Improving your skill set is like growing a garden. You need to till the soil, plant the seeds, water the seeds, weed the area around them, and wait awhile. After many months, you'll start to see your efforts bearing fruit.
Most skills required for success in a DAO take a long time to grow. But if you start now, you'll be more prepared for DAO work by the time DAOs gain wide adoption and traditional companies are making the leap into decentralized work.
So, what are the required skills for DAO contribution and how do you cultivate them?
This list is not exhaustive—many skills are needed to succeed in DAOs. But, I believe you can start with these five basic skills and grow from here. Here are the 5 skills I've identified as extremely important for working in a DAO:
- Nonviolent communication
- Team building
Now, let's explore how to begin growing each one.
Prioritization: the art of deciding what's most important
Working without managers is tough. It means you need to have a deep understanding of what you need to do, when to do it, and how long to spend on it. You also need to know how to prioritize the most important tasks over the least, as well as the wisdom to know the difference.
The skill of prioritization includes:
- Finding the most important work to do, tackling it, then moving on to the next most important thing.
- Knowing which meetings to attend and which don't provide enough value for you—meetings can stack up really quickly in DAO work.
- Finding your path when there's no obvious "next step."
- Responding to messages without spending all day messaging people.
- Balancing your life outside the DAO—family time, exercise, rest, and travel.
Prioritization is an especially difficult skill that I need to work on myself! When I first joined a DAO, I spent all day combing through messages and channels, and by the evening I felt like I had put in a full "work day." But in reality, I was just reading chats and messaging people on Discord. I had to slowly cut back on Discord and establish "no Discord days" so I could focus on deep work and not get lost in the messages.
I also had a hard time prioritizing meetings. I remember a few months ago, I looked at my calendar and had nearly eight hours of DAO meetings per week. While that might pale in comparison to corporate America's stacks of meetings, meetings need to be much more deliberate in DAOs using a bounty structure where contributors are paid for work output rather than a salary of weekly time spent at work. I knew I needed to make some cuts. Eventually, I had to cut over 50% of meetings so I could focus on deep, creative work.
Ideas to begin cultivating this skill:
- Use a time tracker to better understand how much time you spend doing different tasks throughout the day. I like Toggl Track because it's very simple and easy to set up. You can create categories and track how much time you spend working in each one. I started using this over a year ago, and it's been eye-opening for me!
- Set due-dates for tasks and stick to them. This has been another huge improvement for me. Many of the tasks I work on daily don't have "due dates," but are entirely self-directed. Set a hard deadline and put it on your calendar. Write it on a sticky-note and put it above your desk. Treat the due date as if you absolutely cannot miss it.
Self-direction: The art of taking steps every day to achieve your goals on a large scale
In DAOs, there's no manager telling you what to do next. Instead, there's a huge blank canvas for you to decide where you're going. This can be scary, but it's also incredibly exciting.
Many DAO contributors find themselves wondering, "what do I do now? What is needed of me?" And the hard truth is that no one is going to tell you what to do next. No one is going to show up and say, "Do this now, it's due in one week." You need to use your internal compass to decide where to go and how to best orient yourself without the mass of options in the DAO.
The skill of self-direction includes:
- Creativity to figure out new ways to set personal goals and achieve them.
- Confidence to try new paths in the DAO to find the best one for you.
- An understanding of what the DAO needs and how you can help provide it.
- Goal-setting ability, both for small, medium, and large goals.
Self-direction is not taught in schools or even colleges. You're always being told what to do rather than having to find your own way. The idea of self-direction is completely new to most people, unless they've started their own business. So, don't get down on yourself if you're struggling with this particular skill. I personally have to remind myself to work on self-direction every single day.
Ideas to begin cultivating this skill:
- Write down daily, weekly, monthly, and quarterly goals. Maybe it's the distance runner's heart in me, but I'm a sucker for goal-setting. I love having a goal and working hard to achieve it. The feeling of finally getting it done is something that drives me to keep working on my next goals and gets me up in the morning. I recommend getting a paper journal or a note-taking software such as Notion or OneNote. Write down goals and break them into bite-sized steps. Check them off as you achieve them. I also like to write down my next day's goals before I go to sleep the night before. This keeps me focused and prevents me from burning a day doing nothing. (I also include more restful activities, such as running and reading, in those daily to-do's.)
- Set a yearly "theme" and revisit it weekly. I've found that yearly goals don't work for me, because things always happen during the course of that year that make the goal obsolete, replacing it with a new one. So I set yearly themes instead. A yearly theme is "an overall idea of how you would like to approach each year." Example themes include big topics such as simplicity, structure, exploration, health, minimalism, and reinvention. Try writing down a few thoughts on how your theme is playing out every week. That will keep you focused on the overall idea you are pursuing and give you a north star to guide your decisions.
Nonviolent communication: the art of getting your point across in a productive way
DAOs don't have Human Resources departments. Instead, everyone needs to be their own conflict-manager. Since you're often interacting with people who you've never met in person before and likely never even seen on video, you are going to need to constantly remind yourself to talk and act as if they were physically sitting at the table next to you.
