Last year, shortly after the onset of the pandemic, I signed up for an online workshop. The workshop was meant to focus on growing small business ideas. So everyone who signed up was likely working on one (sometimes several) things, usually on the side of a day job.
I didn't know at the time that the workshop would give me something that would become the highlight of an otherwise lonely pandemic existence.
It wasn't the workshop itself, per se. I didn't have any great epiphany in the course (though that's what I was really hoping for).
What should I be doing with my life???!!!!
Not long after starting, I found myself jiving with a guy named Rob. Rob and I decided to start a group to work through the course content together. We wanted to build the group around the theme and value of empathy, so we invited other people we had e-met in the course that we thought it would resonate with.
I'm not certain they would be comfortable having their identities exposed, so I'll leave names out besides Rob. Our crew:
Rob, a Jewish Positive Psychologist based in the Philadelphia area whose growing a practice that supports parents and children (he also wrote a book during the pandemic, too, titled: But I'm Not A Teacher: A Parent's Guide to Learning Under Lockdown)
A Market Strategist for a non-profit based in Albany
An Episcopalian Organist and Concertmaster with web development and photography talents
A Social Media Influencer based in Australia who helps women with rare skin conditions to implement self care and self love
A Recruiter turned Marketer and Writer based in Seattle
A stripper and erotic cabaret owner based in London (check out her podcast)
A Tech Consultant based in Toronto working on building a community for single adult women
And then there's me, a consultant based in Madison and working on podcasts and career resources for women and young technical professionals, among other things...
Those are the long-timers. We've been meeting every Friday morning (at least for my timezone) for the past year. There are a couple additional folks who float in and out as they are able.
As you might imagine, our backgrounds and day to day lives vary greatly.
And yet, this group has been the support and real life line for human connection that I couldn't have predicted I would need.
What makes community?
Most online course, specifically those that are pre-recorded that are self paced have abysmal completion rates, on the order of <10%.
I suspect that this depressing statistic has something to do with both the (myth of) willpower, but also a need for community. Many Akimbo workshops follow a model of creating engagement where students can rely on one another for feedback, guidance, and perspectives.
For those of you who haven't taken one of their workshops, imagine being in an online platform where you get your lesson - some combination of video and reading - and then you are given an exercise. Rather than do the exercise on paper on your own, what you have to do is complete the exercise and put it up inside the course for others to see and provide feedback on. The other part of your assignment is to read at least three other people's assignments and provide useful feedback to them.
People have to choose to show up and do the work, for sure.
But why has this group I'm in worked and gone on for so long?
I believe it's because of our many differences.
A few years ago, I was lucky enough to be selected for WEF's Water Leadership Institute. One of the first exercises we did was Strengths Finder. So we got the book and did the little test online, and then received back this test's interpretation of our top five strengths. Later we were split up in to groups and assigned a project to complete in the next few months.
In our very last session, where everyone was present, we were asked to speak about our groups - what went well, what did we struggle with.
I was proud to be in a group that jived. Everyone was happy, we enjoyed working together, we completed our work in a timely fashion. Honestly, I would be happy if my day job included every one of those individuals.
Other groups didn't have the experience. I remember one group specifically; they described how that while they had enjoyed working together, the group spent too much time discussing possibilities, they failed to delegate, no one wanted to take charge, and they almost didn't get their project completed.
Then, our facilitators revealed that some groups had been selected to have a mix of strengths, while others were selected to have a concentration of strengths in one area.
Can you guess which one I was in?
Our Friday morning lingering workshop group is a diverse mix of people, and we're better for it. Each person in the group has blessed my life.
How might you create more diversity on your team? In your social sphere?
It's something worth noodling on.