Local ownership of a landscape initiative is key to sustainable solutions. So, whether the initiative is convened by an external organisation or not, we believe that local coordination should be organised as much as possible from the beginning. This module provides lessons learned from Commonland’s partners on building up and working in a local (in-landscape) team.
This chapter gives context to the element ‘Taking Action. To learn more about this element read the 4 Returns publication, the 1000 Landscape’s Practical Guide to ILM and the accompanying Tools guide.
The Landscape team carries the landscape’s vision forward. It is embedded in local conditions and in touch with the local community. When the team is drawn from the community, it can also provide local ownership to increase widespread sharing of the landscape’s vision.
This module is drawn from the collective experience of setting up, managing, and developing strong in-landscape teams. This module doesn’t cover all aspects of setting up organisations, but rather highlights some elements that are important to teams implementing landscape restoration initiatives. It will help you select the right people for the job and prepares you for what to expect as your team’s needs change.
Establishing three pillars
Three pillars support the functioning of any strong team:
People Team composition, people profiles and skillsets. Roles in the local landscape team. Desired qualities of people who could fill these roles.
Organisation Considerations that set up the team for scale and help the team to operate smoothly, including the processes that need to be in place.
Culture Building a work culture that helps the local team to thrive.
Let’s dive deeper into each of these pillars to see how each one strengthens the team.
The key to leading a local team is to collect great people and put them in their strength.
Danielle de Nie, director Wij.land
START-UP PHASE Small teams with a big passion
Roles that our partners have found to be important in their teams in the start-up phase are:
- Initiative Coordinator. Has strong project and programme management skills, preferably well-connected in the landscape.
- Landscape mobiliser. Can connect with stakeholders in the field, e.g., farmers and policymakers. Preferably someone originally from the landscape so that residents identify with them. Experience in building relationships of trust and inspiration is desirable.
- Knowledge broker. Brings knowledge to stakeholders in formats that meet their needs. Has good technical knowledge and the ability to translate and communicate that knowledge.
- Business Developer. Improves existing and sets up new business models to power landscape restoration. Needs an entrepreneurial mindset and experience in developing and sustaining businesses.
The initiative has limited resources in the beginning and runs on the drive and passion of the team. Positivity, drive, intrinsic motivation, and persuasive enthusiasm aren’t learned from a book. You need to look for these qualities in the people you hire. The core team will need to be flexible with their time and handle change and adversity well. Start small; 2-5 people are often all that is needed at this stage.
Your initial priorities are to develop relationships with farmers, build or connect to a farmer network, carry out a landscape and stakeholder analysis (refer to module 3), and develop pilots. You need people who can switch perspectives – from connecting with a farmer on their farm to local and regional governments. This is not something that everyone is good at. Generalist skillsets are therefore most useful in the beginning.
For specialist expertise, it can be more practical to hire consultants instead of staff. You get access to their knowledge without putting them on a payroll. In the long run, consultants are more expensive than employees, but in this phase, their value is their flexibility. This is a good option for a start-up that still has an uncertain financial future or is in an exploratory stage.
SCALE-UP PHASE Specialists and pragmatists
As your initiative matures, roles will change. Some will be added and others cut away. It’s important to take these hard decisions early, especially in NGOs where KPIs and accountability may be less clear.
Idealism tends to drop, and pragmatism starts to rise, as initial passion gives way to hard work. This will be reflected in the personalities of the team.
The beauty and risk of a start-up are that everyone brings their ideals to it.
Ben Cole, Managing Director of Wide Open Agriculture
You’ll start hiring specialists – specifically in areas of business development, agriculture, ecosystem restoration, and finance. Positions that become important after 2-3 years include:
- Project Coordinator
- Finance manager
- Business Coordinator
- Marketing & communications professional
- Natural areas restoration specialist
- Regenerative agriculture specialist
- Culture, stories, and inspiration specialist
- Research & education specialist
- Monitoring, evaluation, and learning specialist
- Volunteers (see separate section on volunteers)
Work towards a team that is strong enough to not rely on any one person – avoiding what is known as a ‘key person risk’. An important task of this phase is therefore to make the role of team lead redundant.
