WOL Circle Guides now in Turkish!

Even the phrase “Circle Guides” in Turkish - “Çember Kılavuzu” - looks and sounds exotic to me. Seeing over 120 pages of Working Out Loud material in Turkish is a miracle!

It’s also a huge amount of work: translating thirteen guides, standardizing words and phrases, coordinating people across multiple timezones, double- and triple-checking for consistency and correctness. All of it by volunteers. Sebnem Maier, who organized the effort, also set up a LinkedIn group for “WOL Türkiye Topluluğu” and requested Turkish readers contact her with any edits or comments.

I asked Sebnem and the team what motivated them to take on such a big project, and here’s what they said. I’m grateful for all they’ve done, and inspired by why they did it. 

***

Since I have started my WOL experience in 2016, I was dreaming to have the guides in Turkish to reach people in my country who may have interest in WOL. So my dream has been fulfilled thanks to the great team who translated the guides with me voluntarily. Now, all Turkish-speaking people have the possibility to experience WOL and I am very happy about it.

Sebnem Maier – Senior manager at Robert Bosch GmbH, WOL Mentor, WOL Co-Creation Team

I felt that it was a simple yet genuine tool designed to help people to understand how to add a human touch to  their digital relations. I just wanted to have more people exposed to it and not be limited by language. We need to get closer and together. In person or on digital platforms. We need to relearn to look and see each other eye to eye, people to people, without boundaries of our limitations.

Nurhayat Ulucan – HR Manager, PPG Turkey

I observed in my Turkish Circle as a moderator that language might be a barrier for some people. For a successful rollout of the method, which is what I aim in my home country, Turkey, and for a better life as the WOL ambassador, it was necessary to have the guides in my mother language.

Rüya Demirtas – Project manager, Process improvement specialist, Bosch Turkey

It is a unique method which helps to discover and to understand your own goals by building relationships. We are happy and excited to help WOL reach more people by helping to translate the guides to Turkish.

Ebru Bakir Kandemir & Zafer Kandemir

As a psychology student, what motivated me to become a part of WOL was the enlightening experience of self-actualization, self-realization and self-confidence with the weekly Circle meetings in a friendly, understanding environment.

Zeynep Taş – Junior Student Majoring Psychology at Koç University in Turkey 

We have been searching for a sharing methodology to organize women's Circles to harness our sisterhood's knowledge and passion to share with each other. WOL will unlock this potential. Thank you John and the team! 

Melek Pulatkonak – Founder of TurkishWIN & BinYaprak  

New: Version 5 of the WOL Circle Guides

She said it in such a serious, deadpan way that I knew she wasn’t kidding. “Please,” she told me, “don’t change the guides.”

That was Katharina Krentz from Bosch. She had created materials related to each of the 12 weeks, and changes would mean a lot of extra work. The translations, now in eight other languages, would also have to change. Besides, she pointed out, with more than 500 Circles at Bosch and over 5000 members in their internal WOL Group, there was no need to change anything.

“Yes, and…,” I thought. Since the last update, there have been so many useful resources I’ve wanted to add. And the new, professionally-designed materials - videos, a journal, and soon a workbook - made the old version of the Guides look like, well, like I designed them myself. 

So I tried to modify the material in a way that won’t cause undo work for people already using them, and yet will still be a significant improvement. The result is version 5 of the WOL Circle Guides.

What’s new?

The biggest change is that I added a new section to the website: workingoutloud.com/resources. I removed the lists of links in the PDFs, and created a webpage for each week that includes a wider range of resources - media, examples, more exercises, more FAQs. This is much more flexible, and makes it possible for me to regularly add new resources that the WOL community finds useful. (I especially enjoyed creating a new photo gallery in Week 12.)

The guides have also been professionally redesigned, using a new style and layout that matches the journal and the other materials I’m working on. I find the new design much cleaner and easier to read. 

The final change is to the licensing language that was on each section of the guides. Older versions used a restrictive Creative Commons license that confused some people, especially the "non-commercial" part. That has been replaced with standard copyright language that’s more precise about what companies can and can’t do. To me, it doesn't change what organizations have already been doing. My intention is just to make it clearer.

What’s next?