Screens remove the human element from our interactions. The prevalence of people of rude, angry people on Twitter every day shows how easy it is to blow up at someone you've never met because you're behind a screen rather than talking to them in person. So it's especially important to remind yourself that the person on the other side of the screen is a person, not just a Discord or Twitter handle.
The skill of nonviolent communication includes:
- Knowing how to speak productively in a digital setting.
- Understanding what to do when conflict arises.
- Having a plan for when conflict escalates too significantly.
- Being your authentic self when communicating.
Again, this is something not taught in school. So, it's important to start from a blank slate and learn the basics of communicating clearly and kindly.
Ways to begin cultivating this skill:
- Read the book Nonviolent Communication. This important book shares ways to better interact and work with those around you so your relationships are healthier and more productive.
- Pause and take a breath before responding to messages. In the heat of the moment, it can be easy to let anger boil over and send something that doesn't best represent who you are. Give yourself space, walk away from the computer, and revisit the issue when your head is clear.
- Practice talking in "I feel" statements rather than blaming others. Blame doesn't go over well in DAOs because there's no single person to point the finger at. Instead, you'd be pointing your finger at the collective. Frame your point in your own feelings and emotions, taking blame out of the equation.
Self-awareness: the art of knowing what you need to live a healthy, happy life as a DAO contributor
There's no manager or HR representative who is dedicated to "look out" for you, so you'll need to take on that burden and look out for yourself. Are you feeling burnt out? Over-extended? Or, maybe you're not feeling fulfilled in your DAO work, and another DAO with a different mission would serve you better?
Constant re-evaluation is necessary for success. If you're not taking the time to figure out what you need, someone will direct you in a way that you might not want to go.
The skill of self-awareness includes:
- Knowing when you need to rest and when you need to work.
- Finding your path and knowing if it's where you want to be at that moment.
- The steps you need to take to optimize your life and be happy.
Through working in DAOs I learned that you need to actively take charge of your life and look out for yourself. That doesn't mean ignoring the needs of the group, it just means taking your health and happiness seriously. If you don't make your health and happiness a priority, who will?
Ways to begin cultivating this skill:
- Write down your thoughts and feelings daily or weekly in a journal. Sometimes it's hard to evaluate your feelings without writing them down and really sitting with them. Pen to paper is a good way to bring out feelings you might not have realized you had.
- Go for walks or runs outside. As a distance runner, I'm definitely biased toward this method! I believe it's essential to get outside and get your heart rate up. Walking and running is a good time to clear your head and open it up to new thoughts and feelings.
- Optimize one thing at a time. It can be hard to try to improve multiple aspects of your life at once. Try optimizing one thing, mastering it, and then going from there. For example, if you've identified that you're feeling burned out, try to find one thing you can work on that will help. Maybe set an alarm for when you want your work to end every day and stick to it. Don't try to tackle too many things at once, because you'll have a smaller likelihood of achieving them.
Team building: the art of bringing a team together to accomplish a goal
DAOs are really just groups of people coordinating to achieve a goal. So, being able to build effective, collaborative, creative teams is critical for success.
Team building in DAOs is not like team building corporate America. DAO team building is a lot more like building a fire and seeing who comes to sit by it. The vision of what the team hopes to accomplish is the fire, and anyone who comes to sit by you is a potential co-contributor who might be interested in the mission. (I originally heard a version of this idea of team-building as lighting a bonfire on the Brave New Work podcast.)
The skill of team building includes:
- Establishing mission and direction for a group of people.
- Interacting with individuals with skills that are different from yours.
- Creating space for leaders to emerge.
- Allowing the team to sense its mission and adjust as needed.
Team building might be the most elusive skill to cultivate, but possibly the most important for a healthy DAO and a successful project. It's elusive because it requires actually working on team building to get better—you need to have experience building teams, which doesn't come easy. But without it, your DAO might wither away.
Ways to begin cultivating this skill:
- Try team building on a small scale first. Maybe you have a project you'd like to accomplish that has a clear mission and end date. Try bringing together a team to make that happen! If there's a very clear scope of work, then it will be easier to light the fire and let people come sit around it. Vague scopes or unclear missions might make it harder to attract contributors.
- Observe how other great team builders and leaders do it. You'll learn that some people are inherently better team-builders than others. Watch what they do and take notes. How do they light a fire, and how do they organize people once they come to sit by that fire?
- Read books on team building such as Team of Teams, Who Decides Who Decides, and Humanocracy. I find that it's easier to base my work on what others have theorized in the past. There are many books that could help you better understand how effective teams are built without needing to do tons of field-practice.
Cultivating these skills takes time. Put in the work, be patient, and see your garden grow.
These skills are very different from those needed in traditional, hierarchical structures. But they're essential for DAO success. Put in the work today, and you'll be set up that much better for DAO success tomorrow!
Collect this as a writing NFT on Mirror here.
- Nonviolent Communication
- Team of Teams
- Who Decides Who Decides?
- How to DAO 401: DAO Community Leadership
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