Having a brains trust/ cheer squad

I have a group of past and present colleagues (from a single workplace) who connect via a Whatsapp group that provide an incredibly valuable social and professional support function.

The emergence of the group speaks to the close bonds formed between members during their time working together. Such is the strength of those bonds that there are members of the group who never directly worked with each other but are connected by intermediary colleagues.

As the title of the post suggests, the group serves at least two functions. The first is as a brains trust – a collection of wise trusted colleagues who can provide professional advice. Given we work in similar fields, we are able to pose professional dilemmas, request referrals and share clinical resources. I’ve long been convinced of the learning power of professional networks (see PHF), but it is still amazing to see how even small networks (<15) can exponentially increase your access to professional development opportunities.

The second is as a cheer squad. People who have ‘got your back’ and believe in you enough to celebrate your wins and commiserate your losses. All members of the group have gone through significant life events and have been able to trust that sharing those experiences with the group will elicit empathy, encouragement and compassionate advice. It is knowing that you have at your fingertips people who will accurately read how you are feeling, remind you of your strengths, acknowledge when something sucks and steer you gently towards positive coping.

In social support terms we might label these instrumental support and emotional support. There is probably a dash of appraisal support in there as well. Having people around who know you well enough (your strengths, weaknesses, beliefs, attitudes) to identify when you might be self-limiting and to provide a compassionate boot up the arse.

Being part of such a group is a new experience for me. I have (and have had) great workmates. In fact, I consider myself lucky to have worked in great teams and with great individuals, but I’ve generally kept my work and personal lives separate. That separation has its benefits, in terms of unambiguous boundaries and rules for navigating social relationships (which I like). But it comes at a cost as well. If you keep those parts of your life separate, you miss out on getting to know people for the full persons they are, not just their work selves. Similarly, you miss out on the opportunity to express a more complete version of yourself.

Probably what has made it easier to adapt to being part of such a group is that it emerged and lives much of its life on Whatsapp. I find it easier to negotiate groups via digital channels than in-person. Throw me into a text chat – no problems. Throw me into a face-to-face group event – watch me squirm. And of course the group provides great benefit. Direct benefits arise from the interactions within the group – getting advice, having a laugh, sharing cool stuff. Indirect benefits have been a re calibration of my social rules and an increased willingness to lower the barriers between my personal and professional lives. I’ve noticed in other contexts of my life a greater willingness to embrace both the social and professional opportunities that work colleagues provide.

And so I am very thankful for the existence of this group and the people in it.

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