Today, I published the English version of the new Guides, and German will be available soon. (I’ll be sure to create German versions of the Resources pages too.) Then I’ll apply the new design to all the translations.

With the maturity of the Circle Guides comes the chance to develop new products and new practices. Here are a few I’m working on:

  • The WOL Circle Video Series & companion journal are being used in company pilots now. They’re part of a new WOL Library that includes assets that make Circles more effective and help companies spread them. (The new “What is Working Out Loud?” video will give you a feel for what the videos look like. It’s also subtitled in German and Turkish, with more languages coming soon.)

  • A beautiful new workbook is under development, and will be for sale via the website. It will be a hardcover book that includes the guides, extra content, and the chance to do the exercises and capture your progress in one place. 

  • The WOL: Self-Care pilot is coming to an end. I’m grateful to the 100 people who participated, and will incorporate what we learned into a next version of the WOL:SC guides that I’ll publish in May. 

  • WOL: Purpose, another new practice, and experiments in healthcare and manufacturing are all just beginning. I’m extremely excited about each of them.

The only reason any of this work is possible is because of you and the WOL Community. I’m grateful to all of you who’ve tried a Circle and those who’ve generously spread the word.

I hope you like the new Guides. If you’re in the middle of a Circle, you can begin using them right away. If you have a resource you think should be included in the new section on the website, please send me an email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. I’ll be glad to hear from you.

Clink on the image to see the new Getting Started section

Clink on the image to see the new Getting Started section

What could WOL for Healthcare look like?

Her note started off nicely enough. Then I read her feedback, including a challenge I didn’t know what to do with.

Bettina had heard about WOL Circles at a conference and liked the idea. “I started my first Circle directly. With great success!” She said she is working as a Change Manager in a large non-profit healthcare organization in Germany, and that she wanted to spread Circles. But she made it clear that WOL, in its current form, would never work. 

“The nurses, doctors, and other professionals do not have 60 minutes a week for WOL, there is too much text, the examples have to refer to the health sector…” 

Ouch. She even said the German translation wasn’t acceptable, as the informal pronoun (“du”) simply isn’t used in her organization’s “official papers.”

I knew she was right. I asked if we could speak on the phone. 

The challenges in Healthcare

Healthcare organizations suffer from the same cultural issues that plague many large companies. The hierarchical structures limit information flows in ways that are bad for individuals, the organization, and the patient. Too often, nurses don’t question doctors and medical technicians don’t question the ambulance manager. (Atul Gawande, surgeon, author, and CEO of the recently-formed healthcare venture formed by Amazon, Berkshire Hathaway, and JP Morgan Chase, captured these challenges in dramatic fashion in The Checklist Manifesto.) 

The same is true across the hierarchy as well. People in a given role are not in the habit of of sharing problems and solutions to improve quality, and in many cases there may be no mechanism to do so. So the same mistakes get repeated, and innovations don’t spread. 

On top of such challenges, all of this takes place in an environment that is extraordinarily demanding. It’s busy, stressful, and unpredictable - and the stakes are extremely high.

One possibility

Of course, not all healthcare organizations have the same cultural issues. Buurtzorg, for example, has over 10,000 professionals in “a nurse-led model of holistic care” that emphasizes “humanity over bureaucracy.” They are portrayed in Reinventing Organizations as a model of self-organization and self-management. But for every Buurtzorg, there are thousands of traditional companies. 

How could WOL help?

I told Bettina how we had already adapted WOL for leaders by making it shorter and simpler, and by integrating it into a reverse mentoring program. Perhaps we could do something similar. 

Together, we decided that Bettina’s colleagues could also meet in pairs (perhaps one with more experience and one new to the organization), and we could limit meeting to no more than 30 minutes. Then we identified eight different exercises over eight weeks - eight contributions they could make that would help them find their voice, improve their craft of patient care, and enable them to re-connect with the sense of purpose that inspired them to join the profession in the first place.

What would you do?

The challenges faced by people in healthcare environment are similar to those in other operational environments, be it manufacturing, retail, transportation.

As different as those jobs may be, the people doing them all share the same human needs for control, competence, and connection. And all of the organizations they work in need to improve quality for their customers and for their own sustainability. The future of work isn’t limited to people working in offices.

