Working Out Loud

Working Out Loud explained - toolshero

This article provides a practical explanation of the Working Out Loud method. After reading, you’ll understand the basics of this powerful personal development tool.

What is Working Out Loud?

Working Out Loud (WOL) is an approach to collaboration in which employees form a virtual network. They are encouraged to talk about their work and publish what they do. The goal is to allow others to communicate with them, respond to their work and learn from them, so that they can subsequently apply this knowledge to their own work.

Working Out Loud is a way to build new relationships that can be valuable in many different ways, such as achieving a new goal, developing a new skill, or exploring a new topic. Although it can be compared to traditional networking, but rather than relying on new connections, WOL invests in existing relationships by making voluntary contributions. The results of this process will become apparent over time. After a period of time, the provided input creates a sense of trust and connectedness, which increases the chances for sustainable partnerships.

At the basis of WOL lie the so-called WOL circles. These are peer-support groups of four to five people in which the following types of questions are discussed: what am I trying to do? Who is related to my goal? How can I strengthen our relationship and make it more valuable?

Who developed Working Out Loud?

The concept of Working Out Loud was first described by Bryce Willians. In 2010 he published the blog post ‘When will we work out loud? Soon!’ on his blog The BrycesWrite. When he came up with the concept, he proposed the following simple formula for WOL:

Working out loud = observable work + narrating your work

Later the concept would be expanded upon by John Stepper. Today Stepper advocates the effectiveness of the concept worldwide. In a TED Talk, he stated that with WOL, he was stimulating a worldwide movement.

Value of WOL for organisations

By applying the Working Out Loud concept, both employees and employers become more efficient. This because they have access to a much larger network of meaningful relations that generate a sense of control, competence and connection. This all results in more motivation, flexibility, innovation and valuable collaborations for both individuals and organisations.

Organisations are often insular. This means they have hierarchies and people only communicate in small groups. Rather than social corporate networks, email is the primary means of communication. Although the organisation stimulates the use of these social corporate networks, people often continue to rely on old ways of communication in small groups. The idea is that people prefer to send information only to people they know and trust, and people don’t want others to read this information.

Working Out Loud is a radically different approach. If applied properly, employees can work in a more transparent fashion. A shift takes place from a need-to-know approach to communication to a need-to-share approach to communication.

Some advantages of the Working Out Loud approach include:

  • It promotes the development of an agile network company by stimulating networks and connections
  • Knowledge and expertise become accessible to a wide range of professionals
  • It encourages faster problem solving;
  • This in turn leads to accelerated innovation
  • WOL stimulates the Learning Organisation
  • It promotes an innovative, involved and cooperative organisation

The WOL formula explained

Working Out Loud = observable work + narrating your work

Observable work is about creating a space where people make their tasks accessible, so that others can work on them as well. This may be done through a forum, digital portal, or other social collaboration initiatives.

Narrating your work is about creating valuable content through, for example, a blog post. Many people don’t like the idea of having to write a blog post every day. However, blogging doesn’t necessarily have to be an everyday or time-consuming task. Sharing expertise on published information will benefit the organisation. If a project team has been given a complex task and they are unable to figure it out, they can regularly return to the blog post to consult opinions, suggestions, or ideas. Moreover, every blog post saves a lot of time answering future questions. Working out loud acts as it were like an intra-social database.

The 5 elements of working out loud

Author and speaker John Stepper explains the WOL approach based on five elements.

Working Out Loud elements - toolshero

1. Make work visible

The intention is to make work accessible through blog posts or videos so that people can easily find it. The moment people start to read or view it, or access it any other way, they start to comment or show their appreciation. The result is a conversation or exchange of ideas that inspires people to come up with new ideas or solutions.

Someone who starts applying the Working Out Loud method does not have to be a social media fanatic either. Most people work with email, but the use of social media platforms has many advantages. When the work becomes visible to others, these platforms can reinforce who you are and what you do. The feedback on the published work will improve the work, so that the intrinsic motivation to learn is utilised and strengthened.

2. Lead with generosity

Use Working Out Loud, and in particular the publishing of messages, as a contribution instead of self-promotion. Like all relationships, it is about giving and taking. Therefore make sure you also like other messages and respond to them. This ensures a certain connection with the audience and encourages a positive relationship.

Author Keith Ferrazzi noted, ’The currency of real networking is not greed, but generosity.’ Each contribution may not necessarily benefit a person, but contributions may also serve as recognition and appreciation. Mutual altruism means that it is not necessary to keep track of how much someone contributes, or that people have to do something in return for each contribution. Instead, contributions are shared in a sincere and generous way, knowing that you yourself also benefit from using such a social network.

3. Build a social network

The concept of Working Out Loud is based on relationships. When people in a network discover useful and valuable information, this is a good incentive for building a mutually beneficial relationship.

The road to successes, opportunities and knowledge often relies on other people. As relationships become stronger, people will be more eager to help others or work together in different ways. Strong relationships also satisfy the intrinsic motivation to feel connected to something or someone other than yourself.

4. Make it purposeful

When applying WOL, it is important to stay focused on the goal. Try to keep track of this. For example, it is easy to forget contributions on social networks, or to stop helping others. In view of the enormous amount of contributions that can be made, it is also necessary to select which ones contribute to what is needed. If Working Out Loud becomes a habit, it can be applied in the pursuit of any goal.

