that leadership requires challenging authority and speaking truth to power to mobilise people’s capacity to make a difference. The irony was that we were the authority figures teaching leadership.

Through the experience, we learnt that there are moments where we need to reach into a wider palette of being. We had to let go of our own cultural ways of learning and engaging and create space for something different.


Our hat is off to the MacDonnell Regional Council team for delivering community services to people in an area nearly the size of Victoria. We’re honoured to have contributed to their core mission. We were given a window into the world of living and working in remote communities of the Red Centre. It’s safe to say that the work we did in Alice Springs/Mparntwe was some of the most worthwhile and challenging work we’ve done to date.

The office dynamics have completely changed and the collaboration between departments is much better after the training. We’re now undertaking further training to establish a sense of why we do what we do to further collaborate. It’s been great. Thank you.

Jessica Kragh – Manager, Youth Services, MacDonnell Regional Council


MacDonnell Regional Council



Number of participants


Number of sessions



Alice Springs (NT)