in Social Business

Working Out Loud in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

Brandenburg Gate in Berlin

I’m sitting on a plane heading back to NY, reading notes from 70+ people about working out loud.

I met those people at the Social Business Collaboration Summit in Berlin. There, with attendees from companies as diverse as IKEA, KPMG, and Asian Paints, I got the chance to ask:

“Did they see the benefits of working out loud?”

“Were they having difficulties helping people at their firms change how they work?”

Here’s what they said.

The easy part: benefits

Contributions during the World Cafe

Contributions during the World Cafe

Groups of 15 or so convened for 30 minutes each in a World Cafe format. After a brief description of working out loud – “making your work visible and narrating your work in progress” – each group quickly listed a series of benefits:

  • makes it easier to spot duplication and identify collaboration opportunities
  • improves quality and timeliness by getting feedback in the early stages of work
  • makes it easier to discover and develop knowledge and expertise
  • helps teams, particularly global teams, feel closer
  • helps break silos and connect the dots across teams
  • fosters innovation by allowing more people to use knowledge in different ways
  • gives people control of their reputation and taps into intrinsic motivation

One woman, with a lovely accent and a sense of the poetic, added “it helps your work develop new routes.”

A simple example from IKEA

"Finding competence"

“Finding competence”

A woman in the communications division at IKEA told a story of how working out loud helped her team “find competence in unexpected places.” In her area, people around the world have similar jobs managing their local communications sites. Every month, they’d get on a conference call to share information but it wasn’t very effective. The timezones made the call inconvenient for some. And not everyone was comfortable speaking in English. So the calls were dominated by those most confident and awake.

Then the team decided to augment their calls by using their new social platform. And, all of a sudden, “someone who never said anything on the phone was making all these contributions online.” He shifted from being invisible to “becoming influential and a leader in the group.”

“Great,” I said to the others, “now how many stories do you have like this at your firms?”

An uncomfortable truth

As you might expect, most people at a social business conference are used to working out loud themselves. But the number of people doing so at there firms remains woefully low. Even getting people to simply login to a collaboration platform remains a challenge.

This seemed to be true across industries and cultures. Why? All we had were theories and anecdotes:

“Maybe people are too busy.”

“Maybe they’re uncomfortable talking about their work in public.” 

“Maybe their managers suppress them.” 

“Maybe they’re simply surrounded by people working a certain way and it’s too difficult to work differently.”

“Maybe some people would rather be invisible at work.”

So while more and more companies have social collaboration projects, the pace of change is very, very slow.

Getting started

Evolving the way we work

Evolving the way we work

In answering the question “What can we do?” the groups were both positive and practical. Most agreed that it’s about developing new habits. So that meant using the same techniques that work for changing other habits.

  1. Make it simple. Just changing someone’s home page can make the platform seem much more accessible. And curated suggestions of people, groups, and content relevant to a person’s division and location make the value more apparent.
  2. Start small. Create situations – such as town halls and other events – where people can find material or ask a question and feel the benefits themselves.
  3. Make it safe. Give every team a private online space to make posting seem less risky.
  4. Leverage social influence. Spend more effort on getting influential people, especially senior management, to model the behavior.
  5. Make it relevant. Provide more content and more integration with daily processes so it’s part of the daily work and not yet another thing to do.

Are we there yet?

After a few years of attending conferences like this one in Berlin, we’ve moved from just talking about the possibilities to having firms of all kinds actively working to change things. We’ve enabled a first wave of experimentation and have our first meaningful sets of stories across a wide range of companies. But how long will it take until a critical mass of people in large firms of working differently?

Later in the week, at a meet-up of early adopters in Frankfurt, I said I thought it would take 3-5 years. When I asked people in the room what they thought, the majority said “a generation.”

Time to get back to work.

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  • https://plus.google.com/100641053530204604051 Joachim Stroh

    Love you ‘Evolving the way you work’ diagram, John! Here’s a variation of the theme:
    https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/69746264/evolve.png

    • Irene Johansen

      Wonderful!

    • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

      Nice. Did you just do that or am I really that unoriginal? Or both? :-)

  • moyramackie

    This may not seem immediately connected, but I wonder about the impact of the political environment of the 1980s where individualism was everything, where unions and other collective organisations in the UK and US were demonised? Today’s 40/50 somethings came of age then.Individualism is inherently competitive. The era glorified “instinct” politics, ignoring evidence and science. And this is seen in companies today, both in senior management positions and in HR, which ignore scientific evidence of how to motivate and work together in favor of competition and individualism – forced ranking anyone? Maybe it will take a generation – the Facebook generation – to be comfortable with commenting, thinking and working out loud?

    • Irene Johansen

      Interesting thoughts. I’m one of those 40/50 somethings, and at one time (not so long ago) I was fighting and fighting for recognition. Then I was introduced to lean thinking and true collaboration, and I was hooked. Along came John S. and I’m a convert. I think you are right that the 80′s era paradigm conflicts with working out loud today. I see a lot of it where I work – as you say, in management and HR. I’m hoping that, as ’twas ever thus, a few people trying to do good will tip the balance sooner than a generation. I don’t want to wait 30 years to work effectively with my whole team, my whole company. I don’t have that kind of time.

    • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

      I hadn’t thought of that but it makes good sense in a “Freakanomics” kind of way. The root cause might be quite different from what it seems at first.

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  • Irene Johansen

    John, thanks so much for posting these concrete suggestions. As you might guess from my responses above, I’m in the middle of trying to move a mountain. Every time I get discouraged by something going on here, and I come to this site, I find something that lifts me back up again and convinces me to keep going. You have no idea how much that helps. Add that to your list – Working out load can provide encouragement and support to your colleagues when they really need it. Can you imagine anything better than that?

    • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

      I’m glad i could support you in some way! If you ever more help than that, send me a DM on Twitter.

  • http://explorationsinlearning.wordpress.com tanyalau

    Great post John. Agree with Irene – always love your practical suggestions; makes the task seem achievable. Very powerful closing statement, puts it into perspective! Hoping it won’t take that long, but it may well in some orgs.

    • http://johnstepper.wordpress.com John Stepper

      Thank you. And I hope you’re right. :-)

      Still, think of how long we’ve know about the need to eat right and exercise and, at least in the US, how the vast majority of people seem unable to change their habits.

      No reason to give up, though. Just need to be more creative, try more things, and use all 6 sources of influence. :-)

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