A workshop for 550 engineers

I was nervous about this one. Although I’ve delivered workshops before, the crowds have ranged from 25 to 100 people or so. This would be five times the largest one. An even bigger challenge would be that they were engineers at Bosch, responsible for manufacturing and logistics in plants around the world. Not a typical WOL audience.

Here’s how it went.

The talk

I was to open the second day. The attendees had already heard from speakers who talked about innovation and technology trends. Bernd Häuser, the senior vice president responsible for manufacturing at Bosch, was the man responsible for making WOL part of the conference. He introduced Working Out Loud as “something practical,” something they could each apply themselves.

My talk usually covers the basic questions:

  • What is Working Out Loud?
  • What are the benefits?
  • How does it spread?
  • Who else is doing it and why?

But I adapt each talk depending on the audience. For this group of engineers, I focused on how Working Out Loud can help you be more effective, giving you access to more knowledge while accelerating the rate of innovation and continuous improvement. 

I also sought to demystify the practice, telling stories about engineers as diverse (and as old) as Alexander Humboldt and W. Edwards Deming, showing how even they were proponents of elements of Working Out Loud. Towards the end, I gave examples of how WOL Circles are spreading in other engineering companies.

“Now it’s your turn,” I said.

The workshop

We had prepared tables at the back of the huge auditorium, and asked everyone to form into groups of five, preferably with people they didn’t already work with. I was joined by Sabine Kluge from Siemens, Katharina Krentz who introduced WOL at Bosch, and Bosch’s WOL co-creation team. (The team is comprised of remarkable volunteers who want to contribute to spreading the practice. You can read more about their work here and watch it here.)

The plan was that, together with Sabine and Katha, I would guide the 110 groups through WOL Circle exercises from Weeks 1 and 2. But the three of us weren’t convinced this would work. What if they took too long to self-organize? What if they thought the process was too “soft”? What if we lost their attention or never got it to begin with?

The results

We needn’t have worried. The crowd had already been together for a day, and they were eager for more interaction and connection. I gave brief instructions before each exercise, and Sabine and Katha offered their own insights. While the Circles were working, the co-creation team would walk around the room and offer “micro-coaching” to answer questions or clarify things. 

The room was buzzing. We began with an exercise Sabine suggested which immediately helped the Circle members to relate to each other and feel comfortable. Then they went on to share their individual goals, write down lists of people related to those goals, and offer contributions right there in the room.

The last step was to offer them the chance to keep going. “You have already experienced what it’s like to be in a Circle,” I said. “Now you can continue that experience after the conference. It’s as easy as writing your email address on a piece of paper.”

200 people signed up.

Afterwards, we all breathed a sigh of relief, and we talked about what worked and what could be better. Perhaps the best thing about the workshop, beyond the level of engagement and the number of new Circle members, was that we were able to reach people in the core business from around the world, including senior management.

“This is an important milestone for us,” Katha said. “We reached a new level.” 

A Working Out Loud Conference in December(?)

A few months ago, a group of companies in Germany met for a day to exchange how they might help spread the practice of Working Out Loud. We exchanged ideas and challenges, and got to know each other better. It was lovely.

This week we met again (see this Storify of the event by Daimler), and the progress in the past few months has been extraordinary for some companies. One got the attention of board members for supporting WOL programs. Another started their on-boarding pilot. Another is actively spreading it in China and India. In the afternoon, we worked together on different topics that would be of use and interest to all of us, and that would advance the practice. It was good work with good friends.

But something was missing. We all want help other organizations build their own WOL movement. There’s a growing list of companies that are starting to spread Working Out Loud, and even more that are interested. Yet while we don’t want our working group to be an exclusive club, we also recognize that working groups become unworkable if they’re too big. And it’s the rare company or person that would invest this much time helping others.

So what could be a way to help others get started and benefit from the lessons of the early adopters?

That’s when we began considering a public WOL conference. The first experiment would likely be in Stuttgart, and limited to 100 people or so. The objective wouldn’t be money or marketing, but helping companies who are actively engaged in spreading the practice of Working Out Loud.

