Working Out Loud at Bayer – my first impression

The first three weeks of our first two Working Out Loud #WOL circles at Bayer have passed! What happened so far?

Let’s have a look on how WOL started, how the circles are structured and what has proved useful. Well, at least from my perspective as a facilitator / moderator of circle 1, and just as a participant.

How WOL started

At Bayer, I started WOL as a Grass root initiative. I thought after reading the book and finding so much enthusiastic feedback on the internet, this must be something valuable and really useful for my peers and my company. Fortunately I quickly found some colleagues that were very interesting to help organizing it – thanks to Florian Roeser and Diego Bohmann!

As we already have a good running Enterprise Social Network in place, the foundation was there. So I contacted one of the biggest WOL embassadors and enthusiasts, Katharina Krentz from Bosch, who offered me a lot of helpful advice. Of course I also contacted John Stepper, who was happy to learn that another company are going to join the WOL train he initiated.

In addition he provided me the name of a former colleague of him who is now working at Bayer. She was also considering to start a WOL Circle and was immediately interested to take part in the initiative and is now one of our first Circle members. That’s also WOL – talking openly about something and learning something new and useful – serendipity!

Currently the two circles run as pilots, which give us space to experiment and try out what’s useful and works in our environment.

The circle structure

I used the Bosch WOL initiative as a role model, because they have already started to run WOL circles in 2015 and just formed their 189 circle. And – they are also using IBM Connections as their Enterprise Social Network (Bosch.connect). Thanks again Katharina Krentz for motivating me to start and helping me with information to set up a WOL Community as a starting point.

I started WOL with this basic configuration:

  • Set up a Working Out Loud Community
  • Collecting lot’s of free Information from the Internet (like the Circle Guides in english and german)
  • Set up a Wiki Page with a Circle Overview, containing an introduction to WOL Circles at Bayer, a list with the Topic and Exercises of all 12 circle weeks and links to the guides.
  • Set up a Wiki Page for every circle week as an quick overview, having all relevant information at a glance (like proposed agenda, link to Weekly Guide), links mentioned in the Guide and additional information that may be useful for colleagues, e.g. a relationship list template, possible types of contributions and so on.
  • Creating a Registration Page in the Wiki where everyone can enter the name and some additional data like preferred language
  • Creating a separate, restricted Subcommunity for every Circle to have a private place to exchange information only visible for your circle members

After there had been enough circle registrations, Florian, Diego and me set up two circles according to the information entered. Then we organized a Kickoff Meeting with all registered users to discuss how we want to start. During the meeting, some members changed the circle number so the schedules fit for everyone.

A circle runs for 12 weeks. We are meeting 12 times for one hour, usually once a week. All colleagues agreed that we meet during the working hours. We consider WOL as a Self Learning medium that helps both the individual as well as the company.

At the end of a meeting we agree on the next meeting date. This way we are flexible in case of vacation, illness or other reasons that prevent from taking part. The Subcommunity description contains a list of all planned dates as an overview, which is checked and adapted in the Checkout of every meeting.

facilitator or moderator has volunteered (like me and Diego Bohman who is facilitating circle 2). The facilitator guides through the meetings and the circle weeks.

As our circles are in a pilot phase, of course we are playing around a bit. For example, we thought about what media to use for our notes. Currently we are using one wiki page in the circle Subcommunity for every participant (4 colleagues in circle 1, 5 colleagues in circle 2). On this central page everyone can enter results from exercises. It is visible to every fellow circle member. The “page owner” can refine existing and add new information every week. I really like to see the development in my page during the week and reflect over the stuff that I have collected.

At the end of the first circles, we will summarize our experiences as a Lessons Learned to find the best settings for our circles at Bayer.

The first exercises

In the first three weeks we have done the exercises following the Circle Overview.

The guides include an agenda with a timeline and propose to do the exercises during the meeting. In week 1 we discussed a lot and decided we try to do the exercise prior to the meeting, if possible. So there is more time during the meeting to talk about it.

In addition to the one hour meeting, you then have to find some time for going through the exercises. If you can’t make it – no problem. The agenda is not that tight. In week 2 we had much time left after quickly going through the exercises as everyone had prepared it.

Pick your own individual goal

One of the wanted outcomes of WOL is learning an efficient way to reach a personal goal “for a better life and career” – and a better organization. So the first task in a circle is defining your personal goal. You will find more information on the WOL circle week 1 page.

If you have trouble with formulating your goal – keep cool. Usually the goal develops during the first weeks. You can adapt it, change it, enlarge or strip it. I made my goal more concrete in week 3 as I found it to general.

Create your first relationship list

The next big goal of WOL is building and enlarging your personal network. Build relationships to other people who may help you reach your goal. You can contact colleagues and also people outside your company, however in a generous way. Which means – first think about how you can help the other person, then you can ask for a favour.

Here I could feel the first real positive effect of the circle: recommendation from my circle fellows who may also be helpful. It was great to discover the experience of others and what interesting persons the others know. You can really feel how networks grow. This also reflects in the number of contacts in my relationship list – 27 in week 3… maybe I have to prioritize it.

Make your first contributions

In week 2 you think about how well you know those people from your relationship list. Then you can better decide how to contact them. You don’t have to start sending emails – show appreciation by liking posts of them, answering questions, or offer your help.

In my circle we found out that even talking to people by chance in the kitchen or in other meetings with WOL in mind (talk about what you are doing) opened new possibilities. One colleague just mentioned in a meeting that he is currently participating in a pilot that trains how to reach a personal goal and build relevant relationships in a generous way. His peers were very interested and asked him to introduce WOL to them. I guess the idea behind WOL is very attracting.

Time management

Meeting one hour a week – working time! – can be challenging. In week 3 we discussed how to use time effectively and get some space for the exercises and network care. All of us are already using some methods to organize their time, everyone using a personal way. The exercise reminds us to use it (even more) consequently.

Ok, now a week of autumn vacation has passed, so we had some time to think it over. But I think we really looking forward to the next steps!

What has proven useful

From my perspective as a facilitator, these things have proven useful:

  • Kickoff meeting
    Before we started into the first WOL circle week, we did a Kickoff meeting to talk about how we plan to do the circles. We invited all 9 future circle participants as we were starting our circles at the same time. However I think it is a good idea to kickoff every circle in a separate meeting to welcome volunteers and clarify questions and explain the Circle structure at Bayer.
  • Circle Subcommunity
    The circle Subcommunity is quite useful to have all relevant information at one (private) place. I also added a schedule of the 12 weeks into the Community description, and use a blog entry to summarize what we have discussed in a circle meeting. I think those summaries are especially useful for later reference if a member cannot attend a meeting.
  • The personal Wiki page
    I really like my Wiki page because I see it filling up with contents every week. Though I must admit that sometimes I like to have it on the go at home, when thinking about my relationship list and who to contact… Possible Solution in my case: I use the Connections Mobile app on my iPhone to open the page remotely.

What’s next?

After only 3 weeks the viral advertisement has led to some invitations to introduce WOL in others teams. The message is spreading. The first feedbacks where very positive!

If we need more motivation and inspiration, we just have to search for “#WOL” on twitter. There are so many activities going on, especially in Germany, it’s amazing! Seems to be high time for WOL Workshops!

Here are some links to the latest events:

Any doubts that it’s really a movement?

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