5. Have a growth mindset

Working Out Loud is not just a simple recipe with a series of instructions that leads to success. Instead, it is more about learning a certain mentality. With a more open and curious approach to life and work, development becomes more natural and resilience is strengthened. Such a mentality increases the opportunities of trying new things and maintaining them, even if people do not contribute in the way they hope.

Participating in WOL circles

One way to directly apply the Working Out Loud method in practice is to establish so-called WOL circles. WOL circles consist of four or five people from the organisation, and are designed to establish connections, share work and deepen relationships. The moment WOL circles start spreading throughout the organisation, the corporate culture changes and becomes more collaborative and agile. The way in which WOL circles are used is easy to apply in leadership development, innovation, digital transformation, diversity and other initiatives. The official Working out loud website features a guide that explains how people can use digital tools to stimulate connections and relationships.

Working Out Loud step-by-step plan

Implementation of the Working out loud method doesn’t necessarily have to be a complex process. Fortunately, the working out loud website includes an extensive manual. Below is a step-by-step plan by means of which the method can be tried out in organisations.

Working Out Loud steps - toolshero

1. Appoint a community manager

In order to steer the initiative in the right direction and facilitate it, it is important that a WOL community manager is appointed. This person acts as a point of contact for employees who are eager to use the WOL method. The community manager is also responsible for the implementation and maintenance of the collaboration platform.

2. Develop a platform or registration system

The moment employees want to explore the Working out loud method, they must register with their organisation’s WOL community manager. This host then assigns the different employees to different groups. These groups are referred to as WOL circles. Each circle consists of five people with different backgrounds.

3. Define personal learning objectives

The moment a participant is assigned to a group, they must first define a personal learning objective they wish to realise with the support of the WOL circle.

4. Start the project

The programme lasts a total of twelve weeks, in which participants constantly provide each other with comments on their work or help each other with potential questions that arise. Subsequently, a network of experts will gradually emerge based on various topics. At the same time, this network helps them achieve their personal learning objectives. In addition to the tasks they perform to help each other through the corporate social network, they also meet one hour a week in person, or through virtual conferences. During these meetings they can share feedback on their work and each other. This way they continuously learn from one another, and employees are encouraged to think about the way in which they perform work.

In doing so, they use digital tools to collaborate, share knowledge and exchange feedback more effectively and faster.

5. Continue the project

Instead of a process that repeats itself, working out loud is more of a continuous process. New groups can be established, or existing members can be added to different groups. The essence of working out loud is that it encourages the organisation as a whole to work together in many different areas.

Tips for Working Out Loud

To conclude, below are a number of tips for using the working out loud method.

Set up workspaces

Now that the basis of the working out loud method has been explained in this article, adjust your workplaces accordingly. Introduce and experiment with different tools and online programmes that allow you to share different types of content. Think of documents, images, videos, links, etc. In case of positive results, invest in a smoothly functioning social network platform.

Stimulate coaching and mentoring

Not everyone finds it equally easy to share work with colleagues. Others, however, will take every opportunity to share something. It useful to appoint someone, perhaps the community manager, who makes sure that what is shared is actually usable and someone who encourages employees who don’t share to start sharing and participating.

Make it easy

Choose user-friendly solutions when it comes to a digital platform for collaboration. Pay attention to mobile applications, browser extensions, or integration with other commonly used applications. Make use of WOL easily accessible.

Encourage participation

Encourage employees to participate in the working out loud method by, for example, recognising their contributions. Beware of financial or material rewards, however. This stimulates extrinsic motivation. Working out loud should above all be a generous and altruistic application of cooperation.

Implement WOL throughout the entire organisation

If employees are expected to share their work throughout the hierarchy, this must also be the case at higher levels. To set a good example, implement WOL and WOL circles in senior management as well.

Now it’s your turn

What do you think? Are you familiar with the explanation of the working out loud method? What do you believe are the benefits of working with this method? Has the WOL method been implemented in your work environment? Would you be willing to share all your work with others, so that you can collaborate together? Do you have any tips or additional comments?

Share your experience and knowledge in the comments box below.

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More information

  1. Working Out Loud own website with publications and list of articles: https://workingoutloud.com/
  2. Aten, K., Nardon, L., & Stanko, T. (2016). Working Out Loud: Culture, Technology, and Communication Practices of a Global Team in a Virtual World.
  3. Sergi, V., & Bonneau, C. (2016). Making mundane work visible on social media: a CCO investigation of working out loud on Twitter. Communication Research and Practice, 2(3), 378-406.
  4. Stepper, J. C. (2015). Working out loud: For a better career and life (Vol. 10). New York: Ikigai Press.
  5. Stepper, J. (2016). Working out loud. Training & Development, 43(1), 6.

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Ben Janse
About the Author

Ben Janse is a young professional working at ToolsHero as Content Manager. He is also an International Business student at Rotterdam Business School where he focusses on analyzing and developing management models. Thanks to his theoretical and practical knowledge, he knows how to distinguish main- and side issues and to make the essence of each article clearly visible.

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