If we organized such an event this year, perhaps in early December, would you be interested in attending? If so, what would be most valuable to you?

“Would you recommend this method to your network?”

I can already anticipate my wife’s response when I share this statistic with her. “Darling,” I’ll say, “99% of the people in WOL Circles at Bosch said they would recommend them.”

There will be a pause, then a deadpan stare. “Darling,” she’ll say, “that’s not credible.” 

As usual, she’ll be right. It is hard to believe. Yet the team at Daimler had similar results in their survey.  How can that be?

First, a few disclaimers. The surveys are still small. The one at Bosch included 107 respondents out of the 500+ people who experienced a WOL Circle there, and the Daimler survey wasn’t any bigger. Also, I know that not all Circles are successful. People sometimes drop out because they’re too busy, or just not ready for whatever reason. For sure, we need to collect much more data.

Nevertheless, it’s a remarkable result for a change method inside a large corporation, and I think I know why these two institutions got such great results: It’s the way they introduced and spread WOL Circles.

The best write-up to date is a detailed article from Katharina Krentz at Bosch, where she outlined what they did, how they did it, and provided yet more survey results. 

Katha emphasized the importance of a “co-creation team,” something Daimler has also formed. It’s a group of almost all volunteers who oversee the spread of WOL. They serve as the linchpins within the company, ensuring each Circle gets the support they need and overseeing the spread of the method across the company. They’re the ones who work with me, and who engage HR, Communications, and other divisions for events and integrating Circles into existing processes and programs like employee on-boarding.

This structure helps, and even more important is their approach. They frame WOL Circles as simply a personal development method that’s good for the individual and for the company. It’s described as “a guided mastery program for collaboration and networking.” (One manager at Bosch said he liked the method because “it’s simple, structured, and human.”) As they get more positive feedback, they spread the word while opportunistically looking for ways to spread the method. 

These two co-creation teams are indeed excellent. The people are smart, creative, and kind, and they have an extraordinary ability to get things done. And because they Work Out Loud - offering what they did, how they did it, and what they learned - you can achieve similar results in your organization. 


Note: I was wondering about the one percent at Bosch who did not recommend the practice. (Human nature dictates that I focus on the negative 1% instead of the positive 99%!) After I shared the statistic on the WOL Facebook Page, Katharina explained it:

“Fun fact: the 1% comes from someone who skipped this answer - so it was a mistake, not a real “no.”" 

When they do things I could not do

I remember how hard it was when I worked in a big company. Trying to get budget or even attention was like running some Dilbert-ian gauntlet. Trying to make an actual difference was harder still, and I often wanted to give up. 

So when I see people working in large corporations doing what I could not do, I look at them with genuine admiration. How did they do it? Why? Today I want to celebrate some of these people. The list below is by no means complete, and that makes it all the more amazing.

Janine Kirchhof works in HR at Daimler. She felt her WOL Circle helped her tap into a sense of purpose, so she proposed combining Circles into Daimler’s on-boarding process. She secured the support she needed and kicked off the first pilot last week. Going forward, each month she'll be helping new joiners become more productive and connected more quickly.

Katharina Krentz is a pioneer in spreading WOL at Bosch, and she’s the only person (besides me) whose full-time job is spreading the practice of Working Out Loud. She formed a co-creation team that built a movement within the company that has already reached over 500 people, organized the first-ever WOL Conference, piloted WOL for Teams and WOL for Leaders, and now partnered with HR to integrate WOL into their on-boarding program. She even worked with Communications to share what Bosch has done in this wonderful 2 1/2-minute video and this incredibly useful post on LinkedIn.

Three people at BMW - Jasper-John Schaefer, Ilona Libal, and Andreas Schorn - started their WOL efforts from different divisions. Things developed slowly at first, but through a combination of creativity and persistence they got the attention of top management of the company. They now have the support to create their own movement there, and the potential to go further and faster than others who started before them.

