New agencies and staff often experience high energy, validation, a revitalized sense of hope, and an eagerness to implement Risking Connection (RC) once they have completed the 3-Day RC Basic training that is part of TSI’s Whole-System Change Model. So how do you work to keep that spark alive after the training has come and gone, especially in supporting your new agency to achieve a true trauma-informed organizational culture? One way we have achieved this in Yukon is through the celebration of RC Week.
Risking Connection was introduced to our staff in 2010. The first RC training in our government-run child welfare system included those working in our group care and foster care system. Three years later there was a second initiative, which expanded RC to include all areas of our complex behavioral and mental health system.
After noticing a trend of “ebbs and flows” with trauma-informed care and RC energy, as well as the administrative challenges of keeping RC alive over many years, we started organizing RC Week. The motivation behind the first RC Week was to further integrate our complex system and help break down silos, an issue common in most human-service areas. The positive energy, networking, and alignment of the various teams’ missions were immediately noticeable.
The premise of RC Week is a simple one: get individual teams across the agency to focus on coming together, having fun, focusing on self-care and connecting, while integrating principles of RC in creative ways to enhance team culture.
Those of us working in a trauma-exposed field know two things well:
- Employee connection and investment in teams produces the best client outcomes
- Client work, daily expectations, emergencies, and personal commitments mean that team health can sometimes take a back seat
RC Week allows us to remind everyone of the basic principles of trauma-informed care in a fast and fun way. It creates opportunities for dialogue and forms collective experiences that will live on in staff’s memories long after the week ends; we still have staff that talk about previous RC Weeks and how the individual acknowledgement made them feel cared for and valued. Workers told us about the benefits of receiving thank you’s, and “shout outs” for hard work, and of feeling seen in their role.
So, how does RC Week work?
We start Risking Connection Week with a "pay it forward" activity. Each team is paired with another team that they do not regularly connect with. They are instructed to celebrate that team and "pay it forward". Celebrations and recognitions have included baking, kind notes, poetry, coffee, cards, treats, gift cards, lunch, homemade self-care kits, and stories made from chocolate bars. Just be creative and have fun!
The week continues with daily activities to recognize self-care, RICH (Respect, Information, Connection, Hope) principles, and to bring workers together. Past RC Weeks have included:
- 15-minute massage sessions
- Group walks (Hint: hide chocolate and prizes on the trail beforehand)
- Friendly competitive tourneys: volleyball, disk golf, badminton, and basketball (sadly, we could not include hockey)
- RC Week team challenges
- Scavenger hunts
- Art contests (e.g., create a team sculpture that represents RICH)
At the end of the week, everyone comes together for a barbeque lunch to share their experiences and discuss what they learned. We have had teams write and share RC-based songs, share their art work, share success stories, and share personal self-care strategies. Sharing food while having fun with like-minded staff from different areas strengthens connections.
Of course, plans for this year’s RC Week looked a bit different, given our current COVID-19 situation. We worked hard to think outside the box about how to celebrate and educate one another—at a safe distance.
- We continued to "pay it forward" at the beginning of the week while respecting social distancing and following safe engagement guidelines
- We hosted daily lunchtime "booster" sessions online for Risking Connection topics, including: self-capacities, brain and the body, attachment, symptoms as adaptations, and self care
- We integrated daily email challenges for individual teams based on RICH principles
- We also celebrate self-care with online meditation and yoga workshops
While it takes some up-front planning, coordination, and effort, Risking Connection Week is an opportunity to build positive workplace culture and deepen RC understanding in a concrete way. It is a reminder to workers that the philosophy we ask them to embrace with families and clients every day is just as powerful when embraced with colleagues and in their own lives.