Bettina and I will meet in Frankfurt this week to work on details of a pilot. Whatever the outcome, we’ll surely learn something that can help us take a next step and try again.

If you were Bettina, what would you do? What could WOL for Healthcare look like?

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WOL Circle Guides now in Dutch

As I began to write this post about the Dutch translation project, I looked again at the letter that Marc Van De Velde wrote telling me the work was complete. After reading it several times, I realized there were no better words than his, and so I include his note in full below. His last paragraph on his motivation for doing it is especially powerful.

My only addition is to add my personal thanks to Marc, Annemie, Geert, Frederik, Natasja, Saskia, and Jeroen for their translation, and to Peter for his review of it. It is a tremendous effort, inspired solely by their desire to help others.

Annemie told me, “I am proud to have participated in this project. Grateful and happy to have met beautiful people who I trust deeply.” What a truly wonderful collaboration. I hope to thank them all in person some day.

***

“Amazed by the first steps I set myself in relation to Working Out Loud, I saw the richness that the Working Out Loud method has to offer to other individuals, teams, and companies. I also became convinced that it would be beneficial for many Dutch-speaking people to have the circle guides in their own native language. 
Triggered by the initiatives from Fiona Michaux and Tiago Caldas who translated the guides into French and Portugese, I contacted you in the beginning of this year to see whether you would agree that I would launch such an initiative. 
Grateful to have received your formal agreement I’ve launched a request for help on the WOL-facebook page and other networks I was involved in. I was proud that a group of six people responded enthusiastic and committed to help me out on this project. With the help from Fiona Michaux I was introduced to the way she and her team approached this translation into French so that our NL-team could have a head-start in our own translation project. 
On March 20th of this year I held the formal kick-off for our WOL-NL-Translation-project together with Annemie Martens, Geert Nijs, Frederik Maesen, Natasja van Schaik, Saskia Wenniger and Jeroen Brands. As a team we discussed on how to approach this project and divided work amongst each other. As in any project, also this project was not spared the difficulties and problems that we had to solve as a team. Every member did what she/he could in order to complete this project and to deliver a great result to you. 
Before delivering our work to you, the Dutch circle guides have been reviewed by Peter De Troch and are currently tested within the company Annemie is working for. 
I’m proud that we made it work as I am with the result achieved. I feel humble as I’m allowed by the team to deliver our great result to you and hope that you also like what we’ve done and that you will make the Dutch version of the circle guides available on the Working Out Loud website. As you will notice we’ve also tried to respect the original layout as much as possible although we’re aware that it might still need some corrections in order to be delivered in a final version. 
As to the question “Why we’ve done this?” I think I speak for the all team in saying that we have done this project out of generosity towards the growing WOL community while at the same time being convinced that this will help others in experiencing the fun and effect of Working Out Loud. Working as a team felt as in participating in a WOL-circle in which we all experienced how great it is to work with peers who are their to help and support the other when facing a problem, issue or difficulty. In being part of this each one has built on the intimacy level with other team members so we became more closely related with each other. As a result of this we’re now even explore on how we can do more things together.
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to initiate this project.
Marc"

***

Annemie Martens

Frederik Maesen

Geert Nijs (Author of "De netwerkexpeditie. Slimmer samenwerken met sociale technologie" available November 2018)

Jeroen Brands

Marc Van de Velde

Natasja van Schaik

Peter De Troch

Saskia Wenniger

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Introducing a new kind of Circle: WOL-SC

For people who have participated in a WOL Circle, a common question is, ”What comes next?” Many people want to keep going, so some join another Circle with new members. Others just continue to meet every so often, updating and supporting each other. 

Now there’s another option. It’s a new way to deepen the insights and practice you began developing in your WOL Circle, and it’s called WOL-SC.

 

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What is WOL-SC?

The “SC” in “WOL-SC” can stand for many things: “Self-Care,” “Self-Compassion,” “SuperCharge,” or whatever other label you can come up with that expresses a sense of investing in yourself and and developing important skills. In many ways, a WOL-SC Circle can be thought of as a prequel to a WOL Circle. Whereas Working Out Loud improves how you relate to others, WOL-SC helps you improve how you relate to yourself.

