3 years into Cause Corps, here's (some of) what I've learned
February 18, 2015: Cause Corps was a handful of people in Sydney, who were ejected from UTS O-day because we tried to set up a stall without having applied for a space. At that time, we had a crazy idea for a new way to do good, and didn't know how to go about it (obviously).
Today, we're a global community across 8 cities (including 2 high schools), in 4 continents, with over 4,200 volunteers. We remain entirely volunteer-run-and-led, and self-funded after having our DGR-status application rejected twice over (we’re currently looking for alternatives to ensure financial sustainability into the future). We're still not widely recognised or supported, but our good work continues on the backs of our dedicated teams.
We've pivoted our model multiple times (no more gatecrashing events), designed our organisation from start up to scale, developed our own products and services, hosted dozens of internships, trained leaders globally, and catalysed a cultural change in the cities we operate. I've been lucky enough to travel to Melbourne, Auckland, Hong Kong, London, and Berlin to work with our teams, and see how each city has a unique Cause Corps culture of its own.
Throughout our journey, we've taken pages from organisational design, technology, and leadership greats. We've created a unique pattern of work and approach to scaling to push through cultural, economic, and language barriers.
At the heart of it, though, is our vision to make doing good a daily habit; a world where everyone can make a real impact in the lives of others, every day.
With so much work ahead of us, and new challenges constantly being presented, we don't have the time or energy to feel complacent with what we've accomplished. The team are always looking for new ways to bring Cause Corps to life, new partners to support, or improvements we can make in the way we work together.
Leaning on the research and experience of others has been invaluable to turning our vision into a reality, but there's still a way to go. We've learned a lot on our journey so far, and we're always eager to share our experiences with others.
Below, I've made a list of reading without which we wouldn't be where we are today. Even if you're not intending to build a purpose-driven global community, many of the names would sound familiar amongst product, start-up, and tech circles. I hope they serve you as well as they have served us.
Your measure of success should be how quickly you can put yourself out of a job.
Find your purpose, and decide what kind of organisation you want to be
People will be more likely to support you if you have a purpose, and a clearly articulated goal. The first thing you need to do is pick one - even if you don't know exactly what it is, pick your best guess. You can change it later. Laloux’s masterwork will also help you frame the shape of our organisation; for example, is it more akin to a military hierarchy, or a family?
Find your tribe
Don't hire for skills, unless you can't operate without it. You can teach skills. Hire for culture. Organisations get de-railed when their culture becomes diluted or toxic. It’s much easier to establish a healthy culture when you’re small, and focus on creating guardrails to course-correct as you scale.
Read: Team of Teams, Gen. S. McChrystal
By creating self-organising teams around the world, each Cause Corps "chapter" has the autonomy to operate how they see fit. They select and train their team mates, organise events as they choose, partner with organisations they want to support, and decide on how best to sustainably scale their good work.
Everyone needs to align on one tool; it reduces complexity and ensures everyone knows exactly where to look. If you don't mandate a tool, it becomes exponentially harder to change it the larger you grow (more permutations as individuals create their own “standards”). We’ve used the following:
Team communication: Slack
Organisational knowledge: Confluence
Task management: Trello
Conferencing: Google Hangouts
The role of leadership is to support the work of the team; through ongoing thought leadership and coaching, ensuring teams are well-resourced, and setting organisation-wide goals. Your measure of success should be how quickly you can put yourself out of a job. Invest in your leaders, align their goals to your organisation’s goals, and you will all reap the benefits.
Read: Design to Grow, D. Butler
Design modularly; you want to be able to move pieces around, and remove ones that no longer work. As you scale, the ability to be dynamic and responsive to change (by design) is a competitive advantage that will serve you well, regardless of your industry.
Prototype and launch products and services
Read: The Lean Startup, E. Ries
Don't go to market with something you haven't tested. Go to market with the smallest possible thing that will create learning, and use that to improve upon.