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.
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.
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?
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.”