WOL-SC is comprised of five discrete practices that you experiment with one after the other. Without exaggeration, these practices have changed my life. When I compare my current self to myself in years past, I am happier and calmer. I act with more confidence and clarity. I am a better father, husband, and friend. WOL-SC is an attempt to distill what I’ve learned from years of experiments aimed at improving my own work and life. It is not meant as a prescription that will work for everyone, or to presume that anyone should do what I do. Rather, it's offered in the spirit of “this helped me, and I hope you find it useful too.”

The main ideas are not new. The WOL-SC Circle Guides are all based on ancient wisdom, much of it thousands of years old and increasingly supported by scientific research. My intended contribution is to make it easier for anyone to apply these fundamentally good practices till they become habits, so more people can realize the many well-documented benefits.

How does it compare to a WOL Circle?

If you have already been in a WOL Circle, then certain aspects of WOL-SC will be familiar to you. You will meet as a group of four or five. It will be a psychologically safe, confidential space without judgment or competition. Your Circle can meet in person or via video across locations, and there will be guides with instructions on what to do in those meetings.

Beyond that, there are several important differences. You will meet only once a month for six months. You will do daily exercises on your own each month, and your meetings will be for you to share what happened and to prepare for a different practice the next month.

Also, unlike a WOL Circle, there is no goal or relationship list. The practices are largely focused on yourself. The only goals are to develop greater self-awareness and mindfulness. These are the keys to realizing more of your potential as well as a greater sense of fulfillment and happiness. The reason for the Circle meetings is that the structure, shared accountability, and support can help each person make progress. Also, reflecting on and exchanging experiences each month can advance your learning. 

Better for you. Better for your organization.

The personal benefits of the five practices in WOL-SC have been thoroughly studied and documented, and the new Circle Guides include resources to help you explore further and learn more. But there are benefits for organizations, too. Companies clearly recognize the need to do more to help employees handle the strains of work and life. Every company I've met with, for example, has a Wellness at Work or Mindfulness program. And hundreds of companies are spreading Working Out Loud Circles, proving that they are willing to create a safe, confidential space for employees to develop themselves.

What if we could build on that, and use Circles to enhance employees' focus, self-control, and stress management while helping them be kinder and happier? How many people would benefit if all those wellness programs had a new method that was easy to implement and spread? 

If you would like to be the first to try it…

I’ve been toying with this idea for a few years. While staying in Japan this summer, I finally drafted a set of guides that are ready to test, but not yet ready to publish. For the first experiment, I’d like to form 3 Circles, comprised of people I don’t know well and all of whom have been in at least one WOL Circle. We will start in September.

  • Circle #1 would meet in person in New York City, and I would be a member. So I would need four volunteers who live in or near NYC.
  • Circle #2 would meet via video and would span timezones. I would be a member of this Circle too, so I would need four volunteers from different countries.
  • Circle #3 would not include me. This will help me understand if the new guides are self-explanatory and what changes I may need to make. For this Circle, I would need five volunteers who would meet via video (unless five people in the same location volunteer as a group).

If you would like to volunteer for the WOL-SC experiment, send me an email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com and let me know if you have a preference for which Circle you’d like to join. This is version 1.0 of something that may take many iterations to get right, but I am committed to working on it and to making the guides available for free. I appreciate your interest and support.

Your beautiful faces

Sometimes, in Week 12, they will share a group photo. That final meeting often takes place over dinner or a glass of wine (or both). Even groups meeting via video will take a screenshot. Then they’ll post the photo with a comment about their experience together. 

It’s like looking through a window that connects me to them, and I smile every time. 

The first WOL Circle selfie I remember was over two years ago. I included it in the TEDx talk and still use it in most of my presentations. Since then, there have been photos from many kinds of people in many different places. China, Italy, Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Turkey.  

I’ve always wanted to do something more with these photos, and now I have two ideas.

The first is to display them on a dedicated page on the website, so that anyone interested in Circles can see them. Your beautiful faces would be more interesting and persuasive than any words I could write. And each photo would be a small tribute to your shared experience. 

The other idea is to include at least a dozen of them in a video series I’m finishing now. I’ll put one or more photos at the beginning of every video. Showing people how a Circle can feel, how relationships can develop, would be a wonderful way to start each week.

