Gratitude & Growth: What’s important? People & relationships

Sustainable ways of working

I’m so grateful for experiences that have taught me so much about collaborating and sustainable ways of working. Spoiler: It’s about people and relationships.

Group of people working together to build relationships and create value.

Building relationships IS the work

Organising team building together

Last year I co-organised a homesite. Wait, what’s a homesite? It’s a virtual off-site. But, what’s an off-site? It’s an event where a team goes away somewhere to do team building and have fun. (Sidenote: Gitlab is a 100% remote company, so they don’t have off-sites, they have on-sites instead. I digress…).

Okay, so I co-organised a virtual event for bringing a community of agile coaches together. And it was so much fun to organise! And the event was so much fun too! And we got a lot of great work done.

Gentle pacing for effective organising in communities

I learned about sustainable ways of organising from when I co-organised poetry events with two queer, black friends. Whenever we felt ourselves to be overtaxing or overburdening ourselves, we stepped back. I’ve organised in many different contexts before that, but that was the first time I experienced fun + effectiveness + gentle pacing. Whereas activism is often fraught with urgency. Understandable, but unhealthy.

And I had this model in my head often when co-organising that homesite. This model of gentle pacing, of caring for ourselves and each other. We knew we were taking on a big project, and in a pandemic. And we checked in on each other. Shared the work. And we didn’t do anything that felt like it was too much.

Often, one or more of us would say, ‘I don’t feel like I’m doing that much’, with a pang of guilt. We’re so used to taking on too much, that when we weren’t we felt like we weren’t contributing enough. But we were. We created an event that made it possible for people to connect and collaborate with each other, during an extended period of enforced working from home (or, living at work).

Collaboration grows from a foundation of care

I think many of us are used to organising in ways that are pretty draining.

So, when we organise in ways that are nourishing, we ask: ‘Am I working? Like, shouldn’t this be harder?’ It’s still work. Work doesn’t have to be a hard slog to be effective! Actually, I’ve found multiple times, in multiple ways, work is more effective when it’s fun. Having fun together is the way to work effectively together.

What makes me say that?

So many experiences.

Poetry nights: Working on things I care about with people I love

When I co-organised poetry nights, we enjoyed doing that. We were spending time in the company of people we love and creating events together, for a community we cared about to share creativity together.

That was fun, effective, collaborative, sustainable work.

Homesite: Creating an event bursting with connection & collaboration

When I co-organised the homesite, we enjoyed doing that. Creating with purpose. Circling back to what we wanted to achieve and our ideas for doing that. Being innovative. Making an event to maximise collaboration and connection. Spending most of our calls getting to know each other better. Working as a tight knit team of four and pairing. Using memes, jokes, creating a culture of our own.

That was fun, effective, collaborative, sustainable work.

Hack week: How might we play asynchronously and build relationships?

When I was hacking on asynchronous ways of building relationships & trust. Fuelled by autonomy, focus & joy. Alternating between, on the one hand, wrestling with, and working out, things alone and, on the other hand, collaborating closely with co-conspirators.

That was fun, effective, collaborative, sustainable work.

Granted, the sustainability was a little precarious, since I only had a week before all the other work responsibilities would flood in. And none of my colleagues spent the whole week focused on this project like I did, so I had to pivot quickly away from the dream I had of a cross-functional team fully engaged in this work. And yet, still, this was one of the most focused periods of that job this year.

Lightning talk: Beyond Text: Building trust asynchronously

When I was planning, and then giving, a 15 minute speech, with a friend, it was challenging, intense & playful. Building trust asynchronously is a subject we both care about a lot.

We did loads of drawing. And commiserating. And laughing. And learning. I was stress-eating a lot of ice-cream because of Other Events. She was doodling a lot of ice-cream.

And timezones mean we still have never seen each other at our best. (Being a morning person in the UK working with an evening person in the US is interesting!) And through it all, we were building a close working relationship without ever having met in person.

That was fun, effective, collaborative, sustainable work.

Designing equity workshops

When designing a learning series of workshops about equity with friends, we often take 45 minutes for 5 of us to share what’s going on with us. Telling our stories. Listening to each other. These things are crucial for working well together.

That’s fun, effective, collaborative, sustainable work.

Being interviewed for a job share

The joy of going for an interview and afterwards getting to debrief it with one of your closest friends in the world, who was right there with you the whole time, fully in; that’s incredible.

That was fun, effective, collaborative, sustainable work.

Working relationships are indistinguishable from the work

It’s not about starting a meeting with 5 minutes of chit chat before you get to the real work.

The relationships are the work. And the value that comes out of the work, is dependent on the care, attention and energy we put into those relationships.

That’s what it means to collaborate. That’s how to be innovative. That’s how to get stuff done.