I’ve written about the Daimler team before, where Lukas Fütterer and Melanie Rassloff astound me with their creativity, generosity, and the sheer range of what they do. They too have formed a fantastic co-creation team that is spreading Circles and leveraging talent throughout the company to institutionalize WOL as a skill everyone should have.

Bernd Zimmerman is at Siemens, where he’s introduced new methods for developing “senior leadership excellence.” He saw how WOL could be adapted and applied to innovation, fostering a sense of experimentation and prototyping in the company, and helping individuals bring their ideas to life. The first pilot he led quickly turned into several more, and he’s only just begun.

Athanasia Price and Emma Boddington-Stubbs work at Rio Tinto in Australia. Athanasia wrote and spoke about how WOL helped her find "clarity on my purpose at work" and decided to try and spread the practice. Though she was seven months pregnant, she collaborated with HR and worked with Emma to create the first-ever pilot of WOL Circles as part of a graduate training program as well as a digital culture program.

These people are all busy, with full lives and demanding full-time jobs. And yet they crafted their roles so they could help more people, so they could make work even more fulfilling. They all lead by example, inspiring other to do more inside their own companies. 

When I worked in a big company, I could not do what they have done. But now I can contribute in other ways, and the persistence of these people and their ability to execute inspires me to do more, to be more.

Neu WOL Circle Leitfaden! (Latest Circle Guides now in German!)

Thanks to the heroic efforts of Katharina Krentz and Monika Struzek at Bosch, the Working Out Loud Circle Guides are now available in German

Many of my German friends pride themselves on being “direct.” So I was particularly pleased when Katha told me “These are the best guides ever! We love them!!!” In this upgrade, I improved the flow, completely reworked some of the later weeks, and included more exercises and resources. They are simpler, clearer, and more complete.

The new WOL Circle Guides will be the basis for a workbook and a video coaching series later this year. If you’re interested in those, subscribe to the blog and you'll be notified of when they’re available. (Or send me email at john.stepper@workingoutloud.com if you have ideas or comments.)

Of course, you are the best judge of whether these Circle Guides are effective. Try them, and let me know what you think. What did you like best? What could be improved?

Thank you for using these guides and for any and all comments. And a heartfelt “Vielen Dank” to Katha and Monika. Your contributions and support, and those of the entire co-creation team at Bosch, have inspired me to be and do more. 

An early WOL Circle #selfie. (There are now well over 100 WOL Circles at Bosch.)

An early WOL Circle #selfie. (There are now well over 100 WOL Circles at Bosch.)

8 companies in Germany

There have been meet-ups before, and even a company conference, but this was different. This was eight companies coming together to advance the practice of Working Out Loud. 

Daimler was our host, thanks to Lukas Fütterer and Melanie Raßloff from their Digital Life Team. They published images and updates from the event:

"With the spring arriving in Stuttgart, 15 practitioners from Audi, BMW, Bosch, Continental, Daimler, Deutsche Bank, Deutsche Telekom and Siemens discussed the status & co-create on the future of Working Out Loud in big corporations together with John Stepper #WOL #DigitalLife"

In front of Daimler's Digital Life bus. (First time "Working Out Loud" is on the side of a bus!)

“Co-create the future of Working Out Loud” is what really made this meeting extraordinary. Each company is already spreading WOL Circles in some way. This meeting was about how to do it better and faster. It was about what we need to improve and create, and how we will work together to do it. By the end of the day we had specific initiatives with different practitioners teaming up to drive them. Bernd Zimmermann, an HR executive and innovator at Siemens, described it in his blog post as “making the New Work work.”

In the TEDx talk last year I said, “If Working Out Loud does become a movement, it will be because of the people in the community.” Today was evidence of that. Combined, these eight companies co-creating the future have over 1.7 million employees. Together, we took another step towards making a difference. 


Co-creation with Bosch and Postshift

Over the past six weeks, I’ve been working in a way that’s both unfamiliar and uncomfortable, and yet it has produced better results. 

I thought sharing my recent experience might help you if you ever try something similar. 

The goal

It was June, and I was about to start my first formal engagement with Bosch. I had been collaborating with the team there for about nine months, helping them spread Working Out Loud Circles and learning what worked and didn’t work for them. They had produced remarkable results, and now they were looking to apply Working Out Loud to teams and leaders. 

