Back to Blog

Facing Challenges Head On

If you spend any time walking around the offices at Team Rubicon, or out on an operation in the field, chances are you’ll hear someone say the phrase, “Step into the Arena.” Stepping into the arena is a cultural value that TR Greyshirts have held dear since the beginning. The phrase is a nod to Teddy Roosevelt’s famous quote about “The Man in the Arena,” which celebrates the doers, not the critics.

Team Rubicon is an organization with such a bias toward action. We search for problems – both internally and externally – and work tirelessly to find solutions. We entered 2018 riding an explosion of growth that resulted from Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria. Those three events stressed the organization’s seams, and that stress revealed both an incredible resilience in our people, culture, and mission, but also gaps in our systems, policies, and process.

 

 

The result was a commitment to learning, adapting, and growing in 2018. We knew we had to ‘fix’ a few critical things, among them:

  • Launching new capabilities and unique service deliveries to ensure we’re helping the people that need it most
  • The technology tools that we use to organize, train, and track our Greyshirts (volunteers)
  • The manner in which we mobilized and deployed large groups of Greyshirts
  • Staffing capacity at the territory & regional level
  • Perhaps most importantly, imbuing our culture and operational principles into 75,000 Greyshirts (at the beginning of the year)

One of the things I tell new leaders as they come on board is that “there are no sacred cows” at Team Rubicon. My intent with that phrase is to encourage people to challenge the way things have always been done. To relentlessly pursue a better way of doing things. In other words, to not be afraid to make changes.

Any type of change in an organization can be challenging. Humans inherently dislike change. There are many reasons, but high among them is that it injects uncertainty about their future (the current way might suck, but at least I know how much it sucks…the future way might be worse!) and may feel like a reduction in their personal control.

I believe Team Rubicon does a few things well to spark enthusiasm for change. First, we are a mission and purpose-driven organization. People are not here simply to pay the rent – most of them could make more money elsewhere. People work at TR to make a difference in the world. Aligning each and every role towards accomplishing our mission helps teammates understand how they’re impacting something bigger than themselves. The result is a workforce much more willing to wade into the ambiguity of change if they can be convinced it’s for the greater good.

 

 

Alignment to mission is only one factor. The second thing we do well is maintaining an organizational culture that, among many things, reinforces an embrace of change. Revisiting our “Step Into the Arena” value, each quarter we celebrate an internal change agent with the Teddy Award. It’s given to the person that best embodied our dare-to-be-great mindset, most usually for leading radical change. We also emphasize Trust and Respect (T&R) in all our engagements. Trust and respect go beyond our interpersonal interactions in the workplace. It also means trusting the organization’s motive and intent as change unfolds and respecting the pursuit of greatness. Finally, the culture is one of mutual support. We’ve built a TRibe mentality that helps foster a sense of safety for our staff.  It’s a safety that helps people feel secure and confident in the face of the uncertainty and loss of control that comes with change.

We close out 2018 having made great progress in the critical areas outlined above. But, as you’d expect after reading this article, we aren’t satisfied with where we’re at. That means we’re sprinting into 2019 looking at all the areas of our organization and broader industry we can disrupt and improve. Buckle up.

Jake Wood is cofounder and CEO of Team Rubicon, a veteran-led disaster response organization. Under Wood’s leadership, Team Rubicon has responded to over 275 disasters since the 2010 Haiti earthquake and grown from eight to 80,000 members. Team Rubicon has been finished in the top three of the Nonprofit Times’ “Top Nonprofit To Work For in America” lists three years in a row. Wood was the recipient of the Pat Tillman Award for Service at the 2018 ESPYS and is a leading veterans’ advocate who has briefed several sitting presidents and testified before the Senate. As a Sergeant in the United States Marine Corps, Wood deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan as a Scout Sniper and earned the Navy-Marine Commendation Medal.