WOL for Teams didn’t work, but this will

You might call it “WOL for Shared Purpose” or “WOL for Communities.” I like “WOL for Passion.” There’s no need for special materials or training. You can use the free WOL Circle Guides and start now. 

The idea is a result of a failed experiment with WOL for Teams. By applying what we learned, and making some small adjustments to Circles, I think we can help a wide range of communities and causes.

Why WOL for Teams failed

WOL for Teams, as you may have guessed from the name, is a WOL Circle in which the goal and relationship list are shared by everyone in the group, and so the method emphasizes the group over the individual. A modified set of Circle Guides includes other adaptations that flow from that. For example, the goals we suggested in Week 1 are different.

  • Raise awareness about what we do
  • Get feedback from stakeholders
  • Find and learn from others who do related work

Some of the exercises were different too. You would work on the team’s online presence instead of your own. The “Letter from Your Future Self” exercise became “The President’s Award” where you speak about how your team accomplished its goal. And so on.

In the pilot, two kinds of challenges led to us deeming it a failure. The first was procedural. Having a single relationship list in the group made it unclear who was supposed to do what with each person on the list. Would the whole team suddenly offer attention and appreciation to someone? That seemed odd. (The word “stalking” was used.) Also, some teams were larger, making the meetings hard to manage.

More insidious was that we explicitly undermined one of the most important elements of WOL: intrinsic motivation. While some people in the pilot may have truly cared about their team’s goal, it wasn’t enough for most people to spark their motivation to do things differently. The Circle meeting began to feel like yet another team meeting and, as a result, most pilot members stopped showing up.

WOL for Passion

WOL for Passion is subtly different. As in WOL Circles, you're still in a group of 4 - 5 people, and each individual still chooses an individual goal they care about. However, Circles are formed based on goals that are related. By grouping people based on the goal they choose, we preserve each member’s intrinsic motivation while creating possibilities for more interaction within the Circle.

The thematic goals can be anything one truly cares about. Maybe you're passionate about a work topic like autonomous vehicles or cryptocurrencies or the Internet of Things. Or maybe you care deeply about more general topics like innovation or diversity, or education or the environment. Whatever it is, you're likely to find people who share your interests in related online communities inside and outside your company. WOL for Passion would give you all a simple and structured way to contribute and connect.

Because your goals are related, you'll be able to share more resources within your Circle. And as more Circles form related to a given theme, resources could be curated within communities of practice. “Here’s a list of people related to the topic and useful resources. Here’s a sample Contribution Checklist.” All of that would enable WOL for Passion members to make progress more quickly.

In short, WOL for Passion accelerates connecting people and knowledge around a topic, tapping into each individual's intrinsic motivation to do so.

An example in Nebraska

I've been thinking about this idea since I first heard the results of the WOL for Teams pilot over a year ago. Recently, I saw a tweet from John Porter - aka the Urban Agriculture Guru - that pushed me to do something. John had been in a WOL Circle and found it helpful for developing and growing his business and personal relationships. He also cares deeply about urban agriculture and the many benefits of consuming locally-produced food. So he wanted to see if he could use WOL to connect urban food producers with other parts of the food eco-system.

“Our local food system is in its beginning phases here in Omaha, and I really think I can be a catalyst in helping connect the dots between producers and from producers to consumers, retailers, etc.  I’d love to build an informal network of producers so that I can better support this growth, and I think WOL would be a good tool to do this.”

John said there were already meet-ups, Facebook pages, and other efforts to connect people, but that nothing so far had formed a sense of community. 

“We post announcements - but nobody is contributing. I want to use WOL to build purpose for the community. I want to be able to build collaborations between them.”

So I asked John if he would be willing to do an experiment. He would form a few Circles of people with goals related to his, and I would help him along the way. He agreed.

What are you passionate about?

The exercises in Week 11 of the Circle Guides (“Imagine the possibilities”) are about this kind of community building. “As you aim higher, your purpose is no longer about you and what you alone might accomplish but what your tribe will accomplish together.” WOL for Passion builds on this, helping you find people who care about what you care about, build deep relationships with them, and connect and equip them to make progress towards related goals.

What about you? Is there something you care so much about that you want to create connections and possibilities related to it? Try your own experiment by forming WOL Circles of people with related goals. Experience what kind of a difference that can make. I'll be glad to help you, too.

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 

An example of community-building: Nebraska local foods 



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.