Happy at work in prisons

I’m back from the FutureCamp event with the Danish Prison Service and I am exhausted. After 48 gruelling but fun hours, the director of the service could take home an catalogue of a dozen ideas which had been fleshed out and about 50 more that were still hanging in the air.

The theme was to make the prison service a great place to work. Currently, this is how they see themselves:

  1. People don’t stay long in their jobs
  2. People feeling overworked and stressed
  3. Absenteeism is high
  4. There is little trust and communication between managers and employees
  5. Prison wardens don’t talk to case workers, case workers don’t talk to IT people and nobody talks to the central administration

Which doesn’t really seem too different from many other workplaces. Of course, working with prisoners does give this workplace some unique challenges, but it also give employees an incentive to stick together and support each other.

The camp had 40 participants from the prison service, from many different departments and from all levels of the hierarchy. I was called in as an outside expert to participate in the process. Participants were divided into six groups, each of which focused on a specific topic, eg. leadership, relations with inmates, relations with colleagues. I was placed in the group that worked on IT in the prison service, probably because of my background in IT.

The process itself was quite impressive with illustrators, facilitators, a camera man to film everything and produce movies on the fly and various suprises along the way.

And what happened was the same things that always happens when you put people together in an inspiring process around an important topic: People got creative. And they got to talking. And they got fired up. I love it when that happens and it’s great to be a part of.

My favorite part of the whole event happened on the morning of the second day, where they brought in a gospel singer and his keyboard to get everybody up and singing. Now, I’m not much of a singer, but suddenly I found myself hollering with the best of them :o) That was great fun and energized the whole room.

So what am I taking away from this event:

  1. Give people a chance to talk and magical stuff happens
  2. People ARE creative, anybody saying differently is lying
  3. A lot of ideas can be created and worked on in 48 hours

I’m also left with a lingering suspicion, that making the event such a huge production makes it more difficult to take home the spirit and the lessons of the event. If it had been more like real work-life, the results would be more easily transferable – which is what we’re really after. *cough* Open Space Technology *cough*.

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