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 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.)

The Dinner Table University

“Felice, what did you learn today?”

“Felice” (fell-EE-chay) is Felice Leonardo "Leo" Buscaglia, a professor at the University of Southern California whose father instilled in him a sense of curiosity and a habit for learning that lasted his entire life. Dr. Buscaglia went on to write books about love and give talks that were broadcast on public television in the 1980s. That’s where I first heard him tell the story of the dinner table university he experienced as a child, and it stuck with me since. 

Leo grew up in a large Italian immigrant family. They were poor, but they were surrounded by people and love, by food and opera. His father, who was taken from school at an early age to work in a factory, was determined that none of his children would be denied an education. 

“Papa believed that the greatest sin was to go to bed at night as ignorant as when we awakened. To ensure that none of his children ever fell into the trap of complacency, Papa insisted that we learn at least one new thing each day. And dinner time seemed the perfect forum for sharing what we had learned that day. Naturally, as children, we thought this was crazy.”

Not having an answer wasn’t an option. So before dinner, the children would scramble to come up with something they could offer. Out of desperation, they might frantically turn to the encyclopedia to find some fact they could use. "The population of Nepal is…"

“Silence. It always amazed me and reinforced my belief that Papa was a little crazy that nothing I ever said was too trivial for him. First, he'd think about what was said as if the salvation of the world depended upon it. "The population of Nepal. Hmmm. Well." He would then look down the table at Mama, who would be ritualistically fixing her favorite fruit in a bit of leftover wine. "Mama, did you know that?” Mama's responses always lightened the otherwise reverential atmosphere. "Nepal?" she'd say. "Not only don't I know the population of Nepal, I don't know where in God's world it is!" Of course, this only played into Papa's hands.
"Felice," he'd say. "Get the atlas so we can show Mama where Nepal is." And the whole family went on a search for Nepal.”

Each child’s contribution was carefully examined and considered no matter how trivial it was. It wasn’t so much the specific bit of knowledge that was important, but the sharing of that knowledge.

“Without being aware of it, our family was growing together, sharing experiences and participating in one another's education. And by looking at us, listening to us, respecting our input, affirming our value, giving us a sense of dignity, Papa was unquestionably our most influential teacher.
‘How long we live is limited,’ he said, "but how much we learn is not. What we learn is what we are." Papa's technique has served me well all my life.” 

Listening to Leo Buscaglia tell the story himself is a special treat. (You can find a longer version in Papa, My Father, and it’s condensed nicely here.) Clicking on the video below will take you directly to it at 45m06s. Watch the whole video if you can, and you’ll get a sense of someone whose passion for life, love, and learning inspired many thousands of people, including me.

Note: I liked this story so much I included it as an exercise in Week 9 of the WOL Circle Guides. It’s meant to help people experience their own Dinner Table University, to practice sharing their learning as a contribution.



Poetry Out Loud

When I first saw the phrase “Poetry Out Loud,” I didn’t pay much attention. After all, you can live, love, write, dance, exercise, and even work out loud

But one day I was working in the fabulous Poets House (“a national poetry library and literary center”), and I noticed some poems on display. They were by children, and the first one I read was by Allan, a fourth-order at PS1. 

If I leave New York, 
I’ll bring Lady Liberty
Cameras clicking,
Children yelling
I’ll bring it in my suitcase, remembrance.

I enjoyed it, so I read another one by Janice, comparing NYC to a grizzly bear, and one by Leah who wrote about immigrants and called her poem “Welcome New Americans! (“Welcome Immigrants! You are imported good!”)

I took photos and shared Allan’s poem on Instagram with a comment:

“Ever notice how most children proudly make their work visible and most adults don’t?"

A friend responded:

“Because they don’t have the fear of rejection yet.”

“She’s right,” I thought, and yet… “Out Loud” doesn’t have to be about acceptance and rejection, or about megaphones and self-promotion. It can be about the pure offering of a gift, one without the expectation of applause.

I tried this.

I made this.

I learned this. 

I enjoyed this.

I hope you like it or find it useful.

When I use the phrase “working out loud,” I think of the times I listened to someone read a short story, or when I read a book to my young son. “Out Loud” can be the basis for a connection, something that brings people closer, something that makes the work come alive.

Photo credit: Wild Edge Poetry Reading in San Francisco

Photo credit: Wild Edge Poetry Reading in San Francisco

New! WOL Circle Guides v4.0 available

If you’re considering forming a Working Out Loud Circle, or just interested in Working Out Loud yourself, a new set of the free WOL Circle Guides are now available. (Scroll down till you see v4.0.)

These are the clearest and most complete guides ever. I improved the flow, completely reworked some of the later weeks, and included more exercises and resources. But I almost didn’t publish them.


I was failing to take my own medicine. As much as I encourage people to make their work visible, I was struggling to finish the new guides. I came up with the usual excuses, and months went by.

They’re not good enough yet. 

What if people don’t like them?

I should wait until…

The key to progress was asking for help from the WOL Community on Facebook. That led to an event yesterday where a few dozen people from around the world walked through the material. The event forced me to publish the drafts, and the comments on the call will make the final version even better.

What’s next?

Though the new version isn’t final, it’s ready to use now and I recommend it if you’re about to start a WOL Circle or are in the early stages of one. I’ll incorporate any feedback you have into a new update in early April. Going forward, I anticipate a major upgrade each year and minor changes throughout the year.

The new 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 if you have suggestions.)

I hope the new guides, workbooks, and videos can help even more people. Though there isn’t any marketing of WOL Circles, they’re in over 20 countries and a wide range of organizations. That’s solely because of people like you who read this blog and spread the word, or who “put the cape on” and decided to try something different in their company.

Thank you.

FAQ: Can our WOL Circle meet virtually?

