How to be a Resilient Organisation: Tips from the Tasmanian Fire Service

If Malcolm Turnbull is seeking agility, initiative and creativity in government, he needs to look no further than the Tasmania Fire Service (TFS).

The TFS won the 2014 State Resilient Australia Award for their Bushfire-Ready Neighbourhoods (BRN) program, designed in collaboration with the University of Tasmania.

The program is a shining example of innovation, and one from which we can learn a great deal. It champions a community engagement approach to develop bushfire prevention and preparedness capacity, through sharing the responsibility and taking ownership of the bushfire risk at all levels. These principles are the foundation for all successful organisations.

Here are its central tenets.

1. Alignment of expectations and goals

The first step in developing the BRN program was identifying all relevant stakeholders. These included schools, Landcare groups, sporting clubs and volunteer fire brigades, who all shaped and drove the community engagement activities. The pilot workshops demonstrated the difference between just giving people information and involving them in the planning and implementation, empowering people to take responsibility for their own risk mitigation. Local volunteers are provided with the skills, resources and confidence to consult with and engage, rather than prescribe and dictate. This bottom-up strategy ensured that all relevant stakeholders had the information and resources required to all pull together toward the common goal. They knew what to expect of others and what others expected of them. Thus a culture of shared goals, shared responsibility and shared ownership was forged. Leaders united; teams aligned.  The results have produced empowered communities which proactively take control of bushfire prevention. Significantly more effective, sustainable, and economical ways of delivering bushfire-ready education and action are evident on the ground. Bushfire risk information is now readily available in a localised and contextualized format. Residents are more receptive to bushfire prevention and preparedness advice and more likely to adopt the recommended measures. All are pulling together to fashion a ready and safe community, far more potent and resilient than the sum of its parts.

2. Collaborative problem solving

The BRN program was the brainchild of teamwork between TFS and the University of Tasmania. However, its ongoing success is due to the continued collaboration between the community and emergency management agencies. Partnerships are becoming increasingly common and frequently an innovative solution to market demands. In August this year Telstra and Deakin University unveiled their foreign currency trading floor simulator, designed to imitate the look and feel of a real-life trading floor. Such an innovation offers invaluable real life experience for students and an informal future leaders' pool for Telstra.  A unique collaboration has also just been announced between Queensland’s Griffith University and the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, allowing student interns real life experience in all aspects of Event Management. Many government departments, due to mass redundancies and leaner resources, are increasingly dependent on NGOs to deliver public programs, rendering many government officials more Contracts and/or Procurement Managers than anything else. It is not surprising that business- government partnerships are now a $26 billion dollar a year industry and rising. They are a sound and fertile market strategy, extending market reach and often offering targeted and cost effective solution for clients. 

Relationships matter. In business and in life. What is pivotal to the success of the BRN programs and others is the harnessing and shaping of meaningful relationships, to effect positive and resilient change.  

3. Continual Learning

BRN programs do not take a "one size fits all" approach to bushfire prevention. They target the needs of specific communities and are therefore able to adapt with changing community demands. The program is fluid and agile on the ground. A key component of the BRN programs are frequent local forums, providing timely bushfire information, discussing responsibilities and allowing residents to be allocated resources as well as seek and give feedback.  Such unilateral communication is pivotal to ensuring that the BRN initiatives are as effective and relevant as possible. Given the unpredictability of bushfires and indeed global economic conditions, it is essential to be nimble and be quick. Or you may get burnt by the competition.

It seems it is the best of times and the worst of times. Business is becoming increasingly complex, and solutions not always clear. However opportunity lies in innovation through teamwork, collaboration and learning. This approach, as the BRN programs show, builds resilience and results. 

And there is opportunity everywhere, for those who dare. 


Graham Winter is an Australian Psychologist and best-selling author of Think One Team  (2nd edition), the revolutionary 90 day plan that engages employees, connects silos and transforms organisations.

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