Originally posted 11-May-23

Stan Garfield

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In Parts 2 and 3 of this series, I discussed collaborating in teams and communities. This fourth and final part covers Working Out Loud.

Working Out Loud (WOL) is an approach to collaboration in which employees form a virtual network and are encouraged to talk about their work and publish what they do. The goal is to inform others about current projects and to respond, learn, and apply the knowledge of others to their own work. WOL combines observable work (creating spaces where others can engage with your content) with narrating your work (posting in social software).

John Stepper has described 5 Elements of WOL:

  1. Relationships: The path to opportunities and to knowledge is very often via other people. As you deepen relationships with people in your network, they’re more likely to help you or collaborate in some way.
  2. Generosity: Your contributions can include things as simple (and powerful) as recognition and appreciation. The reason generosity is a good way to build relationships is because we’re wired for reciprocal altruism. You can make contributions in a way that feels good and genuine knowing that, over the entirety of your network, there will naturally be a benefit to you too as others reciprocate.
  3. Visible work: When you make your work visible and frame it as a contribution, social platforms can amplify who you are, what you do, extend your reach, and greatly expand the set of contributions you can make and how you can offer them. The feedback on your visible work can also make you and your work better, thus tapping into your intrinsic need for learning.
  4. Purposeful discovery: Given the infinite amount of contributing and connecting you can do, you need to make it purposeful in order to be effective. As Working Out Loud becomes a habit, you can apply it towards any goal.
  5. Growth mindset: This is a more open, curious approach to work and life and more resilience in the face of setbacks. Adopting such a mindset means you’re more likely to try new things and to persist even when someone, for example, doesn’t respond to your contributions as you had hoped.

Leading by example and persuading others helps create an open culture of truth, transparency, and trust; provides feedback loops; and spans organizational boundaries. Here are eight reasons for Working Out Loud rather than privately, through email messages, or in closed meetings:

  1. Multiple people may need to know what is going on, to read updates, and to reply, and you may not know who all of them are. You can receive replies from all relevant people, and see all people who replied, unlike forwarded email.
  2. Providing transparency in thinking, decisions, and processes allows you to receive inputs and feedback from anyone willing to contribute. It enables vetting ideas in public by allowing others to weigh in, which helps achieve consensus. And leading by example encourages others to also work out loud.
  3. Working Out Loud enables and exploits serendipity. You can meet up with people wherever you are, who otherwise might not know you are going to be there. You can exchange and support ideas with other people attending the same events and allow those unable to attend to also benefit. And you can gain new colleagues by participating in recurring online chats.
  4. WOL allows others to benefit from seeing discussions, including receiving advice from unexpected sources based on relevant experience, receiving pointers to useful information, and helping others to learn and develop.
  5. You can keep an open record of discussions by maintaining a single thread with all replies in the same place, making it accessible to all who have an interest, and making it easy to refer back to the discussion and to provide a public link.
  6. Working Out Loud builds your personal brand. You can maintain a journal of your thinking for a permanent record, reuse your thoughts for blog posts and book chapters, and enhance your reputation as a thought leader.
  7. WOL avoids fragmentation into different email threads and different sets of people. There is no need to forward email messages, you can avoid having different people on different threads, and it prevents out-of-sync replies.
  8. If you work out loud, you progress from old ways of working to new and better ones. These include modeling the open way of working, demonstrating trust, and flattening out the hierarchy.

People don’t always know what will be useful to them until they are made aware of it. When they see it in a feed to which they have opted in, in a newsletter to which they have subscribed, in a notification or alert they have elected to receive, or by monitoring the activity in a community, group, or team space, they can gain useful insights, learn, and otherwise benefit.

Many people are reluctant to ask for help but are thankful if someone shares something they can use. If I waited to receive questions before I shared my knowledge, I would miss out on helping a large number of people. If people seek information using a search engine, and it has not already been shared by posting, publishing, or previously answering queries, they will be unable to find it. And those who neither ask nor search will be out of luck.

A balance between supply and demand is desirable. But if you only wait for knowledge to be sought, and don’t have some people who share without being asked, people who never post (about 90% of community members) will be unable to benefit from a large supply of valuable knowledge.

Supply does not mean push. Push means forcing content on people who didn’t ask for it. Supply means making it available for those who subscribe, search, or are explicitly mentioned. Sharing without pushing can be done by posting in team spaces, group chats, and communities; by mentioning and tagging; and by reaching those who opt in and subscribe.

The power contained in Working Out Loud is that organizations tend to be insular — they have hierarchies, people communicate only in narrow groups, and email is still prevalent instead of enterprise social networks for more transparent communication. There is lip service given to the idea of using an enterprise social network, but then people revert to their old ways of communicating in small groups. For example, only sending email to people they know and trust because they do not want anybody else to know.

To collaborate effectively, organizations need to move from a need-to-know basis to need-to-share. This is a radical change that many organizations are not ready to embrace. But if people can work more transparently, that can help organizations be much more effective than traditional ways of working.

This concludes the fourth series on The Five Cs of KM. You can view the recording of my webinar on the fourth C: Collaborate, where I present on the topics covered in this series. And read the final series of blog posts where I discuss the fifth C: Create.

The Five Cs of KM

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Stan Garfield

Knowledge Management Author and Speaker, Founder of SIKM Leaders Community, Community Evangelist, Knowledge Manager https://sites.google.com/site/stangarfield/