by Alexander Weinhard
Working Out Loud starts with making your work visible in such a way that it might help others. When you do that — when you work in a more open, connected way — you can build a purposeful network that makes you more effective and provides access to more opportunities.John Stepper: The five elements of Working Out Loud
When I read this statement for the first time, I thought: “Higher efficiency in my work and more opportunities? That is exactly what I need!” I am a software engineer at the more than 18,000-person Festo, and I am used to supporting my colleagues with their IT problems in our collaboration environment.
I thought, “Support is a form of reactive knowledge sharing, so why not proactively share my knowledge? It totally makes sense!”
I was so naïve…
After publishing some Tales from the SharePoint Forest, a collection of learnings I had made in my job packed into fable-style stories, which were very positively received from the audience in our company internal social media, I quickly discovered that sharing knowledge alone is not enough. I needed to learn more about how I could make connections with people, how to address people better and how to be more systematic in my sharing.
When I heard that our knowledge management department was planning to organize a Working Out Loud Circle and was searching for volunteers to participate, I was immediately hooked.
What is a Working Out Loud Circle?
- What am I trying to do?
- Who is related to my goal?
- How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?
The original approach plans a 12-week cycle with weekly one-hour meetings. At Festo we have reduced it to a ten-week cycle but stick to the weekly one-hour online meetings. Each weekly Circle meeting has a different subject with one or two corresponding exercises illustrated below.
Our Working Out Loud team consists of five of us, from different departments, functions and locations. The host and two of the participants are from our knowledge management HR team based in Germany. One participant is a local IT guy from one of our branch offices in the UK and I introduced myself already. We do all the meetings online.
The goal of the UK colleague is about his personal Balanced Scorecard. The host’s goal is about how to organize a Working Out Loud Circle. One HR colleague’s goal is to learn more about knowledge management because he is new to the subject, and the other HR colleague’s goal is to improve her trainer skills.
That’s the cool thing about a Working Out Loud Circle — all participants can have their own goals. The Circle is more about general methodology, not about a specific subject. Still, we can each help the others, if goals are not too specific.
I have had knowledge management as a main course during my master studies, so I can provide material for the colleague who wants to learn more about knowledge management. I have implemented our IT’s Balanced Scorecard, hence I can connect the UK colleague with the responsible persons for an exchange. We each bring our varied experiences to the table to help each other out.
How did the Working Out Loud Circle make a change for me?
At the moment I am writing this blog post, the Working Out Loud Circle is still going on. So far, we have held seven out of the ten Circle meetings. But nevertheless I already experience a big change:
The goal I set for myself was to learn more about management. Before the Circle started, I was a nerd technical specialist who thought that management in general was something evil. Now I am a nerd technical specialist that thinks that I can change his whole work environment through the practices I’ve learned so far, potentially making a real difference for my colleagues (and myself). Ultimately, I am rethinking my personal goals and don’t think I’d fundamentally turn down the idea of going into management anymore. Our Circle has really kicked off a complete change of my mindset and I am just getting started!
Probably I was a bit lucky too, because at the same time I started to participate in the Working Out Loud Circle, I started reading #Workout by Jurgen Appelo (now published under the title Managing for Happiness).
Through the Working Out Loud Circle exercise in Week Three, I started using Twitter and followed Jurgen. That’s how I learned about the Happy Melly network and immediately joined it. I have published my experiences from the Working Out Loud Circle as experiments I’m running, got a lot of great feedback from the Happy Melly members and finally one thing lead to another… Now I am sitting in front of my computer, writing a blog post for Happy Melly, sharing my experience from the Working Out Loud Circle to an audience I could not have imagined a few weeks ago!
What experiences have I made participating in the Working Out Loud Circle?
For me, the Working Out Loud Circle at Festo is an institution I wouldn’t want to miss any minute of. I even turned down an appointment with my CEO to be able to join the kick-off!
In my first report on Happy Melly about my experiences in the Working Out Loud Circle, I wrote:
“Finally I have found a channel where I can let my thoughts run wild, where I can exchange with like-minded people. It feels like an escape from the everyday routine.” And guess what? Nothing has changed since then.
Many of the exercises we put into practice during the Circle meetings already found their way into my daily habits, e.g. into the way I write emails or post on our company internal social media. And the feedback which I receive from recipients or readers is exceptionally positive.
In addition, the number of public posts I write in our company social media has increased tremendously because, due to the Circle I found the confidence to be more public. Before the Circle started, I most often just answered questions, provided support and assistance. Now I post about my ideas, experiments, outcomes, achievements. I post kudos and recognition and sometimes also just post my thoughts and opinions. I hope my colleagues will not consider me a spammer in the near future…
What will happen next?
I already incorporated with a couple of colleagues from different countries and different business departments to launch a new community with the target to overcome the organizational barriers between software development and affiliated departments in our company. I will share my development knowledge as well as my management learnings there too, thus bringing my Working Out Loud contributions to a whole new level, and, who knows, maybe we might also form some new Working Out Loud Circles inside this community.
I am already looking forward to the next Working Out Loud Circle meetings and want to gain more insight into the subject. I will definitely go on sharing my experiences to spread word to a wider audience. I am also highly motivated to go on using the practices I have learned from the Circle in my next projects, with my remote developer team and with the new community. And when our knowledge management department starts more Working Out Loud Circles, guess who will try to join…
Do you have made similar or totally different experiences with Working Out Loud Circles? Tell us about them in the comments below.