We first started working with BackTrack in 2018 and have previously profiled our work with them, and the perspectives of their visionary Founder and CEO, Bernie Shakeshaft. More recently we’ve been supporting BackTrack Works, a social enterprise that operates alongside BackTrack Youth Works.
Together they help vulnerable young people get ‘back on track’. It’s an integrated solution that means that young people in rural and regional Australia receive support the way they need it most, starting with accommodation and education, and moving all the way through to training and employment. It’s an end-to-end solution that gives them a real chance of chasing their hopes and dreams.
BackTrack Works was established in Armidale in 2018 to provide vocational, on the job training, aligned with the regional job market. It’s a busy and vibrant business that allows BackTrack’s young people to gain relevant life skills and apply those skills in their local communities. Teams of young people, each led by a supervisor, work across a range of industries including agriculture, construction, asset maintenance, fabrication, traffic management and disaster recovery.
Our journey together
In 2022, Chief Operating Officer, Marcus Watson, was keen to extend the value that BackTrack’s Executive Leadership Team had experienced with Leadership Space and move the focus to a cohort of their frontline leaders, the BackTrack Works supervisors. Marcus saw the potential to start developing their future leaders, while supporting the critical delivery needs of the business right now. Discussions began on how to begin to create a tailored program to meet these complementary needs.
Leadership Space facilitator, Sarit Vandegraaff, came on board, bringing deep expertise in designing and delivering leadership development programs. In partnership with Marcus and members of the senior leadership team, they began shaping the program. The goals were agreed: strengthen the supervisors’ confidence, capabilities and skills as leaders and managers, and form strong peer-to-peer bonds that would enable the group to support each other in their daily challenges and growth.
Critical to the success of the program was to develop a solution that recognised that the BackTrack Works’ leaders come from various backgrounds, each with their own strengths and challenges. One cohort are “BackTrack Boys” who have come through the program and worked their way to supervisors, or who have left and returned. In contrast, leaders new to BackTrack are focused on building trust and creating meaningful connections. All of them were thinking about what it means to be at BackTrack and how to embody the culture in real and practical ways. As Marcus Watson explains,
“Some of the challenges were accountability, taking the lead and decision making under pressure within a complex team environment”.
The first program was shaped as a series of face-to-face workshops, held offsite, away from distractions. Workshops were highly interactive and grounded in real experiences that the supervisors had on the job. Workshops were held every four to six weeks over a period of six months, allowing participants to experience multiple learning loops – taking their insights back onto the job, returning to the workshop environment to give and receive feedback on their discoveries and challenges. Combined with the intentional focus on trust-building, vulnerability and peer-to-peer coaching and mentoring, the group quickly formed a profoundly safe, honest, and supportive learning environment.
Some of the topics the group covered included:
- Coaching and motivating through building trust, autonomy and problem solving
- Feedback skills: both giving and receiving
- Communication including when and how to have difficult conversations
- Types of leadership styles and how to adjust your style in response to skill and motivation needs of others.
- And the use of our highly engaging leadership profiling tool, Lumina Spark.
Visible, sustainable impact
The Emerging Leaders program at BackTrack Works has been an incredible success so far. The participants report significant personal and professional growth and these changes have been validated by staff around the organisation. There is no question in anyone’s mind that this short program, which represents the start of a longer period of development work for these leaders, and others across the wider BackTrack network, has had a significant and sustainable transformational impact. Senior leaders report that this team of supervisors is now stepping up in a way not seen before. They are more confident and proactive and have a strong sense of their impact as leaders on their teams and beyond.
For a team that is exposed to constant challenging contexts and where resilience is so key, it has been particularly humbling to observe how much they now have each other’s backs. Each day they are modelling what great looks like – for each other and their teams. As a cohort, they feel they have a safe space to explore, fail, and support each other, and develop these capabilities. As one participant remarked,
“I don’t have to be alone in this, I have a group of peers around me who can support me, and brainstorm with me.”
For BackTrack as an organisation, there is another important ripple effect. These leaders have gained an understanding of how to effectively learn and create behaviour change in themselves and others – a skill set at the very heart of the work they are employed to do.
We feel privileged to have walked alongside BackTrack for the past five years and are excited to work with them as we look at building on and extending this Emerging Leaders program. The need is there to provide more leadership development support, reach more staff, and extend this work out to their partner organisations in regional and rural towns like Dubbo, Broken Hill and in the Hawkesbury region.
If you are thinking about supporting your emerging or front-line leaders to take their confidence, people management and leadership skills to the next level, we’d love to talk to you. We are passionate about creating engaging and impactful leadership programs at all levels. Like you, we know that without these targeted and effective investments, our people can’t possibly deliver the ambitious purpose-driven impacts we are so deeply committed to.