These innovations would open up new possibilities for spreading the practice. WOL for Teams would require adapting Working Out Loud Circles for groups with shared goals and networks. WOL for Leaders would require different steps, and wouldn’t be circle-based at all. I developed two new sets of guides, and planned for a weeklong trip to Stuttgart. 

Then the Bosch team surprised me and another company, Postshift, by asking us to work together. 

The essential element it requires

From the beginning, I knew that Bosch had been working with Postshift for years in a much broader capacity, helping them with their overall digital transformation. Lee Bryant, a founder of Postshift, is an expert I’ve long respected, and his companies have helped a wide range of companies “create more resilient and adaptable business structures for the 21st Century.”

Think for a moment what your reaction might be. If you were Postshift, you might wonder why there is another person doing work that you might well do, with a client you’ve built a strong relationship with over years. If you’re me, just having started a new company, you might wonder if you’ll be run over by a more established group. Or if your work will stand up to their scrutiny.

And yet there we were, in a conference room, going through WOL for Teams & WOL for Leaders, and preparing for workshops and pilots. 

I was immediately struck by how, instead of starting from a defensive position, anticipating all that could go wrong and wrangling over a contract, we started from a position of trust. That trust was earned by the Bosch team because of all their contributions over time. It was also earned by Lee, who has an excellent reputation and had given me helpful advice on several occasions. 

The results (and embracing uncertainty)

In the room, we worked together as if we had done so many times before. Cerys Hearsay and Lee from Postshift had perspectives on the client and on digital transformation that led to significant improvements to the material I had written. Later in the week, Lee presented at the first-ever Working Out Loud conference, and he put WOL in context with all the other things Bosch was trying to do. His talks throughout the day were insightful and generous. He even blogged about “Working Out Loud for Teams & Leaders” at postshift.com.

The results, unambiguously, were better than what I had done on my own, and Bosch will pilot the new concepts in the Fall. But where will this co-creation experience lead? I’m not certain.

It could lead to more work with Bosch (or not).

It could lead to more collaboration with Postshift (or not).

It could lead to new products and services I could offer to other clients (or not).

For sure, though, I already have new ideas from collaborating closely with experts I respect. I have access to possibilities that wouldn’t have existed otherwise. I have learned how I can work with other partners better next time. 

Working with Bosch and Postshift, I experienced how, perhaps more than ever, trust is the currency of collaboration. It’s what makes new forms of experimentation and learning possible. It’s what enables you to preserve relationships even when things don’t work out. It’s what enables you to enjoy the process, and makes it more likely you’ll build on your successes.

The first-ever Working Out Loud conference

I didn’t realize how big it was going to be until I walked into the venue. It was a professional, all-day conference run by Bosch for their employees. All so they could spread the practice of Working Out Loud.

There were presentations, workshops, a panel discussion with executives, an “info market” with ten booths run by people who had been in circles. There was even a Twitter tag: #wolcon2016  (For this post I’m using material that was shared publicly.)

Here's how it happened.

The way it started

Bosch first spread circles last year as an experiment. After a while, Katharina Krentz and I came to know each other and soon began to collaborate. 

She started with just a few circles so they could see for themselves how it worked, just as most other organizations start. Over time, Katha and a growing team collected feedback from participants who said the practice helped them feel better as individuals while helping with the corporate mission to become a more agile, connected company. That gained the attention and approval of management to keep going.


More people at Bosch got involved. They translated and adapted the material. They spread the word and formed many more circles.

We began collaborating on a wider range of things, from small improvements to major innovations. The people who had come together were presented with an award by their executive for their efforts on Working Out Loud.

What’s next?

Together, we'll keep spreading circles and will pilot the innovations we co-created. Also, after the conference, I stayed in Germany and had the chance to visit with six other companies here. Combined, they have well over a million employees.

