First Hand — You’re Doing Great: The DIY career support group that anyone can run

Posted 17 April 2019 Written by Anna Goss

GDS designer Anna Goss recognises the importance of supportive check-ins when journeying through the murky waters of career progression. Together with writer and content creator Isabelle O’Carroll, Anna came up with You’re Doing Great, an initiative for life assessment and finding guidance in one another. The You’re Doing Great toolkit enables people to create communities and organise sessions for sharing and fixing problems, big or small, professional or personal. She talks about how the format works, why it’s essential to have a safe space to discuss what’s on your mind, and the unexpected benefits of forming a professional network based on sharing personal issues.

When you’re starting out in your career, it can be daunting to feel like you don’t know what you’re doing, or to have gaps in your knowledge or questions about what to do. Creating a space where you can safely share what’s on your mind is incredibly helpful. It can help you feel more confident about your work – and the inevitable twists and turns of your career path.

Seven years ago, my friend Isabelle O’Carroll and I started an event called You’re Doing Great. I was just out of university and in my first job in a small company; she was a few years into her career and had just gone freelance. Both of us felt wobbly about lots of things to do with our work and our lives, and we thought we could find support in our peer group.

Kitchen table advice
One day, three of us got together in Isabelle’s kitchen. We took it in turns: 30 minutes each to talk as much as you want, and then ask the others for whatever advice or thoughts you’re looking for. I still have the notes from our first session; I asked the others about how to make the case for a pay rise, and wondering what to wear when I was cycling to work in my first winter of cycling in London (my office didn’t have a shower!).

Regular peer support sessions
It seemed to work. We all left feeling better about whatever was on our minds, so we did it again a few months later and invited some others to come along too. We’ve now been running YDG sessions for seven years, once every few months, with a rotating group of friends and acquaintances – sometimes up to 10 people. Everyone still gets 30 minutes to talk about whatever issue they want to talk through.

Creating a safe space
We treat You’re Doing Great as a safe space, which means:
• Confidentiality: what happens at YDG stays at YDG.
• No interruptions while the person is explaining their issue (and no distractions either – we only look at our phones in the breaks).
• Only offer suggestions in response to a question or request – no unsolicited advice!

It’s helpful to talk through these points at the start so everyone has them front of mind throughout the day.

Accessibility and openness
Over the years, we’ve honed down the process to the things that really work, like using a Doodle poll to set a date and having a potluck lunch – this is a nice thing that helps everyone feel in touch. We’ve also tweaked the format of the day to make it easier for everyone coming, like having a soft start time to give everyone time to get comfortable in their surroundings and to account for weekend travel nightmares.

Sharing whatever is on your mind
We try to make sure everyone is primed with the issue for their slot, and we often let the people who are very sure on their topic can go first so that if you’re not ready, you have time for a think. The issue doesn’t have to necessarily be work-related either; we’ve had people talking about how to deal with their in-laws, or trying to find a way to move to New York. Anything you want to get out of your head is a thing you can take to a YDG day.

A network of personal relationships
An unexpected benefit has been the power of the network we somehow created by accident. We didn’t set up YDG as a networking event, but our friends have invited their friends and it’s become a mini-network of its own. Because everyone is sharing their hopes, fears and vulnerabilities, YDG sessions are a fast-track way to create strong bonds between people in adjacent or similar industries and careers.

How to start your own You’re Doing Great session

If you’re inspired by Anna and Isabelle’s initiative and want to give it a go yourself, here are your next steps:

1. Find a space
Anywhere will do, as long as it’s somewhere you feel comfortable and that creates a relaxed and safe environment for discussion. Anna and Isabelle started by running sessions out of a kitchen in a house share. They recommend using people’s homes for an informal and low-pressure atmosphere.

2. Get a group together
This could be friends, colleagues or acquaintances – anyone willing to share and wanting to benefit from judgement-free peer assessment and guidance. The makeup of your group is up to you, as long as it’s conducive to creating to create a safe space to discuss vulnerabilities and personal topics.

3. Set aside a date and time
Find a date that works for everyone; Anna and Isabelle recommend using a Doodle poll. You’ll want to set aside about half a day to give everyone time to settle into their surroundings, use their 30-minute time slot, give feedback and have breaks.

4. Make it fun!
Anna and Isabelle like to diffuse the atmosphere and bring everyone together by planning a potluck lunch where everyone brings a dish. You could also provide tea and coffee, order takeout, or start the session with an icebreaker question or game.


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Learn more about You’re Doing Great here. You can also follow Anna at twitter.com/annagoss and Isabelle at twitter.com/IsabelleOC.

Posted 17 April 2019 Written by Anna Goss
Collection: First Hand
Mentions: You're Doing Great, Government Digital Service

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