Connection to the landscape
As a minimum, all team members should feel connected to the landscape and understand its local language and culture. Some roles, such as landscape mobilisers, are more effective if they live in or are from the landscape. The success of the initiative strongly depends on the trust of the key stakeholders and residents in your team. This kind of trust is built much more easily when locals see you as ‘one of them’.
Outsiders also have their strengths. The new energy that outsiders bring can be especially helpful when the system is stuck. As a ‘naive foreigner’ you can ask ‘stupid’ questions that insiders may feel they can’t. Outsiders can also mediate conflict as they can be seen as a more neutral party. Humility is key for outsiders.
It’s important to note that moving to the landscape can put a lot of pressure on new employees. It can be hard to build up a new social network and your job more or less becomes your whole life. Make sure applicants are aware of this during the hiring process, but also take responsibility as an organisation in developing a work-life balance culture.
It’s not a job; it’s a life
Marijn Zwinkels, co-director Living Lands
Role of volunteers
Volunteers make a real difference in landscape restoration initiatives. They are often eager to learn, enthusiastic to work, and require little or no financial resources to hire. Volunteers can be a valuable addition to your landscape programme. Important to note is that volunteers may need careful guidance to do the job well. Consider whether this effort is worth it before getting them involved.
Examples of volunteer projects that AlVelAl/Aland runs in their landscape are:
- Students or schools join restoration activities
- An Ecosystem Restoration Camp in the landscape brings volunteers to the restoration projects. The camp offers a place to stay and a learning environment. Learn more about the concept here.
- Farmers volunteer to organise and facilitate knowledge exchange events (called ‘agro-cafés’)
- The board of directors of AlVelAl are also volunteers, as in an association they can’t be paid for their work
This section focuses on the basic elements needed to keep the organisation running successfully. Doing this well at the beginning saves a lot of hassle later.
The legal form of your organisation (e.g., LLC, foundation, association, CIC) influences how it operates, the regulations and requirements it must meet, and the boundaries of its operation. Every country offers a slightly different set of possible legal forms, each with advantages and disadvantages. You must figure out which works best in your context.
Once you have settled on a legal form and set up your organisation accordingly, it is very difficult to change it. It is therefore worth investigating organisational forms beforehand, getting advice from solicitors and organisations with similar activities.
Processes that facilitate the team
Administration, HR, and bookkeeping seem distracting but proper processes will make the road to making an impact smother. They support proper (financial) planning, expense tracking and reports to funders. Contracting becomes easier, and team members will feel more secure. In short: you will be able to do your work better. The opposite approach of not having the right processes in place involves headaches and chaos – and will be fatal to your initiative. Make sure your team processes are in place and working well!
Effective teams have clear definitions and mandates for each role. Team members will know clearly what their contribution to the whole is, and what they can depend on others for. Of course, roles and mandates can change over time. Putting together a RASCI (Responsible, Accountable, Supportive, Consulted, Informed) matrix can be useful to clarify different team members’ mandates. Having clear role mandates, being open and clear to each other, and trusting each other, are absolute conditions for a team to run smoothly. Coordinators must stand behind their people 100% and support and trust them in their roles.
Office & getting together
Spending time with each other in the same office makes communication and coordination much easier. It helps build a culture and shortens communication lines. Facilitate alignment with regular check-ins and close coordination of tasks. Double this effort if team members can’t all work from the same location. When in doubt: communicate! People easily assume: ‘they are probably aware of this’. Many fallouts and failed collaborations are caused by unclear communication.
A great culture celebrates its successes and is supportive of setbacks. This is not easy work, and it is often confronting. You need a strong team to fall back on, feel safe with, and a team that you feel has your back. Team culture, therefore, makes up the third pillar.
Culture building is a joint effort. Ideally, a team’s DNA evolves by itself without having to design it explicitly. At the same time, a culture is also something that needs to be actively safeguarded and defended. This can be done by, amongst others, talking about or reminding each other of the team’s values and keeping each other accountable.
Although every culture is different, there are some values that we see coming back in landscape teams.