If we reach even 1 percent, that would be over 10,000 people who could experience a better career and life, who could unlock and empower the next 1%, the next 5%, who could improve the culture and effectiveness of their organizations.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to work with the people at Bosch, proud of what they have accomplished, and hopeful we can help many, many more people around the world.

An award to be proud of

I’m in Stuttgart this week, working with people at Bosch to spread and adapt Working Out Loud circles, and today I witnessed a beautiful thing. It happened at an internal event of over 400 people called the Agile Company Convention. (They even had a Twitter tag: #accon2016 )

At one point, after some excellent talks, an executive presented several awards for outstanding work related to digital collaboration. This year, for the first time, there was a special Co-Creation Award, for people who voluntarily come together to work on something they care about.

The thrilling part was that it was awarded to the people I’ve been with all week, for their accomplishments with Working Out Loud. They were completely surprised and looked at each other, shocked, as the executive called their names and greeted them on stage. Though some of them had never met in person before, we created, debated, and produced good work as if we’ve been doing so for years.

Partnering with these people, and the entire Bosch team, has been one of the most rewarding collaborative experiences I’ve ever had. I'm proud to know them and work with them.

Congratulations to all of you for leading by example.

From Left to right: Jeroen Brands, Cornelia Heinke, Kathrin Schmidt, Monika Struzek, Thorsten Sylvester

Why Are So Many German Companies Interested In Working Out Loud?

It doesn’t fit the stereotype, does it? When I speak to German audiences, they’ll tell me that Germans are different. They aren’t into self-promotion, for example, and they tend to be more mindful of the corporate hierarchy. They'll say they're not comfortable asking questions or showing work in progress lest it make them seem less competent. So why would they want to spread the practice of Working Out Loud?

WOL in Germany

WOL in Germany

What the Germans want

What German companies want, it turns out, is what every company wants. They want to be more agile, to learn from mistakes and leverage successes, to spread good ideas and practices more quickly. They feel that having employees who work out loud can help them achieve these things.

What German people want is, despite the cultural differences, similar to what human beings around the world want. They share the universal intrinsic motivators of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, and they feel working out loud can give them more control over their work and life while increasing their access to learning and their sense of connectedness.

So far, German companies in banking, manufacturing, and telecommunications have started spreading Working Out Loud circles, including interest from HR and Communications departments as well as individuals.

But why is Germany ahead of some other countries?

The way it started 

The explanation has little to do with national proclivities and more to do with a few inspired, committed people. A few individuals had read about working out loud and wanted to learn more. A dozen or so of them from a diverse set of companies decided to meet, and they invited me to join via video.

That meeting was like a pebble in a pond, spreading ripples across companies that brought us all into contact with more possibilities.

First, people at the meeting formed circles among themselves. (My friend Barbara, who’s featured in Working Out Loud, was one of those people and recently wrote about the experience in both German and English.) The circles spanned companies, and some individuals then decided to spread circles at their firm.

One of the companies was Bosch, a firm that's among the most-respected global manufacturers and, with 300,000 people, the world’s largest private firm. Katharina Pershke, Cornelia Heinke, and the Bosch team adapted all the Working Out Loud materials for use on their intranet and started spreading circles. Kathrin Schmidt heroically translated all the guides into German.

A few months later, I was heading to Stuttgart for a conference, and the team invited me to speak at their firm. We held events for hundreds of people, even broadcasting an event to other countries, and that led to more circles and more ideas.

An exciting and inspiring #wol day comes to an end. Thanks to everybody #wolbosch@johnstepper@HeinkeCorneliapic.twitter.com/JwZ35rskJ5

— Katharina Perschke (@Katha_Pe) November 4, 2015

What’s next?

The ripples kept on spreading. The Bosch team talked with people at other companies in Germany, sharing the materials and their learning. That led to more connections and more opportunities to collaborate on spreading working out loud. It also led to ideas for different ways to apply Working Out Loud and ways to measure benefits for both the individual and the firm.

It’s still early, of course, but the German companies interested in spreading Working Out Loud collectively employ over a million people.

It shows how a few committed, passionate people inside companies can start a movement - and can make a difference far beyond what most of us might dare to imagine.