If you would like a photo of your Circle to be included (and everyone in your group agrees), email the best quality image you have to john.stepper@workingoutloud.com. Also send me what you would like to include in a short caption. It could be the countries you’re from, your first names, your company, or anything else you would like to add.

Each photo reminds me that Working Out Loud is about improving how we relate to each other, to ourselves, and to the work we do. One Circle at a time. 

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WOL Circle Guides now in Spanish

When Barbara Wietasch first told me she wanted to translate the Circle Guides into Spanish, I was confused. We had corresponded a few months earlier, and I remembered she was German, living in Vienna. She even blogs in German

She explained, “I lived 14 years in Madrid studying and living and working within the Spanish culture. So my emotional part is always there.” My next question was, "Why would you volunteer to take on such an extraordinary project?"

“I believe in agile work and want to make the world and organizations a better place to live, and I’m sure that WOL is an important method….a clear structure, a method, and a mindset of “who gives – wins.” I’m a fan of WOL and feel like an ambassador, having the need to spread and share it.”

She reached out to Spanish-speaking friends in Madrid, Vienna, and Munich and came into contact with new people who wanted to contribute. Gabriela participated because she “firmly believes in collaborative work and work methodologies such as WOL." Ana volunteered because of her own experience in a Circle. 

“I think WOL is really good. The change of mindset and how it worked for me in the first two weeks made it already worth it. My network is already larger than it had been before and my working area is known better only by doing WOL.”

Julia is someone I have written about before. She contributed so more people could experience the benefits.

“I am a great fan/follower of WOL and I have not thought twice when I saw they were looking for people to translate it into Spanish. I think there are many people who feel more comfortable reading in their native language and I wanted to support facilitating the dissemination of WOL in Spanish speaking countries.”

Daniella, who worked on the Portuguese translation and who used her Circles to do amazing things, said, 

“When I heard Barbara was putting together a team for translating the guides to Spanish, I did not hesitate in activating my network and bringing together some amazing women. Again, another wonderful team was formed that contributed to spread Working Out Loud! It was a great experience.”

In total, a dozen people self-organized around an idea they care about, and created something that can help hundreds or even thousands. I’m grateful to all of them for these new Circle Guides, and hope to thank each of them in person someday. 

Team Members:

Barbara Wietasch - Coordination & translation

Juan Salgado Bito – Proof reading

Daniella Cunha Teichert – Layout

Translators:

Rosa Reyero

Rosa Maria García Torres

Julia Flug

Julia Bustamante

Dolores Santiago

Jose Manuel Benedetti

Perla Saucedo

Gabriela Melicchio

Ana Belén Salcines

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WOL Circle Guides now in Mandarin

I’m writing this overlooking Changfeng Park in Shanghai, and it all seems like a bit of a miracle to me. 

I first wrote about Working Out Loud in China in September of last year, after Connie Wu had me join her WOL Circle via WeChat. Little did I know that I would travel to Beijing and Shanghai, work with companies and a business school there, and see the Circle Guides in Mandarin

Now you know why I’ve begun calling her “The unstoppable Connie Wu.”

After her experience in a Circle, Connie wanted to help others have that same experience, that same feeling of confidence and connection. So she organized a team of 20 volunteers to translate the guides, and now they’re ready

Every one of these people has a busy work or school schedule (or both), and yet, motivated simply by the desire to help others, they generously worked to make the material accessible to more people in China.

I met Connie in person for the first time this week, and met her daughter and other members of the translation team. They’re smart, kind, determined people. I can imagine many more miracles in the future.

Chen Chanyu (Aimee)

Chen Jing (Lynn)

Chen Qin

Chen Yanyan (Dora)

Fan Yingying 

Fu Haoxuan

Liu Yi

Meng Na (Mona)

Pan Jiaqi (Olivia)

Shen Jie (Jane)

Shi Jing (Ivy) 

Wang Hui (Emma)

Wu Chuanjuan (Connie)

Xia Yunxin

Yang Mengyun (Daisy) 

Zhang Lingli (Angela)

Zhou Diya (Delia)

Zhou Jing

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The life & death of Quality Circles (and a more modern way to implement them)

By the time I first heard of a Quality Circle, the idea was already almost 30 years old. It’s “a group of workers who do the same or similar work, who meet regularly to identify, analyze and solve work-related problems.” I was in my twenties at the time, doing research for my first book, and I believed these Circles could make a huge difference.