Transparency, trust, and accountability
Transparency is needed within the team as well as in the outside world. AlVelAl has a ‘transparency portal’ on its website which displays all statutes as well as the financial information about the association, the AlVelAl team, and AlVelAl’s beneficiaries.
An effective way to increase transparency and accountability in the team is to regularly reflect together, give each other feedback, and create a safe space to share mistakes. Theory U offers useful tools for this purpose, such as dialogue interviews, case clinics, and guided journaling. There are also many tools out there on how to share and constructively receive feedback.
Dialogue walks are a great way to practice your listening skills and connect with your colleagues on a deeper level
For us, the most important is confidence. Confidence in each other and the team.
Elvira Marín, coordinator Aland
Diversity, Equity & Inclusion
The values of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) are integral to the 4 Returns framework. In the local team, it is important to practice what you preach. It may be needed to investigate first what diversity and inclusion specifically mean in your landscape and context.
Inclusion is a fundamental part of the 4 returns, especially in the return of social capital and inspiration.
Elvira Marín, coordinator Aland
Diversity & inclusion of the team & board
What does diversity in your team and board mean in terms of people, salaries, and work conditions? What is the diversity policy of your country? How to prevent biases when hiring new people? Do you have any quota you want to strive for? For example, at AlVelAl, both on the board and the team, they aim for a 50% representation of women, and for having no gender or ethnic discrimination in terms of hiring, salaries, roles, et cetera. The quotum set for the salary is that the highest salary is only allowed to be 2.4 times higher than the lowest salary. Consider which ratio is regarded as fair in your team.
Diversity & inclusion in the landscape
Diversity means something different in every landscape. It is useful to assess what diversity means in your landscape. In the AlVelAl territory, for example, the following groups are defined as needing extra attention for inclusion and diversity:
- People with disabilities
- Children in educational centres
- Young people
- Groups of other ethnic groups, mainly gipsies
- Unemployed people
In other landscapes, these groups might be different. Assess which groups are marginalised in your landscape and what you can do to create more inclusion.
Implementation of diversity & inclusion
Don’t underestimate the effort it takes to take inclusion seriously. For example, when WOA in the early days tried to make a model work to provide jobs for refugees in shade houses in rural West Australia, they realised that it takes a serious effort to provide a safe and welcoming environment that is fitting to their diverse needs (e.g., prayer rooms, kosher kitchen facilities, etc.). The refugees themselves also weren’t always very keen to move to the countryside, where it is difficult to find people with similar experiences to connect with.
At AlVelAl, all projects have a perspective of inclusion. An example is AlVelAl 8000; the objective is to create a business case for aromatic plants where the clients of a disability centre are the ones who make the final products.
Celebration & fun
A landscape team has the ambitious and serious mission of enabling healthy landscapes and thriving communities. But this doesn’t mean we cannot have fun while doing it! Quite the contrary: celebrating your successes will help keep up the team spirit, and a little fun will help keep people motivated. It helps to not take ourselves too seriously.
Often, in our sector, because our team members are so invested in the mission and don’t see it as just a paycheck, we don’t have to motivate people a lot to work hard. Rather, the challenge may be more in looking out that some people don’t work too hard. At Wij.land they pay particular attention to not working outside of office hours and taking enough holidays.
To keep the work light you could organise enjoyable events to spend time together and get to know each other in a different way than just the workplace. An idea for celebrating learning is to organise a ‘celebrating our wins and failures’ event. From day to day, there are also many ways to help keep it light: point out the positive things to each other, make a joke, laugh, and have fun!
What does your landscape team look like, and what are some lessons you’ve learned? Please let us know in the comments!
This guide was written by Roos van der Deijl and based on interviews with the following people. Read more about their landscapes in the linked landscape stories.
- Danielle de Nie (director Wij.land, working in the Western Peat Meadow landscape in the Netherlands)
- Elvira Marín (coordinator of Fundacion Aland, working in the Altiplano Estepario, Spain),
- Marijn Zwinkels (at the time director of Living Lands, working in the Baviaanskloof-Langkloof, South Africa)
- Ben Cole (at the time managing director of Wide Open Agriculture (WOA), working in Southwest Australia).