Experiences from the first German Working Out Loud circle

A couple of months now passed by since we met in Frankfurt to kick off the German Working Out Loud (WOL) community.

We – that were enthusiasts from different firms as well as consultants working in the areas  of communications and „social“ and reps from software companies. We spent one afternoon discussing the many possibilities the Working Out Loud concept by John Stepper offers. The main (as well as the not really surprising) outcome? In today’s highly connected world, which is already changing again due to digitalisation, one of the most important key factors is a sustainable, solid and purposeful network. And not only for the job, but for private purposes, too.

WOL by John Stepper is a simple but very well thought through method to help with exactly that: building a sustainable, purposeful, personal network.

Short intro to Working Out Loud

Working Out Loud as described by John Stepper in his book “Working Out Loud – for a better career and life” is the open, transparent collaboration within a network and is made of  the following five key elements:

  1. relationships
  2. generosity
  3. visible work
  4. purposeful discovery and
  5. a growth mindset

One tool to reach these objectives are „working out loud circles“, which are peer support groups. 

Please find more information about the method at www.workingoutloud.com


It’s done!

We, that are Barbara Schmidt, Joachim Haydecker, David Hirsch and Cornelia Heinke, just successfully finished our very first German WOL circle and would like to share our experiences and provide some lessons learnt. Including some hints what to watch out for to make a circle successful and more effective – let’s call it post working out loud.

Actually we took up an extra challenge. Not only that we have total different professional backgrounds, we also come from different regions, which means we used a hangout to virtually meet for our circle every week.

Take care of the technology!

If you set up a virtual circle like we did, make sure that every circle member is equipped with the right technology to take part. It is amazing what even in today’s digital world can go wrong. Video is not working then audio is cracking, you don’t hear anything or just static noise. Make a test before you meet the first time!

Get to know each other!

A circle and its success is living of the people joining it. Over the time of 12 weeks you build a very trustful relationship. In our circle we have talked about lots of different things which were on our minds: be it job or private life. Because of that it really makes sense and it is recommended to have at least one „get to know date“ in the beginning. It is very important for WOL to find out, if that is the circle of people you want to work with for the next 12 weeks. If possible you should meet up personally again at half time to discuss face to face.

Wrap up in person!

Wrapping up has to be done in person again. We cannot stretch the importance of that enough. No matter how the results look, you spent at lot of time together: worked on topics, exchanged information, comforted when things didn’t go as expected, discussed, criticized (only professionally of course), helped out and lots more. No matter how the own network might look like, the circle is one that stays. Wrapping it up together is the beginning of this new network, which can be used in the future.

Your goals should fit in!

Have a special eye on your goal setting for the circle. Goals too big or too wide cannot be reached – or can hardly be reached.

On the first glimpse it might not sound like a lot: getting together once a week for an hour, doing a „bit of networking“. But it takes more than that. I mean, you would like to achieve a solid, sustainable result, right? Therefore do yourself a favour and fit your goals into your personal life situation – consider workload, family, kids, etc.

The circle meetings have to be prepared and to be followed up. Every member takes their own  „homework“ to be done before the next meeting. You just need to be aware of that. Without prioritizing and an approximate guess of the time spent on WOL in the next 12 weeks, a circle cannot be successful from our point of view.

But don’t worry, objectives and goals CAN change and only you decide about them, nobody else. They can be amended or modified. Remember, it’s not a 100m sprint, it’s a way you choose to develop a habit.

It’s about networking!

WOL is about building your personal network. Bear that in mind when you define your goal. It should include personal or virtual interaction with other people. At the end the own network will be enriched by valuable new contacts.

And something really useful

Even if WOL is a rather young methodology. In many areas it is not really new and it’s not rocket science either. John Stepper himself published a lot of material in the meantime. But not only him anymore. There is helpful material out there.

Make it easy for yourselves: use the especially developed circle guides which are published at www.workingoutloud.com

One hint from us: the shown exercises in the circle guides can take up quite a bit of time. Therefor it is helpful, if the circle members prepare them before the meeting. That leaves more time for discussion. That actually includes familiarizing yourself with the circle guide for the next week.

Success or not?

A WOL circle is about your own personal set goals. You can make them very detailed like “increase your network by 10 contacts in area xxx”. But that is not what it is really about in the end. More important is the time you spend in your circle with the other members focussing and working on our goal. It’s about developing a habit within the peer support group. If you take this seriously and really engage in the circle you will be successful. Every member has different preconditions, a different speed, different perceptions. WOL is not like school. There is no final exam, no test and no “according to the books”.

One circle or many?

So far our learning looked like the following: you learn something once and then don’t really bother again. Because you learnt it, right? That starts in school, at university you just attend a lecture twice if you have to. This first-aid-course you had to do to get your drivers’ license? Done once.. maybe a refresh, but just one. And normally companies only pay once for a training. If it is marked as “sucessfully attended” it will never show up again in your training diary.

WOL is different. WOL will be successful if you get into it over and over and over again. If you meet up with peers in a circle to work on your and on their goals. The result will be a bigger and more stable and more sustainable network.

Our conclusion

Our circle was not only about our goals but also about getting to know the methodololgy of Working Out Loud. We are convinced that it is a great tool to help colleagues, clients and friends being successful in a digital world.

WOL is new! And still it consists of a lot of findings and knowledge which are around for some time. The importance of networking is not new just because because we live in a digital world. But the “digital” brings new challenges. For these new challenges we need new methods and answers and WOL is one of them. WOL is open and transparent but still structured. It leads to a goal but still leaves a lot of room for personality. WOL connects known and established thinking with the challenges ahead of us. WOL is graspable and can be adjusted to your own needs.

Everyone of us will move on to new circles and by that increase and improve our own network. The first circle was just the very first step.

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