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How Company Culture Inspires Community

The Open Sky Team

Featured Team Members: Amy Hartline, MA

Amy Hartline is Open Sky’s Wellness Director. Drawing on her background in wilderness therapy, mindfulness training, somatic psychology, and facilitation, she assists staff in serving young people and families at Open Sky. In this Q&A, she describes Open Sky’s strong company culture and how it aligns with the student and family experience.  

When we talk about company culture, what does that mean?

Company culture is everything from the attitudes, behaviors, and values of employees within an organization to the norms, feel, and practice of how we operate day-to-day within our jobs. It’s how we feel when we walk into the office and see our co-workers. For me, there are both explicit and implicit aspects of company culture that are just part of how we do things at Open Sky. For example, it’s an explicit part of our company culture that over half our staff sleep outside for some portion of every week. An implicit part of our company culture is that people attend to their communication, which is integral to what we teach at Open Sky. Company culture is the combination of both the formal and unspoken components of our daily workplace in its totality.  

Why is company culture important?

Company culture at Open Sky is important because of the nature of what we’re doing in our organization. We’re helping students and their families strengthen their relationships and clarify their values so they can act on them intentionally. We’re supporting people in how to be congruent with who they are and how they show up in the world. As an organization, the more congruent we’re able to be within our own staff team, the more able we are to serve students and families. 

Company culture is also important for employee engagement. We tend to feel engaged as human beings when we’re supported in our growth, learning, education, and development. A strong company culture supports staff to stay engaged, keep learning and growing, and cultivate themselves as professionals. When we have a company culture that feels healthy and connected and resilient, we can do things like take a good hard look in the mirror and pivot and make changes when we need to. We can honor what we do well and continue to breathe life in that direction. The work that people choose to do with their lives, at its best, can be self-generating. When our work leaves us feeling satisfied, fulfilled, and like we’ve contributed in a meaningful way, we naturally want to do more. Company culture connects service and meaning and maintains a powerful level of sustainability. 

A lot of companies strive to create strong company culture. This is easier said than done. How does Open Sky approach this goal?

Just like we work with students and families to develop a growth mindset, we also apply that mindset to our company culture at Open Sky. Whether we’re building new facilities, shifting up what gear we have, updating how we’re doing our training, introducing new roles, or improving policies, we strive to stay resilient and aware and willing to adapt as we learn. We ask that our students and families stay open to growth and learning as they seek outside support; it’s important that we as a company do so as well.  

Culture Pathway 

Our Culture Pathway is at the heart of our commitment to creating strong company culture. The Culture Pathway is a document that outlines the mission, vision, and core purpose and belief of Open Sky. It also details our three core values – courage, community, and excellence – and provides specific examples of what living and working in alignment with those values looks like.  

When we are connected to these core principles and specific values, we can act and communicate with more intention. We can embrace challenges with confidence and inspire others with our passion. We can support our team members and respect one another’s experiences. Our Culture Pathway is a guide. It helps us stay connected to our work and seek continual learning, development, and improvement. 

All Hands 

Another thing Open Sky does to cultivate company culture is hold a weekly meeting with our extended treatment team called All Hands. This is a time when we pause to connect with one another, bring in training, or recognize the impacts of what’s going on in the world at large.  

All Hands looks a little different each week but follows a general rhythm. We begin with a grounding activity and share company announcements. Then, the meeting takes one of two primary directions. One direction is a general check-in guided by a theme from the Culture Pathway. For example, we may focus on the core value of community and ask each person at the meeting to briefly share something that makes them feel connected. The other type of meeting we hold centers on providing some sort of training. We might share an educational video on topics such as risk management or emotional regulation or have a clinical staff member present on one of their areas of expertise. 

All Hands is a touchstone for the Open Sky community. It grounds us to the work we do and connects us to who we are doing it with. It reminds us of our humanity during the bustle of a work week and provides an opportunity to share about our experiences and swap valuable insights and resources. 

Shout Outs 

At Open Sky, we talk with families and students about how important it is to balance our communication so that we’re sharing just as many, if not more, positive statements for every constructive statement we give. We cultivate that same culture of feedback for our employees through what we call “shout outs.” When someone does something well and embodies the qualities of the Culture Pathway, we recognize them. Anyone may share a shout out and they most often come up at All Hands. We also have a formal system for recognizing and recording shoutouts through an online platform.  

We believe it’s important to reinforce the good work people are doing. Whatever the situation is, our employees work hard at Open Sky, and not everyone gets to witness all those moments. Shout outs are a chance to see and be seen, to acknowledge and appreciate one another. They serve as reminders to those of us who aren’t on the ground level of all that’s happening in the field. Conversely, for those folks who are on the ground level, shouts outs help illustrate all the layers of what’s going on behind the scenes as well. They help shed light on what is happening on at every level of Open Sky and make all our employees, from office administrators to field guides to the clinical team, feel connected. 

What does a strong company culture mean for students and families?

Together, our mission and company culture give staff a roadmap for what they’re doing and how they’re doing it. That means that students and families are working with folks who, to the best of their abilities, are walking their talk; they are achieving a level of congruence. When that happens, I think it creates both rapport and trust. It’s important to Open Sky that what we offer as an organization is genuinely believed and supported by the people who work here. Wilderness therapy is specialized work; it draws very particular people. We are fortunate to have an entire employee base who is well-trained and well-versed in how to support one another in best serving our clients during times of crisis. We understand on an individual level what it takes to be a part of a community – which is ultimately what each family is – and understand the challenges and rewards of that experience. By cultivating a strong company culture, we give each employee and each client firsthand knowledge of all the beauty and all the challenge that goes into being in intentional human relationship with the people who we work closely with and care deeply about.  

April 26th, 2022

The Open Sky Team