Frequently Asked Questions
What is Working Out Loud?
Working Out Loud is a way to build relationships that can help you in some way, like achieving a goal or exploring a new topic or skill. Instead of networking to get something, you invest in relationships by making contributions over time, including your work and experiences that you make visible. Your contributions over time are what build trust and deepen a sense of relatedness, and that's what increases the chances for cooperation and collaboration.
The results? When you Work Out Loud, you're more effective because you have access to more people, knowledge, and opportunities that can help you. You feel better, too, because your bigger network of meaningful relationships give you a greater sense of control, competence, and connection. All of that leads to more motivation for individuals, and to more agility, innovation, and collaboration for an organization.
Below is a 2-minute video from an organization embracing Working Out Loud (ZF Group, 140,000 employees):
What's involved? How do I Work Out Loud?
The practice starts with three simple questions:
What am I trying to accomplish?
Who's related to my goal?
How can I contribute to people to deepen our relationship?
Picking a simple goal makes it purposeful, and orients who you choose to build relationships with and what kinds of contributions you might make. Instead of networking to get something, you lead with generosity, investing in relationships that give you access to other people, knowledge, and possibilities. Your contributions can range from recognition & appreciation to sharing learning, resources, and original work that might be helpful to others.
A Working Out Loud Circle is the best way to put the idea into practice, and to develops habits and a mindset you can apply to any goal.
How do I start? What's a Working Out Loud Circle?
One of the best ways to start is to form a Working Out Loud Circle. That's a peer support group of 4-5 people who meet for an hour a week for 12 weeks. You can meet in person or via video. Both work well.
In your Circle, you each pick an individual goal you care about, and short, simple guides help you find people related to your goal and develop relationships with them. By the end, you’ll have developed a larger, more diverse network and a set of habits you can apply toward any goal.
The guides are free, and are available in 7 languages: English, German, Spanish, Mandarin, French, Portuguese, and Dutch. You can connect with WOL practitioners around the world - and even find Circle members - in the WOL Community on Facebook and the WOL LinkedIn group.
Here are a few of the many "Circle selfies" people have shared online (click on images to scroll through):
How might this apply to an organization?
Almost every organization is looking for ways to be more agile or innovative. They also want a more engaged workforce. Yet, the change management programs and digital transformation programs typically miss the most important piece: changing day-to-day behavior.
Working Out Loud Circles help people develop new habits and a new mindset at work. As more people across an organization Work Out Loud, work becomes more effective and fulfilling, and the culture becomes more open and collaborative.
Related Resources including common goals for WOL Programs:
Working Out Loud at Bosch - Five questions for Christoph Kübel, member of the board of management and director industrial relations at Robert Bosch GmbH
The future of work: virtual expert networks boost effectiveness - Bosch press release on why the spread WOL Circles
Who’s doing the most with Working Out Loud?
Circles are in over 40 countries and a wide range of organizations, from corporations and non-profits to universities and government. Bosch, the global engineering firm headquartered in Germany, has done the most to spread Working Out Loud Circles and also to adapt the practice for their organization. Many other organizations are now following their lead.
Are there any measurable benefits?
The best data currently comes from surveys done at Bosch and Daimler, where people who have experienced a WOL Circle have universally said they would recommend the method to their network. Click on the link below for more details and additional survey results.
Are they individual goals? What about teams or shared goals?
In the Working Out Loud Circles, you pick an individual goal you care about. That helps you tap into your intrinsic motivation. There is also a set of Circle Guides for Teams that's being piloted now, and experiments are being planned for Communities of Practice and other groups with shared goals. You can read more about the pilot in this blog post, "Co-creation with Bosch and Postshift." Or send me email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What if I’m not an extrovert or don’t like social media?
What matters most is that you frame your goals in terms of other people and in terms of contributions you might make that could deepen the relationship. That requires empathy, reflection, and mindfulness more than extroversion or facility with tools. The blog posts in the related resources go into much more detail.
Why is "Working Out Loud" trademarked?
After I launched www.africanmango-slim.com and published the book, I noticed a trademark for “Work Out Loud” already existed, and multiple websites were popping up with similar names. I also noticed an increasing number of consultants offering workshops related to Working Out Loud and wanting to offer all kinds of variations of WOL Circles. So I decided I needed to pursue my own trademark. The first reason is to defend my right to use keep using my domain name and to offer products and services related to it. The second is to ensure that the products and services using that name were consistent and coherent.
This is a common practice. The author of Getting Things Done, for example, isn’t the first person to utter the phrase or even the first to write a book about it. He trademarked it so he could preserve the integrity of his method as well as the business he built related to it. Since then, his method has helped millions of people.
Some people didn’t like it at the time, claiming it was unfair or unjust, and some of the same complaints come up related to Working Out Loud. Some feel that the very idea of a trademark is inconsistent with WOL and generosity. I understand and respect their point of view. Yet, I estimate well over ten thousand people have used the free Circle Guides that I've developed over the past 10 years, and hundreds of organizations have also used the guides for free. So I feel it is both appropriate and fair for me to protect the integrity of what “Working Out Loud” and “WOL” means, and to be able to offer products and services using those terms.
Is it really free to use the Circle Guides?
Yes. Many thousands of individuals and hundreds of organizations of all kinds and sizes have used the free Circle Guides. There are some restrictions, as noted on the top of each guide.
This material is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License. You can use it and share it as-is. You can’t change it or offer it as part of any for-fee product or service without explicit written permission.
Most people just download the Circle Guide and use them as-is. If you have any questions or concerns about using the guides in your business, or any uncertainty about what "commercial use" means, simply send me an email at email@example.com.
How do you make any money?
