Skip to content

Trust is Radical

by Micah Blumenthal, with Aja Schmeltz

Before we talk about radical trust, let’s look at the word radical.




  1. (especially of change or action) relating to or affecting the fundamental nature of something; far-reaching or thorough.
  2. advocating or based on thorough or complete political or social change; representing or supporting an extreme or progressive section of a political party.


  1. a person who advocates thorough or complete political or social reform; a member of a political party or part of a party pursuing such aims.
  2. CHEMISTRY: a group of atoms behaving as a unit in a number of compounds.

Every definition here is applicable: thorough and complete change, affecting the fundamental nature, advocating. 

Becoming a WSDNP needs radical trust. Not just trust, but the kind of trust which is far-reaching, revolutionary, and involves a group behaving as a single unit, working together. It is radical to trust so much in the workplace, radical to do different, and challenging to be different. How do we get there?

Embracing radical trust is difficult. It can be uncomfortable. Our path, our potential, and our success depends on the collective. We all hold each other equally, there is no one to follow and no one to blame. Hierarchical systems is what we know. Maybe even all we know. They may not completely satisfy us, but they work to a degree. So shifting away from that can feel scary and requires us to believe that some other way is possible and perhaps better. This is where we start. And because we will have a tendency to revert to the comfortable known, continued trust is required to keep saying “I believe another way is still possible, Another way is necessary.” 

A big part of becoming a WSDNP has been the act of creating the policies as a collective to support this work, so that when we want to revert to the comfortable known, even unconsciously, the systems are there to catch us and support us in our doing different, in our sharing of power. But it is the trust that really holds it all. Trust that it is going to work. Trust that if it doesn’t work the first time, or even the second, we will all work as a unit to find a solution. Trust that my co-workers are here with me. Trust that not only can we speak honestly, but that in order for this to work, we have to. Trust that workers won’t abuse the power we have. Trust that no matter what the policy says, we are showing up and holding this together.

Embracing radical trust takes practice. For many, this is not a natural behavior, particularly in the workplace. Our systems have trained us to look after our own interests, rather than those of the group. When ideas are proposed, our instinct is to think, “How will this affect ME?” rather than thinking, “How will this affect US?” As with any other practice, radical trust requires mindfulness and diligence to be effective.

Embracing radical trust requires communication. There is a lot of autonomy in a WSDNP. Working in circles means that we are often in partnership, but with a lot of autonomy. Autonomy does not mean that work happens in a vacuum. The partnership is really there to support the autonomous work, not to manage it or check on it, because that wouldn’t be coming from a place of trust. The trust comes from genuine relationships. This is cultivated is small ways like beginning meetings with perhaps a “check-in”, just seeing how we are all doing. This simple process comes down to taking the time. It isn’t always efficient to do so when there is a list of items on the agenda that all seem super important, but our relationships with each other is actually more important because we can’t do this work without trust.

This trust runs deep too. It’s not just in our work, but also our feelings. When we give consent in our decision making, we have to mean it. If we have doubt, we have to voice it. The circle system and autonomous work means a lot can happen fast. Decision making processes like consensus or consent often makes people think “That takes forever, right?” But slow or fast doesn’t matter. As our friend Angela DeFelice reminds us, we move at the speed of trust.


Aja will share her Notes from the Field next, and after that Susan will share our thinking on how we make decisions in a Worker Self-Directed Nonprofit and how we found our ideal decision-making process.

We launched this series of articles and reflections in September 2019 to share our journey of moving from a traditional hierarchical nonprofit to a worker self-directed nonprofit. We hope by opening up this transition it might help others take the first steps towards sharing power in their workplaces.

Support GWI

These times call for collective action. Your gift is the solid ground that allows us to support and cultivate Good Work: that is, people and initiatives that are rejecting systems of oppression and extraction, and building regenerative economies and thriving communities.