Tamarack Team wrestles with Community in a new age

Submitted by 1000 Conversations on May 30, 2013 - 11:06am
A community conversation with a community organization in KW

For the last several months, we at Tamarack have been collecting conversations about community from people all across Southern Ontario.  This past Friday, at our team meeting we had a chance to explore these questions ourselves.  As a team we talked how it was really important to have this conversation.

 Firstly, it was important because like any group who holds a community conversation, these discussions allow us to get a better understanding of ourselves, both as individuals and as a team.  We often talk about the importance of helping a community get to know itself.  This principle holds true for us as well.

 Secondly, a couple people talked about the idea of integrity, and that if we are asking others to have these conversations it is important that we ourselves also take part in this campaign.


With all this in mind, we dug into our community conversation, which proved to be deeply enriching for all of us.

 To start off, we split into groups of three and shared our most memorable experiences of community.  Often times when we interact we do so on a professional level, but through this question we were able to see a much more personal side of each other.  Also these stories highlighted for many of us a source of the deep passion we carry for community.  It turns out that each of us has at least one deep memory of community that drives us towards this work.

 One member of our team, Sylvia, talked about how in her neighbourhood, a woman took it upon herself to organize a community event for Canada Day.  What started as a plan for a simple fire works display soon turned into a progressive dinner where neighbours went from one house to another, sharing food with each other which culminated in a community celebration and fireworks.  What Sylvia said really stood out for her was how everyone was invited, people brought friends and family who were visiting to the weekend.  She also talked about the beauty of sharing in each other's cultures through food.

We had allotted twenty minutes for this conversation but found that people did not want to stop.  These are stories that we do not often think about or share with others, when we do though, it is a sharing of energy and ideas that we enjoy.

 We then came back as a whole group and started digging into what community means for us as a team.  The key term that came up first was the idea of experimentation.  We see ourselves as a giant experiment in what a workplace of the future could look like.


Tamarack has a small staff spread out over a large area.  We are very much a workplace in the cloud, using technology like Microsoft 365 to keep us connected.  It is rare that we get together as a full team in person.  This proves challenging because we do not have a common water cooler in which we can randomly bump into each other and talk about what is going on in our lives.  Because of this, we have to be intentional about creating those spaces.

 One tradition that we have developed in Tamarack which has stood the test of time is our weekly Monday updates.  Every Monday there is an email thread that goes out to the team where we each share what we did over the past weekend, along with our goals for the week.  This gives us a chance to connect in with each other.  We get to hear each others highs and lows, celebrations with friends or when a family member is sick.  I usually do not think much about this email, it just seems normal, but when we stopped and talked about it with intention, we realized that this tradition is very important to helping build our team bond.

 Another intricacy with Tamarack is the role of our learning communities.  Tamarack has three main learning communities, each with its own team of people.  For those of who work in these learning communities, often we interact more with this community than the larger Tamarack team.  This learning community becomes our primary work community as we build relationships and make connections with our partners.  We are exploring the concept of not having clients but rather members who we are working with as equals to wrestle with the problems of our industry.


The question we then wrestled with was what is the role of our core team.

 A theme that bubbled forth was the idea of common values.  Our unifying thread is that we are all part of Tamarack, and that we are here because of the vision and values that this represents.  Our job is then to represent this vision and these values to our learning communities.

 Finally, we finished the conversation by talking about how we can increase engagement with our learning communities.  The difficulty we often have is not engaging people but rather keeping people engaged.  People like the idea of being part of a community, but the challenge is that being part of a community takes time and energy; there are responsibilities that come with the privileges.  If people do not take these responsibilities seriously then a community falls apart.  How do you raise the bar for involvement without cutting people out?  Is it necessarily a bad thing to cut people out?  Is it possible/important to have everyone at the table?


We concluded that more can be done to emphasize people’s responsibilities and expectations when joining one of our online communities.  The other question we wrestled with was: are we meeting people’s needs?  If we effectively meet people’s needs, then they will keep coming back and engage with our online learning communities on a deeper level.

 We found this dialogue to be rich and the insights valuable.  Through the discussion we were brought closer together as a team, and had a better understanding of where everyone was at and where we as a whole can go.  This is only a starting point, the conversation is ongoing and will be important as we continue to experiment and tinker with what a work place community could look like and how to develop online learning communities for social change.



Values are clearly at the centre of this evolving body of knowledge.  Hopefully we will move from information, to knowledge, and then to wisdom through collective discussion and actions and the refining  of this process.   Clearly there is a committment to learning, to sharing and collaboration all as key values.   It would be neat to see these values fleshed out a bit more along with others.  I particularly like the values of "hope", and  "compassion."  Hope is the belief in a positive outcome even in the face of adversity.  Compassion is a deep awareness of the suffering and hurt of another or others coupled with a wish to relieve it.  Both parts are essential, an awareness and a desire to do or committment to action.  It is more altruistic than simple empathy because of the action component.  

The Seven Grandfather teachings from aboriginal history include such values as integrity, humility, truth, bravery,honesty respect and love. Communities are ultimately built on a values basis.   Ironically, one of the greatest myths within our society and communities that hold them together is that our paper money is worth something while it still remains just paper. And yet we give it great esteem!   How does this all work?.  


Thanks for reflection on our staff conversation, Derek.

Larry- thanks for your rich insights. I like how you have articulated the transition from information to collective action. I also appreciate your distinction and description of hope and compassion.

In our consumerist society, providing not only the needs, but the wants of your family has become a sign of prosperity; a reason to be proud. I agree that this creates a lot of problems- it seems to contradict the values you list in the seven grandfather teachings.

So, if we are not satisfied with alonging our value to be found in a paper bill, how do we begin to shift so that we embody and live out values such as humilty and respect?