The method was introduced in the 1960s by Professor Kaoru Ishikawa. By the late 1970s, more than 10 million Japanese workers were in Circles. More recently, China is reported to have formed over 20 million Circles in a a range of industries.

But in the US, at least, “quality circles are almost universally consigned to the dustbin of management techniques.”

Why? What can we do to make a good idea even better?

Out of the Crisis

Dr. W. Edwards Deming, a pioneer of the quality management movement, was one of my early heroes when it came to work. His management philosophy wasn’t just for managers, but for everyone. Remarkably, his 14 principles put people at the center of quality and statistical process control.

“8. Drive out fear. 
12. Remove barriers that rob people of pride of workmanship.
13. Institute a vigorous program of education and self-improvement for everyone.
14. Put everybody in the company to work to accomplish the transformation. The transformation is everybody’s job.”

When Out of the Crisis was published, Deming was already in his 80s. He referenced Quality Control Circles (or QC-Circles) several times. Though he was familiar with their success in Japan, he had also seen failed implementations in the US, and he was not optimistic about their success there.

“The idea has appeal. The production worker can tell us a lot about what is wrong and how improvements can be made: why not tap into the source of information and help?
[But] a QC-Circle can thrive only if the management will take action on the recommendations of the Circle. Many QC-Circles are, I fear, management’s hope for a lazy way out.”

Do you treat them as human beings? Or not?

Something went wrong. QC Circles were designed to be a way for people to actively take pride in their work by having a voice in making it better. But Circles often became a management tool focused on cutting costs (and jobs), and on finding fault. 

In his book, Deming excerpted a speech from Dr. Akira Ishikawa (who became president of Texas Instruments in Japan) about why Circles worked in Japan but not in the US.

“In the U.S., a QC-Circle is normally organized as a formal staff organization, wheres a QC-Circle in Japan is an informal group of workers. A manager in Japan serves as an advisor or consultant. In the U.S., a manager of production, to get rid of the job, appoints facilitators for Quality of Work Life, Employee Involvement, Employee Participation, QC-Circles, all of which disintegrate. 
The second contrast is the selection of the theme for a meeting and the way in which the meeting is guided. In the U.S., the selection of a theme or project and how to proceed on it are proposed by a manager. In contrast, in Japan, the things are decided by the initiative of the member-workers.
The third feature is the difference in hours for a meeting. A meeting in the U.S. is held within working hours. A meeting in Japan may be held during working hours, during the lunch period, or after working hours.
In the U.S., monetary reward for a suggestion goes to the individual. In Japan, the benefit is distributed to all employees. Recognition of group achievement supersedes monetary benefit to the individual.”

These aren’t just procedural or technical differences. They’re fundamental. The way that Circles are implemented can determine whether or not employees tap into their innate needs for control, competence, and connection. 

“One Japanese plant manager who turned an unproductive U.S. factory into a profitable venture in less than three months told me: ‘It is simple. You treat American workers as human beings with ordinary needs and values. They react like human beings.’
Once the superficial, adversarial relationship between managers and workers is eliminated, they are more likely to pull together during difficult times and to defend their common interest in the firm’s health. Without a cultural revolution in management, quality control circles will not produce the desired effects in America.”

“WOL for Quality”

When Deming observed Quality Circles, it was well before enterprise social networks, before 4 billion people were using the Internet, before modern research on why people do what they do. Today, it’s easier than ever for employees in any environment to make their ideas visible, to tap into what others in the company know, and to connect and collaborate with them. 

One experiment I plan to work on is to apply the basic elements of WOL Circles - a voluntary, self-organized, safe and confidential space using structured guides - to making work better in a wider range of environments. Call it “WOL for Manufacturing” or “WOL for Hospitals” or even “WOL in the Classroom.”

To suit each specific kind of environment, I would adapt the guides to include different ways for Circles to form and interact, different contributions to make, and different technologies for making them. If a company is already spreading WOL Circles, then such an experiment would be a natural extension, a way to include people in non-office environments.

