Working Out Loud Barcamp 2017 – A Retrospective

A couple of days ago I had the chance to participate in the first Working-Out-Loud Barcamp in Germany. If you have never heard about WOL, in a nutshell it is about “building relationships that matter” by sharing your work openly and widely and generously offering help to others.
I am normally not someone who talks much in superlatives but this WOL Barcamp truly was unique on many different levels.

The purpose


Picture Credit: Harald Schirmer


Very much in line with the purpose and effects of WOL, the event was about sharing, learning, connecting, supporting, energising and mobilising like-minded people. Of course, it was also about promoting WOL and having fun.
The people
Picture Credit: DigitalLife@Daimler
As many as 106 people from over 48 different companies participated in the barcamp. United by a common purpose (see above) it was not about ego but eco. WE was certainly greater than ME. As far as I could tell from my conversations, overhearing others’s discussions and participating in two sessions there was no one boosting about his achievements, the “size/length” of his #WOL experience or looking down on people that have not yet started their WOL journey. Everyone seemed to be genuinely interested in the other person and his story, no matter whether they were WOLnewbies or WOLexperts. What made the barcamp even more enjoyable was the fact that many attendees, me included, were already connected with others in online channels and it was the first time to finally meet offline. Bonus point: You don’t start with clumsy questions like “Where do you work?”, “What do you do?”, “What do you want to learn here?”. It felt more like a big family reunion, but in this case with family members that you were able to choose.
The content
Yes, it was not just about happy-clappy, hello-hello, but also about interesting content. Since it was a barcamp the attendees created and decided on the agenda.
Credit: Michael Otto
I attended the following three sessions:
WOL Workshop Concept
  • The session organiser, Magnus Rode, invited us to share and discuss approaches on how to best run a WOL workshop for prospective leaders. It was a lively conversation, in which participants shared their learnings and suggestions from similar situations. Magnus documented it in this wiki.

Office Out Loud

  • Joachim Haydecker invited to this session. He is currently involved in helping employees of a big company to become comfortable with and productive on Office 365. Inspired by the key aspects of Working Out Loud he was looking for ways to use John Stepper’s WOL method to accelerate the learning process and make it more sustainable. I left the conversation early because it reminded me at times of the saying “if all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail”.
Leading Change: What comes after the WOL Hype?
  • Logically, I went into the session about WOL and hype to ground myself again. It was the antidote to the session before. I missed the introduction by the organiser Harald Schirmer and first 20 minutes of the conversation.  When put on the spot and among others under the impression of the previous session I did exclaim that WOL certainly did feel like a hype. Having had time to reflect on it afterwards, I believe the answer needs to be more nuanced than that. I feel a separate blog post coming.
John Stepper gave an inspiring keynote about his personal story of how he experienced unhappiness in his corporate jobs, how WOL has helped him to find happiness again and how WOL inspires others to do the same. For him it is not about large-scale change but the impact that he and others can have on people one is directly and sometimes even indirectly connected with.
The energy
Picture Credit: DigitalLife@Daimler
You have an intimate event of about 100 attendees, people united by the same purpose that want to learn but also care to share. What could go wrong with that? Nothing! The anticipation for the event was mounting as it drew closer. About 50 attendees met for dinner the night before. Smiles, hugs, lively and lovely conversations everywhere. The next day the same happened. The energy level was sky high from the beginning and maintained its level throughout the day, even through the dreaded afternoon lull. When people left they were energised and mobilised and ready to take on the (corporate) world with its imperfection and inhumanity.
The organisers and crew
Picture Credit: Magnus Rode
All the above would would not have happened if it was not for these people:
What I find astonishing is the the fact that these individuals worked on it alongside their day job at their respective company. It needs high levels of commitment and belief to pull off such inspiring and valuable event. Thank you all for putting your energy into making this barcamp happen! And of course, not to forget about the other individuals that worked very hard prior to the event and behind the scenes during the event to ensure smooth sailing! Well done, team!!
Picture this:
  • Traditional conferences, where you first get haggled into attending, pay a lot of money even with a steep discount (because, well it is you!), have high expectations because you still paid lots of money, are stuck in a windowless, heartless and soulless conference hotel, are surrounded by bloodless people in suits, stick to the one person that you seem to have something in common with because you are tired of the same old small-talk conversations, sit through endless presentations that all talk about the WHY and WHAT, but rarely about the HOW, are forced to “network” with vendors because they paid even more money than you to attend, eat the typical conference food and are more engaged with your mobile than with the conference because you simply cannot bear it.
  • WOL Barcamp, where you pay kind of a symbolic fee, are cordially invited with the best intention, are welcomed by friends and strangers alike as if you were best friends, can feel the excitement prior, during and after the event, learn about the HOW, have no obligation to share but you do it because you want to pay it forward to others, eat delicious food in a remodelled workshop and just feel completely in the right spot at the right time.
Well, I guess it is pretty clear where you will find me next year! I really hope there will be another WOL Barcamp 🙂
If you read so far and are still interested in what really happened that day (don’t take my word for it), check out these links from other attendees:
Blog Posts

Header Picture Credit: DigitalLife@Daimler

WTF is a Learning Mindset?

