Last December, I vividly remember walking into the SWR office (unit 430C in the Tannery building at the time) the morning after some sneaky ‘elves’ had decorated for the holidays. I remember I was getting in early on a Monday morning, in a now-familiar effort to get ahead of the week. I remember it was an anxious time: we were losing a few key team members, about to seek Board approval on a deficit budget, and hoping to secure several high profile new Regional Carbon Initiative (RCI) members before year’s end. But when I walked into the office that Monday morning – surveying the snowflakes drawn on whiteboards, holly strewn about, and chocolate eggs hidden in every corner of our small space – I was filled with a sense that it would all be OK. Because despite the challenges, the worries, and the weight of it all, we have people that deeply care about the place they invest their time.

That “culture eats strategy for breakfast” is one of those over-used axioms that I quickly grow tired of. Stories of dynamic organizational cultures like Zappos are prevalent. But the message I do agree with – the reality is that the culture of the place I work at every day has an immeasurable impact on not only the extent I want to show up at that place, but also how impactful my time there is. And while any organization’s culture is incredibly complex, I can say that at SWR we’ve been very intentional about building ours since before the days we even had an office to call our own. Ever since our first meetings on the Laurier campus in 2008, we knew we weren’t all just accomplishing a series of tasks in a particular order. We were creating a community together, and that community was one where brilliant, passionate people thrived.

Of course as founder and ED, I know I have an important role in setting our team’s culture – one way I do this is in sharing the stories that epitomize aspects of it. For example, last year I must have told a dozen people the story of walking into the office surrounded by holiday cheer, and how it was done without any formal planning, funding, or designated responsibility.

A few weeks ago, then shouldn’t have been any surprise really. I was at the office hastily transcribing a flash of inspiration related to our strategic plan (more on this in another post). And in walks a member of our staff team, alongside a volunteer from the PR team and one of our superstar coops this term – excitedly armed with decorations, sangria, and plans to order pizza. Only one of these three had even been on the team this time last year.

So while I wasn’t able to join in the sangria, pizza and decorating, I left the office smiling. Biking down Charles St, I waved to another volunteer, no doubt on his way to join in the festivities. And as I smiled to myself, rejuvenated again for what my calendar tells me will be another busy week, I thought to myself – I’m so glad we’re still the kind of team that doesn’t need a GANTT chart to put up holiday decorations. And so thankful for the people here that keep it that way. Hopefully, by sharing this kind of anecdote on the SWR blog, those that influence our culture are further bolstered in their ongoing, often undocumented efforts to ensure all SWR team members continue to thrive in this community we’ve created together.

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