How to work out working out loud (and avoid shouting)

Traditionally conservative workplaces are slowly shifting to a new way of working as research shows knowledge-sharing initiatives like employee social networks can lift productivity by as much as 25 per cent.

So what is working out loud, how does it work and – most importantly - what is the value in it for your business?

" Company culture must support people working openly and that feeds into enterprise social tools."
Rita Zonius, Head of Internal Digital Communications, ANZ

BlueNotes sat down with four experts to discuss the issue, including knowledge-sharing expert, change agent and speaker Simon Terry, change manager, communications professional, coach and facilitator Jennifer Frahm, ANZ Head of Internal Digital Communications Rita Zonius and Nick Reed, Group General Manager, Risk Transformation at ANZ.

We started by asking them to explain what it means to work out loud.

Cornell: Thanks everyone for joining us today. We hear a lot about Enterprise Social Networks (ESN) and working with a narrative – can you tell us how you understand working out loud?

Terry: For me working out loud is taking work in progress and sharing it in a purposeful way with a relevant community and enabling that community to learn from the way you work and also to contribute and collaborate in making that work more effective.

How to work out working out loud (and avoid shouting)

Frahm: In my experience it’s really about asking for help in a purposeful way on something that you’re really not sure of the way forward on and using the power of collaboration to really amplify and accelerate the outcome you want to achieve.

Reed: I think of working out loud as identifying people in a community to share and crowdsource information to be able to drive whatever your agenda may be.

Zonius: For me working out loud has been about people having their work shared and made visible inside a network. This allows serendipitous knowledge accidents to happen as we don’t always know who will hold the answer to a question that we have or who may be able to offer input into our work to make it more interesting. 

Cornell: So how do you do it?

Terry: There are many, many ways you can work out loud. The idea is to be public. That can be as simple as putting posters up on your desk or whiteboards, all the way through to using ESNs or even public social media to share work and create a community around that work.

Cornell: So it’s not necessarily a digital concept?

Terry: No not at all and it connects back to a number of practices in management that have been around for hundreds of years before modern workplaces evolved.

Frahm: We need to be thoughtful around what working in public means – particularly in light of the culture of a given organisation. Working publicly in a large bank with a strong social network can be very different form working in a small group with a smaller take-up.

The notion of what it means to work publicly changes form organisation to organisation based on their culture.

Zonius: I agree. And technology is not a silver bullet. Remember technology doesn’t collaborate, people do.

You can have the best technology with all the functionality to allow you to collaborate but if the systems, processes and culture don’t  make you comfortable enough to speak up and share unfinished work or respectfully share ideas up and down the hierarchy, then that’s a challenge.

Company culture must support people working openly and that feeds into enterprise social tools. If you try to bring that kind of tool into an organisation not ready for it culturally, I don’t think it will work.

Cornell: Simon, if the US election taught us anything, it’s that the crowd can get things wrong. As a professional, do you really want everyone’s opinion on the work you are doing?

Terry: I think the point is there is value in transparency. There is value in quality of community and there is value in debate.

I think in the example you used those qualities might have been missing. Perhaps the issues weren’t explored deep enough and instead of connected communities there were divided communities.

What makes great working out loud is when you bring a group together that share a purpose and that’s where you get people testing their expertise with the support of others. You get the ability to learn from a collective and build on each other’s contributions – rather than fighting with others’ contributions.

Reed: We’re talking about self-forming networks really. You can see that happening and it’s positive.

I guess my fear is, in a weird way, it seems unusual to talk about working out loud because once you’re into it, it’s difficult to understand anyone that’s not into it. But you need to recognise there’s a whole bunch of people who don’t work that way.

It’s really easy to go to the ‘go-to’ people because they’re easy to deal with – but it’s important not to create cultural barriers that exclude others.  

Zonius: I think it’s important to remember success with working out loud doesn’t happen overnight. It does take time to build the habit and you’ll inevitably encounter resistance.

Everyone will have their ‘ah-ha!’ moment at a different time. We’re not expecting everyone to wake up one morning immediately primed to use these tools. Some will get there quickly and others will take a lot longer. 

There’s a process of constantly meeting people halfway and having a conversation with them about where they are at.

Terry: I think it’s good to recognise resistance is a great learning opportunity. There’s an opportunity to explore with that person what’s really behind the thinking.

Andrew Cornell is managing editor at BlueNotes

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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