Earlier this summer, some friends of Sustainable Waterloo Region nominated us for the prestigious Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures award, presented by Waterstone Human Capital. It was a challenge for us to decide whether or not to go ahead with this application, particularly because, although we pride ourselves on our organizational culture, as a small non-profit, our culture is likely incomparable to that of past winners like WestJet. Nevertheless, following a brief chat with one of the award coordinators, we decided to go ahead and apply.

As the lead on this project, I can say that quite frankly, this application was a challenge, primarily because the questions that comprised the application were so thoughtful. Despite the challenge of answering questions like, “How is the culture of the nominated organization aligned to its vision, people, and processes, and how is it measured and sustained to support corporate performance?”, I really did enjoy completing this application because it gave me, and many members of the team, the opportunity to reflect on the unique things about Sustainable Waterloo Region that make it such a great place to work and volunteer.

I wanted to share a few of the highlights from our submission, to give you a glimpse into what it’s like to be a member of the team here at Sustainable Waterloo Region.

  • Blurred distinction between volunteers and staff – Meet the team! Can you guess who is paid staff and who is a volunteer?
  • Everyone has a stake in organizational outcomes – Our whole team makes significant contributions to the decision-making and overall direction of Sustainable Waterloo Region. The structure of our weekly breakout sessions creates an innovative, flexible and transparent culture.
  • Mutual benefit means committed volunteers – new volunteers are hired with less emphasis on their current skill level and with more emphasis on their passions, willingness to learn and how this position will mutually benefit both the volunteer and Sustainable Waterloo Region. As such, each volunteer will have something meaningful to gain from their contributions to Sustainable Waterloo Region.
  • Vacation Policy – MINIMUM of two weeks, with no maximum. An effective team needs charged batteries and a healthy work/life balance. (Just ask our Executive Director!)
  • High 5s go a long way in terms of recognition
  • Socials and team building exercises can be as simple as skating in Waterloo Town Square, hanging out on a local patio after weekly team meetings, or a murder mystery potluck dinner

Nearing my second year as a volunteer with Sustainable Waterloo Region, I’ve seen the striking and exponential growth and evolution of our team. Now, with nearly 40 volunteers, 5 full-time staff, and 2-3 co-ops, one can expect that it would be hard to sustain a cohesive culture and team dynamic, especially with nearly 80% of the team doing work outside of the office. However, when we all come together on Tuesday evenings the team mentality is electric.

It has been argued that a strong organizational culture will translate into strong corporate performance. I truly believe that the growth in scope and impact of Sustainable Waterloo Region and the Regional Carbon Initiative is strongly correlated to the ability of Sustainable Waterloo Region to attract and retain passionate and talented people to our team. And, as you can see, with a focus on relationship-building and the human element, it’s possible to generate a strong culture even on a limited budget.

Interested in learning more about our organizational culture? Check out our volunteer philosophy.

What are some of your organization’s creative approaches to organizational culture?-Jenn

1 thoughts on “Organizational Culture – on a Budget!

  1. Jackie Lauer says:

    As a new volunteer with Sustainable Waterloo Region and a paid consultant that specializes in Leadership, Corporate Culture and Change (with various sized organizations) I can honestly say that since working with your amazing team I have often used you guys as a benchmark for some of my clients. Culture really does eat strategy for breakfast and when you have the culture right, your strategies are aligned with your vision and the hearts and minds of your people. Well done and thank you for sharing your application process!

Comments are closed.