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The Team Rubicon Flywheel

Matt Pelak

A career civil servant, Matt has spent over 15 years in the Army on active duty and in the National Guard, including a deployment to Iraq in 2004. Today, he is Team Rubicon's International Operations Chief, and has previously served as a contractor for the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service with multiple deployments to Iraq as well as work in Africa. In the civilian sector, Matt worked as a paramedic for over 12 years and in Poughkeepsie, NY as a firefighter/paramedic.

I’ve recently spent a lot of time thinking about the last five years of Team Rubicon and how we’ve changed, grown, and come further down the road than any of us had even imagined. From the days of having to decide which disasters to respond to and sneaking into other areas of operation because no one knew who we were, to today, where Team Rubicon is requested by state and local governments to lead the charge. It’s been a massive transition, and although most days we are strong and unified, it’s occasionally a bit like an awkward teenager trying to play basketball while going through a growth spurt.

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In 2012, Team Rubicon had just surpassed 2,000 members. Today, we’re more than 25,000 strong.

Admittedly I’ve had my own awkward teenage days at TR, days where I wasn’t sure where I fit, and days I lost my temper and sent emails I had to apologize for. Days when I thought there was nothing else I could do but quit and run for the hills, but at the end of those days, I forced myself to reflect, with the help of some trusted friends and mentors, on this incredible machine we’ve built.

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During Operation: Starting Gun, we adopted the Incident Command System structure and deployed more than 450 volunteers to Moore, Oklahoma.

That WE’VE built (the key part of that sentence being WE if you didn’t catch it). That means everyone who’s been part of TR – present, past, and those who are about to join the team. We’ve gone from a handful of staff with a massive scope of responsibility to a larger, more focused team unified by evolving standards and a common goal. Hell, every time I visit the LA office I meet someone new! But after all the places I’ve worked and/or served, there’s still no place on Earth like Team Rubicon.

Yesterday, Team RWB’s founder Mike Erwin shared a quote from Jim Collins book Good to Great in reference on the concept of the flywheel, and I immediately thought of TR. The concept of the flywheel is pretty simple – it’s is an incredibly heavy wheel that takes a huge effort to push. Keep pushing and the flywheel builds momentum. Keep pushing and eventually, it starts to help turn itself and generate its own momentum, when things really start to happen.

When Team Rubicon started, there was a small group of people pushing that flywheel, trying to get it to budge, but it was tough to get more than one or two rotations a year. Then more joined, and then still a few more, but we discovered it wasn’t about just having force pushing on the wheel in all directions, but rather a coordinated, self-supporting effort to get that wheel to spin the right direction. It took time, patience, and didn’t happen overnight, but we got there.

Team Rubicon - Op: Humble Trooper
We’re fueled by talented and motivated individuals who are setting the pace for a rapidly growing organization.

Today TR’s flywheel is turning fast, and that’s due to two things: First, the power and dedication of the TR members across the country, putting on that grey T-shirt, getting dirty, and getting shit done to help make this the best country in the world. It motivates me every day.

Second, the coordinated actions of the committed TR leadership across the country in ALL departments, supporting each other and providing the direction and guidance this machine needs to achieve its goal and run smoothly. If one part of that system breaks down, the flywheel slows and we lose momentum. Every once in a while this happens, but when it does, we put our heads together, fix the problem, and get that wheel back up to speed.

We’ve built something some said was impossible, something no one has ever tried before, and we continue to break new ground every day. I’m excited, nervous, and committed to the next 5, 10, 15 years with Team Rubicon and can’t wait to see where this momentum takes us. Let’s strap in, embrace the challenge, and show the world what happens when a group of motivated individuals share a common goal.