I've been asked this question many times. The simple answer is that some of the organizations spreading WOL want more support, and I offer them services and products for a fee - talks, workshops, training, a license for customizing the Circle Guides, journals, videos, etc. There's also a growing number of WOL Coaches who are licensed to offer certain services.
There's no trick or trial offer or attempt to up-sell people. If you don't feel you need the for-fee products or services, and just want to use the free guides as-is, that's completely fine. Many companies I work with, however, want to know that there is support they can count on if they need it, especially when they're integrating WOL into HR programs and the like.
When I established my own small business several years ago, I committed to continuing to improve the Circle Guides and to keep them available for free. Since then, there have been three major upgrades, and version 4.5 of the guides is now in 7 languages. I also recently launched WOL-SC to a test group of over 100 people. Those guides will also be available for free once the first test completes in early 2019.
Below are questions I've been asked in interviews.
Are you surprised by the worldwide success of WOL?
Yes, I am surprised. I never imagined, for example, that there would be Circles spreading in China and Brazil, and that dozens of people in different countries would volunteer to translate the Circle Guides. (They’re in eight languages now.)
I also didn’t imagine that HR would be my biggest customer, so to speak. When I wrote the book and developed the first set of guides, my intention was just to help individuals. I didn’t envision that people who joined Circles would want to spread them inside their companies, form grassroots movements, and try to have those movements supported by management.
When and why do WOL circles fail?
I wrote a longer, more complete answer: http://www.africanmango-slim.com/blog//when-wol-doesnt-work
Here's an excerpt from that post, which also includes what you can do to mitigate these challenges.
"The three top challenges by far are related to logistics, choosing individual goals, and managing to do the exercises each week.
The challenges in an organization are different. The spread of WOL seems to follow a common pattern:
A person or group experiments with WOL Circles.
They tell friends & colleagues, and more Circles form.
A grassroots movement forms, including a small core team (or “co-creation team”) of volunteers that emerges to spread WOL.
The WOL team secures institutional support, integrating WOL into existing HR programs, or as part of change management for digital transformation or innovation or culture programs.
The proliferation of Circles can stop at any point in between these different stages. Maybe the initial Circle didn’t have a good experience. Or a core team never emerges and the grassroots movement remains small and ad hoc. Sometimes, even in the face of a passionate and persistent people, the institution is resistant to doing things differently.
One thing I’ve observed is that it’s usually not an issue of company culture, but about people. I’ve seen WOL spread in even the most conservative, hierarchical organizations because of the persistence of people who felt that WOL helped them, and they were committed to helping others at their company.
But there are a few places where change fatigue has set in. Maybe the company is under threat, or going through yet another major reorganization, and it’s all people can do to make it through the day. WOL may be “a lifeboat in a sea of change,” but they’re too tired to row."
What do you think is the largest benefit for companies and employees through your method?
When I ask individuals about the biggest change they experienced, about how they feel after a Circle, the word they use most often is “empowered.” Their experiments and outreach week after week, all in a psychologically safe space, helps them tap into their intrinsic needs for control, competence, and connection.
The biggest benefit for companies is that their employees actually get a chance to experience behaviors that management has been promoting instead of just talking about them - crossing silos, leveraging digital tools, communicating openly, becoming more self-organizing and self-managing, etc, etc. In a Circle, the small steps, practiced over time, with feedback and peer support along the way, help make “the new way of working” the new normal.
Do you think it works for all sort of companies, no matter how large they are? Do small companies need this too?
WOL Circles have different benefits for different kinds of organizations. In large companies, for example, it’s easy to form diverse Circles and tap into more of what the company knows. In smaller organizations, forming Circles with people outside the company can help to greatly expand their influence and access to new knowledge.
It’s not meant to be “one size fits all.” I’ll often work with organizations to customize the guides so they refer to their own technology and examples. In other cases, we’ll pilot new approaches to reach people in different roles and physical settings.
Some German speakers criticize that WOL is not sustainable: The positive effects occur in the circles, but if one goes back to business, everything about WOL is forgotten. What do you think about this criticism??
When someone writes to tell me their Circle made them feel more empowered, changed their mindset, and in some cases changed their life, that is not something to be forgotten easily. Later this year, I’ll publish a new method for people who’ve been in Circles and want to feel even more of a change. [That new method is WOL-SC.]
As for whether any of this makes a difference to a company, it’s a question of scale. For sure, a few Circles won’t change much in a large corporation. But Circles are relatively easy to spread and integrate into HR programs like on-boarding. What if you reached 10% or 15% of a corporation and they learned to work in a more open, generous, connected way? Would that be enough to tip the culture? I intend to find out.
It is not all new or rocket science rather a kind of reassertion of common values it seams to me. How do you explain yourself the growing success and movement of WOL?
The elements of WOL are founded largely on ancient wisdom. The “new” thing is that these elements are packaged in such a way that it’s easy for almost anyone to practice, especially at work. Circles are “work-friendly” and fit neatly into existing corporate programs. That allows WOL to reach many people it would never reach otherwise. A Circle is also a safe, confidential space, and that allows people to experiment and be vulnerable - to be themselves - in a way most have never experienced at work.
The result is that many people feel different after their Circle. And it’s that feeling that makes them want to tell others about it and to spread it.
You get a lot of feedback from people starting WOL. Is there any particular difficult weekly assignment within the 12 circle guides? Which one or two?
It seems Weeks 5 and 11 are most difficult for people. In Week 5, people like the “50 facts” exercise, but they struggle with how to share it. That’s okay. The point of that week is for you to simply be more mindful that such facts can be the basis of a meaningful connection with someone.
Week 11 may seem like too big a stretch for many people. Unless you’ve experienced it, it can be hard to understand how communities can work together to accomplish something. My aim for that week is to at least expose people to examples and open them up to the possibility that they could be a part of such a thing.