Perhaps, instead of waiting for “the cultural revolution in management” that Deming thought was necessary, we can take action now. Perhaps we finally have the tools and practices we need to create grassroots movements that matter, that can show management what’s possible and inspire them to enable broader institutional changes.

When WOL doesn’t work

It was Silke’s comment in the WOL Community that inspired this post.

“Hello, everyone.
While it is quite easy to find enthusiastic to enthusiastic reports about #WOL, I find it hard to find posts that say it didn't work and why. As an L&D manager I am always interested in both: when does a method work (probably) and when should one do something else? Not every method is suitable for every context.
Do you know of any texts / articles / reports about the failure of WOL Circles? German or English doesn't matter. DANKE!”

If you care about making something better, you have to be open to learning from negative experiences. Here are some of the most common reasons for WOL failing to make a difference for an individual or an organization, and here’s what we can do about it.

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For you

The three top challenges by far are related to logistics, choosing individual goals, and managing to do the exercises each week. 

To align the schedules  of five people 12 times, whether it’s for lunch or personal development, can seem nearly impossible.  Everyone’s time is already fully allocated, and it’s natural that personal and business demands disrupt attempts at planning ahead. As a famous film director once said, “80 percent of success is just showing up” - and that’s the biggest issue for WOL Circles.

Goals are another major challenge. I originally thought choosing a goal would be easy, but it isn’t. In later versions of the Circle Guides, I included more instructions in Week 1, but for some people it’s not enough. They wind up picking a goal that doesn’t spark their curiosity or interest, or that’s too big or small, and it’s not enough to sustain their motivation for the full 12 weeks.

A third challenge is finding time to do the exercises. I purposefully packed the agenda week so the pace would be fast and people wouldn't be bored. I also provided additional sections in the guides if you needed to do less or wanted to do more. Still, for some people it’s too much in an hour and they want to spend more time on exercises. Others want more time for discussion. Some Circles never find a balance, and people may get frustrated and leave,

For your organization

The challenges in an organization are different. The spread of WOL seems to follow a common pattern: 

  1. A person or group experiments with WOL Circles.
  2. They tell friends & colleagues, and more Circles form.
  3. A grassroots movement forms, including a small core team (or “co-creation team”) of volunteers that emerges to spread WOL.
  4. The WOL team secures institutional support, integrating WOL into existing HR programs, or as part of change management for digital transformation or innovation or culture programs. 

The proliferation of Circles can stop at any point in between these different stages. Maybe the initial Circle didn’t have a good experience. Or a core team never emerges and the grassroots movement remains small and ad hoc. Sometimes, even in the face of a passionate and persistent people, the institution is resistant to doing things differently.

One thing I’ve observed is that it’s usually not an issue of company culture, but about people. I’ve seen WOL spread in even the most conservative, hierarchical organizations because of the persistence of people who felt that WOL helped them, and they were committed to helping others at their company. 

But there are a few places where change fatigue has set in. Maybe the company is under threat, or going through yet another major reorganization, and it’s all people can do to make it through the day. WOL may be “a lifeboat in a sea of change,” but they’re too tired to row.

What you & I can do

For all of these challenges, I’ve seen practitioners try different experiments and come up with innovations that help. They’ve found ways to ease the logistical burdens for Circles, trained WOL Mentors who can help with goals and other challenges that may come up, and even begun conducting “Week 0” meetings so people have a better understanding of what’s involved and expected before they commit to a Circle. For my part, I’m doing my own experiments, continuing to work on ways to make Circles easier and more engaging, and creating more resources for those who want to spread the practice.

Though WOL isn't a perfect method, I'm more optimistic than ever. Because every day I see feedback from people like Karin in Vienna who wrote something quite poignant about her Circle experience:

"If I had to describe in a word what I have learned through #WOL in the last few weeks, then that word would be 'courage'."

What if you could have that feeling? What if you could help others have the confidence to give voice to their opinions and ideas, to work in a more open, connected way, to be generous and even kind at work? How would that change your company's culture?

As Silke said, “Not every method is suitable for every context.” Yet by openly sharing what worked and didn’t work - by “working out loud about Working Out Loud” - we can help more people and make a bigger impact. Whether you make a difference for yourself, for your Circle, or for a movement of thousands of people, it all starts with making the attempt.