workshop session

Learn practices for building trust in groups: my new gift-economy-style evening course

I’m leading a new evening course where people learn to create safe spaces using techniques from facilitation, conflict resolution, and improvisational theatre. Instead of charging a fee, I’m offering the course “gift economy” style. 

They say that teaching is the best way to learn. I’ve been trying to teach people about the human side of digital work since I organised the first #dareconf in 2013,  mostly under the strapline, “people skills for digital workers.” If I had to sum up what I’ve learned in a single line, I’d say: “I can’t teach you things. But I can set up a space that makes it easier for you to learn.”

It’s September 2015 and the third annual event is a few weeks away. This year we’ve already taken #dareconf to the USA and launched a low-cost “underground” version. The strapline has morphed into, “create a workplace built on trust,” and we’ve started to broaden the audience beyond people who work in digital.

Hannah du Plessis at #dareconf USA in May 2015
Hannah du Plessis at #dareconf USA in May 2015

Through trial and error—including a large financial loss on the first event—I’ve learned what I stand for.  Or more accurately, I’ve learned what I can offer. I can give people the experience of seeing the world through a mindset of abundance instead of scarcity.

Everyone is capable of experiencing trust, and most of us have the good fortune to experience it in at least some of our relationships. But few of us experience trust at work. Most of the time, work isn’t a safe space, because fear gets in the way.

Our society is governed by fear. Leaders tell us that we must kill people in other countries, out of fear that they might kill us otherwise. The media tells us to fear immigrants, young people on the street, poor people. Bosses order workers around, out of fear that allowing them autonomy might hurt the business. This is the scarcity mindset: “more for you is less for me”, and the corollary, “I matter more.”

Without realising it, we take the scarcity mindset into work. (We’ve been socialised to see it as normal.) In the meeting where we argue for our own way of doing things instead of listening to what others say. In the water cooler conversation where we judge a colleague—“he’s a slacker”—instead of asking for what we need. In the one-to-one where we avoid a difficult conversation for fear of giving away something about ourselves.

Improv exercise at #dareconf USA in May 2015
Improv exercise at #dareconf USA in May 2015

If you want to experience trust at work, you need to show up with a mindset of abundance: “more for you is more for me,”  and, “we both matter.” Of course, it’s not that simple, because you can’t change other people’s mindset.

This is where #dareconf comes in. Using techniques from facilitation, conflict resolution, and improvisational theatre, we create a space where it’s easier to adopt a mindset of abundance. You can try it on for size, experiment, and get a taste of what trust-at-work might feel like. To use a metaphor from one of our participants, imagine feeling as comfortable at work as you feel sitting on the sofa with your significant other and pet. You get the idea.

Now, what if you want more than a taster? What if you want to actually bring the abundance mindset into your place of work, for real? To create a safe space where trust is the default?

Drum roll: introducing my new evening course, “Learn practices for building trust in groups”.  From the description:

This course creates opportunities for you to learn new techniques by practising them at work, supported by guidance from the course leader [that’s me!] and continuous coaching from your peers.

At the start of the course you’ll set goals for yourself which you’ll work towards during the 8 weeks. At each session you’ll practise a new technique workshop-style and choose how to apply it in the coming week. At the next session you’ll review progress and so on. By the end of the course you’ll have achieved your goals by practising the techniques in your real work context.

I recently realised that there’s a link between the abundance mindset and the techniques I cover in the workshops. The techniques are about giving without expecting something specific in return. Trust is about giving for its own sake, not for some expected future reward. More for you is more for me. For example, in the context of improvisation, you aim to show that working together is more important to you than winning with your own ideas.

In that spirit, I’m offering the course gift economy style. In brief: instead of asking for a fee, I offer the course as a gift in the hope that it will help you to develop skills and meet your needs. At the end of the course I’ll ask you to check in with the gratitude you feel and to give according to what you are able to afford.

This allows me to offer the course to people who don’t have access to training budgets, for example. It also helps me to show what a gift feels like.

What do you think? Would you like to take part?