As the world moves faster and faster around us, companies and their employees are struggling to keep up with the pace of change.

“Change has never happened this fast before, and it will never be this slow again” –@graemewood

Therefore, constant learning has never been been more important than today. But first, the old adage “we learn not for school, but for life” rings hallow, as the the skills we are taught in school resemble only a small subset of what is needed to master one’s life. Second, once we have completed our education, we join a company, take on a role and become a vertical (domain) expert. Back in 1991 David Guest already proposed the T-shaped professional, where the vertical bar represents the depth of related skills and expertise within a certain domain and the horizontal bar reflects the ability to collaborate across disciplines and apply knowledge in areas of expertise that are not one’s own. Granted, that was within the context of IT professionals but should be true for probably most roles in the modern workplace.

Many companies today resemble fragmented information silos. Employees in different departments work in sequence along the value chain. Each department has its own purpose, processes and even culture. Each individual becomes a master of his trade during his professional career. However, that is not good enough in today’s world. As the world becomes more complex and intertwined, companies need to adapt accordingly and create networked structures with interdisciplinary teams, promote a collaborative mindset and encourage and empower their employees to constantly learn.

Hang on, are companies not already spending a fortune on trainings, development courses, external coaches, you name it? Indeed they are, and I am not going to make the point that all that is futile. I very well believe that there is a case for such trainings and coachings but it is only one side of the story (remember that vertical bar of T?!). If companies really want their employees to grow, want them to be curious and inquisitive, they need to lay the foundations for a learning mindset, especially when it comes to soft skills and mindset, since you cannot “learn” these in a classroom or e-learning or similar.

Differences between a training and learning mindset

Here are some aspects that in my view define a “training mindset” and “learning mindset” within organizations.

Overview of training and learning mindset

How to assess a learning mindset?

To assess whether an organization focuses more on a training and less on a learning mindset, ask the following questions:

  1. Are employees that attended a training required to share what they learned with others within the organization or not?
  2. Are employees given time to apply their knowledge, experiment and most importantly reflect on the experiment (aka the learning process) or are they thrown back into their daily business once the training is over?
  3. Are employees encouraged to look left and right of their role for new things to learn or can employees only get training for things relevant to their role?
  4. Does the company openly and proactively provide the means (financial, time, space) for informal learning to happen or does it primarily offer formal training courses?
  5. Does the organization encourage employees to attend informal learning formats during working hours or only formal training sessions?

I can only repeat myself: This is not a black and white story. Formal training in whatever way has its definite place within organiziations. But if this is the only focus, an organization is blind on the other eye. It shows that it has not yet fully come to appreciate the importance of a learning mindset in this VUCA world. It woefully neglects the power of self-organized, grassroot, informal learning movements and methods, and that in my view is a big mistake.

In a subsequent blog post I am planning on looking at some of those informal learning methods for individuals, teams and organizations that might be helpful and relevant to you and your company.

Bridging internal and external silos in a connected enterprise

Recently I was involved in a project with the aim to support a M&A process. It was about thinking of traditional and innovative formats and means to help employees learn about the M&A process but also about new tools, especially Yammer, which had been in use for years at one of the companies.

As I was collecting thoughts and ideas of how to support the M&A process, I was also thinking about easy ways to provide interesting and relevant content in Yammer. We often underestimate people’s readiness to actively use new tools if those are not mandatory. This is especially true for social tools. In the beginning most people will simply observe and lurk before actively engaging with content and colleagues. It’s easier if content can spark thoughts and discussion instead of trying to convince people to post their questions or what they are currently working on on the company’s collaboration platform.

This initially triggered the idea to automatically bring in external content from the company’s own external blog into Yammer. Thanks to services like Zapier and IFTTT (If this then that) and their integration with many SaaS based solutions, including Yammer, this is usually a piece of cake. No IT involvement needed.

But why stop at posting the content from the company’s own external blog in the home feed on Yammer?  Admins or community managers could set up feeds for their groups to automatically pull in content from blogs relevant to their purpose. This builds current awareness among group members and could potentially spark interesting conversations.

There are also some potentially interesting scenarios when thinking about pulling in conversations from Twitter. These days many companies are already using social media engagement tools to monitor and respond to conversations in external channels. Some of them even allow to pull in employees that are not part of the monitoring team in case relevant questions come up. If a company doesn’t use these kind of tools or use one that doesn’t offer this kind of functionality, you could pull mentions and questions from customers on Twitter into a Customer Service group in Yammer and discuss the right response there before posting it on Twitter.

Are you using applications like Zapier or IFTTT for your enterprise social network or other applications? Or have you developed other bots to automate mundane processes?