Companies, particularly large companies, are organised into departments, and departments are organised into teams. It would be a rare project where you did not need the expertise of someone outside your own team. Yet silos within companies persist. Collaboration tools are starting to break them down, but we need more than that, we need to change our working behaviour. Rather than working to a defined goal and sharing the output, we should share the work in progress and the process; we should work out loud.
Bryce Williams coined the term and defines two behaviours that combine to form “working out loud”
Working Out Loud = Observable Work + Narrating Your Work
Or to paraphrase; “show and tell”.
Promoters of the concept give a long list of benefits;
- make better decisions
- increases speed of improving a company, and therefore resilience
- increases employee engagement
- transparency, particularly in leadership
Wow, with all of that good stuff why aren’t we all working out loud? Because it’s hard. It goes against everything our education and training have taught us.
All through school we’re told to show our own work, to prove what we know, and the pressure to do this grows as we face the exams of high school and then, if we’re lucky, the pressured halls of a university with still more exams, dissertations and theses. Even courses that promise group work still reward individuals on outcome, rather than process; meaning that teams form along ability lines pretty quickly – free-loaders and stragglers are left to rot. School is predicated on individual achievement.
At work we rely on the co-operation and collaboration of others, we draw on the expertise of others and after a project is completed it can be hard to discern who was responsible for each detail. Most often it doesn’t matter who did what, in a good team the pride is shared.
The idea of working out loud fits our new reality of work, plus we have the tools to share our work, and collect feedback/input in an easy way. But the change in behaviour is still a challenge, both as individuals and as a company change.
Bryce Williams suggests some ways to think about use cases for working out loud. While I do think that systematic efforts to change people’s behaviour are needed the biggest way to stimulate this change is to model the behaviour you want to see in the company.
The behaviours I try to demonstrate to build up my own habits of working out loud are;
- sharing updates on the ESN Playbook I’m writing as often as possible, and these are becoming more content related
- drawing on the work of others and providing commentary (as in this post)
- sharing work of others – and giving them credit
- asking for input or feedback
There are more ideas for working out loud (as well as what not to do) in this great article from HBR. What will you do to build your working out loud habit?
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