Every business talks about culture but far too often it is no more than a set of corporate buzzwords retrospectively pieced together in the board rooms and corner offices of senior people, so far away from the actual realities of a business that at best it’s a distinct memory of the company they once hoped to be!
Cynical? Yes. Accurate, you tell me?
When I dreamed about Oxygen Conservation, I wanted to build a business that was about impact, environment, and adventure. I wanted to build a company that borrowed from the best companies like Patagonia, Google, Apple and Tesla and apply their learning to our purpose, to Scale Conservation.
I’ve learnt first-hand, especially during my time playing competitive sport, how culture is built through shared adventures, experiences, achievements and hardships.
As I thought about the process of scaling the team alongside our mission to Scale Conservation I had a list of shared experiences I believed would create opportunity to develop an authentic culture committed to impact, environment and adventure.
And whilst we’re a completely remote team, we are hugely fortunate to have access to some of the most spectacular natural landscape the country has to offer and we are sure to make these a feature of everything we do. We’ve e-biked across the peatland of Perthshire, free-dived in Cornwall, wild swam under waterfalls in the Borders, forest bathed in the Rainforests of Dartmoor and hiked up endless hills and bagged many a munro.
I know that many senior leaders especially in traditional businesses are working hard to encourage everyone back into the office, I’d caution you to think about what this and the next generation of incredibly talented people want from work. I’ve heard from them that they want purpose, adventure, freedom and flexibility, and an opportunities to develop. We want Oxygen Conservation to be the aspirational place to work in the environment sector and beyond so we’re working to provide exactly that.
At Oxygen Conservation working remotely is a feature of what we do and not a bug, using incredible shared experiences to build and maintain our culture.
Oh and by the way we’re recruiting!
The latest in this list of incredible experiences was a day spent coasteering in the stunning Pembrokeshire National Park. This experience gave us so much more than we could ever have imagined. Here are some of the highlights.
LIVING LOCALLY – We’re hugely fortunate to have, at the time of writing, ten Estates in eight counties, three countries and each intentionally unique. Each has its own unique environment, geography, topography, ecology and culture and we take every opportunity to spend time living, working and playing within these special places. Following a fantastic local engagement event at our Esgair Arth Estate we travelled along the coast to extend our stay in this special part of Wales and make the most of the time we spend in the environment.
TIME IN THE ENVIRONMENT – The dark grey giant shards of rock that rose from the cool blue waters of the Pembrokeshire Coast created the most spectacular amphitheatre for our laughter (and the occasional scream). Our performance featured opportunities to climb over cliffs, crawl through caves, dive from rocks and swim amongst the many birds, fish and plentiful jellies that call this breath-taking place home.
Connecting with the purpose of what you do in a meaningful way is one of the most powerful ways to engage and motivate people. At Oxygen Conservation we are working hard to Scale Conservation for the benefit of people and wildlife. That commitment is attracting incredible people that want to make a positive impact and it was an absolute pleasure to see our team thrive in this environment.
SENSE OF ADVENTURE – The anticipation and excitement that comes from experiencing something new has fuelled my career from the very beginning, so much so that I wanted to make adventure a key feature of not just what we do, but how we do it. The anticipatory trek down the secluded coastal path to meet our guides, before clambering over the saw-toothed boulders to enter the water, foreshadowed the adventure ahead. One amazing highlight was swimming into complete darkness through a cave network emerging into a beautiful natural staircase of clambers, climbs and jumps with many of us facing new fears head on – literally for those inclined to perform a penguin dive.
FACING FEARS – One of the most incredible parts of our time coasteering was seeing people facing their fears; swimming through rough waters, traversing rocky outcrops and cliff faces, and jumping from heights they never thought possible. Seeing the team support each other with patience, kind words, gentle encouragement, more laughs than you can imagine, and cheers of heartfelt celebration was truly special.
SHARED ADVERSITY – The weather was cold, dark, and grey and the winds picked up as we got colder and became tireder. As the winds rose, the seas became choppier and together we had to swim hard against the tide, climb out the water and cross the barnacle line, then cling on to the razor-sharp ridges as we felt our way back along the shore. The adventure was not without adversity, and nor should it be but it is these shared experiences that are so powerful in creating a lasting culture.
DECISION MAKING – Another fantastic learning experience that presented itself in the sea off Pembrokeshire were the many opportunities to practise decision-making under pressure. So much of what we do is about this real-time decision making and risk management; oftentimes it is with limited information. I believe experience is so important in effectively managing yourself and the situation in high-pressure scenarios and coasteering provided constant exposure to that opportunity.
Deciding where to put your hands, feet, elbows, and knees; considering when to jump, and from where – all whilst in an increasing state of cold and tiredness was incredible training. It was also so wonderful to see everyone looking out for each other, offering a hand or support, physically and emotionally whenever it was needed. That’s how a team comes today, as a leader you can’t make it happen, but you can try and create opportunities for it to occur and be patient enough to not insert yourself into that process unnecessarily.
FUN – I don’t believe in work-life balance, it presupposes a battle. Instead, we’re trying to create an industry, business, and team that offers everyone the opportunity to live an incredible life and one where work only makes it better. Coasteering was such a wonderful way of showing that fun can be the best conductor of cultural reinforcement, relationship building, and experiential learning.
A Note on Cost – The day’s coasteering costs £50 per head with an amazing team of local instructors. It was bolted on to a day when we all needed to be in Wales to deliver key local engagement to minimise the environmental impact of travel. We try and look for opportunities for team events and appreciate that time away from family and friends isn’t free and often leaves debts that require repayment, especially to partners and other loved ones.
Next time you’re booking a team event or training day remember how you do anything is how you do everything and live the culture you want in your business.
At Oxygen Conservation some people accuse us of working incredibly hard, and demanding an incredibly high standard, I disagree, I think we’re just coasting…