Last week, a member of the WOL Facebook community posted what turns out to be a common question:

“We are an organization with many remote employees, including myself. Has anyone done WOL using technology like Skype, Zoom or GoToMeeting? Eager to learn from your success.”

The community responded quickly with a resounding “yes.” 

“We've done 10+ circles all via Zoom. They've all been successful.”
“Conducted entirely by Zoom and it worked great.”
“I always had remote participants in my few WOL circles. Video calls were made with Skype, Zoom or Hangout.”
“I am currently in my third circle. All have been virtual on Zoom.”

While it was clear that virtual meetings were both possible and popular, were they as good as in-person meetings?

 A WOL Circle celebrating and reflecting in Week 12

A few tips for your virtual Circle

I’ve been in both in-person and virtual WOL Circles, and they worked equally well. In-person meetings can have a charm all their own. A meeting in a cafe, for example, feels different than a videoconference. But participating in a virtual Circle makes it possible to include people in other cities and countries. That can increase the diversity of your circle and make it more likely to be effective. Virtual Circles can also take less time, since they don’t require extra time to go to and from the meeting. 

How do you meet?

Almost all my virtual Circles met via video. Those that used only audio felt less intimate, especially at first, though I still enjoyed it.   All the popular video services work well enough. My personal favorite is Zoom as the quality of the sound and picture are remarkably good, and it’s particularly easy to use.

“It was like we were in the same room together. The conversations were just as real and emotional and inspiring as they could be in person.”

Communicating between meetings

It’s common for virtual Circles to maintain some kind of backchannel for communicating between meetings. This is a good practice in any Circle, and may be even more important in virtual groups to reinforce the bonds between members. 

“In my current circle we usea private Facebook group for information exchange and communication during the week.”
“We also share and communicate via Slack during the week. (Any non-email platform would work similarly.)”
“We also stayed in touch by email throughout the program and shared lots of links and ideas, and still check in from time to time even though it's been over two months since it ended.”

The most important tip for your Circle

Search the Internet for “how to run a virtual meeting” and you’ll find plenty of tips. There’s also a list of “Tips for a Successful Circle” in the Getting Started section of the guides. The best advice I’ve heard, though, is from a TED talk on “10 rules for a better conversation,” and they apply online as well as in person. 

The most important bit of advice? Pay attention. 

Your attention is one of the most precious gifts you have to offer. If you don’t pay attention, then none of the other tips matter much. It's when you give your attention freely during your meeting, actively listening and participating, that you can connect and grow. 

Do you have something else you would recommend? Or another question you’d like to see answered? Post a comment and I’ll include the best suggestions in version 4.0 of the Circle guides in 2017.

“Their motivation was completely gone.”

At first, the doctors had no idea what could have caused the changes. Their families said they had become different people.

“It was as if the part of their brain where motivation lives had completely disappeared…They hadn’t become less intelligent or less aware of the world. Their old personalities were still inside, but there was a total absence of drive or momentum. Their motivation was completely gone.”

After years of research, they finally discovered the cause, and it points to how we can improve effectiveness and engagement at work.

When your striatum goes dark

The quote above was from Smarter, Faster, Better by Charles Duhigg. A neurologist was describing patients who had blood vessels burst near their striatum, a part of the brain that coordinates a range of cognitive functions, including decision-making and motivation.

Though patients were normal in all other regards, they seemed markedly less interested in things. They would respond to instructions but wouldn’t take any initiative. For example, a man who had been known for his strong work ethic told his doctor, “I just lack spirit…I have no go. I must force myself to wake up in the morning.”

Sure ways to inhibit motivation

Over the past few decades, Duhigg cited a wide range of research that made the connection between decision-making and motivation.

“Motivation is triggered by making choices that demonstrate to ourselves that we are in control. The specific choice we make matters less than the assertion of control. It’s this feeling of self-determination that gets us going…
‘The need for control is a biological imperative,’ a group of Columbia University psychologists wrote in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences in 2010. When people believe they are in control, they tend to work harder and push themselves more. They are, on average, more confident and overcome setbacks faster…One way to prove to ourselves that we are in control is by making decisions. “Each choice - no matter how small - reinforces the perception of control and self-efficacy., the Columbia researchers wrote.”

When you lose the ability to make decisions, you lose your sense of control and motivation. It happens when certain parts of your brain are damaged. It also happens when workplaces rob you of a sense of autonomy. 

The zombie apocalypse at work

Recently, I was talking with an executive about employee engagement at his firm and I was struck by the language he used. 

“They’re like zombies. You pass them in the lobby, going from meeting to meeting. There’s no eye contact. There’s no spark.”

In some workplaces, for example, control is embedded in a process and even the smallest actions require approval from someone else. Or, possibly worse, there’s ambiguity about who can decide what, and decision-making is negatively reinforced as people ask “Who gave you authority to do that?” Your work day is driven by systemic interruptions and your time largely scheduled by others.

A feeling of learned helplessness spreads throughout the organization. People start to believe their “locus of control” is external instead of internal, It’s “they” and “them” who are responsible for decisions, and never “I” or “me.”

The remedy

The treatment that was effective for some patients with striatal damage can also serve as a remedy for apathy at work: you help people develop the habit of making decisions and feeling in control. Here’s a quote from Carol Dweck, the researcher noted for her work on growth mindsets, who spoke to Duhigg for his book:

“‘Internal locus of control is a learned skill…training is helpful, because if you put people in situations where they can practice feeling in control, where that internal locus of control is reawakened, then people can start building habits that make them feel like they’re in charge of their own lives - and the more they feel that way, the more they really are in control of themselves.”

The choices people make are even more powerful when linked to purpose: “They convince us we’re in control and they endow our actions with larger meaning."

It’s why Working Out Loud circles focus so much on autonomy and purpose, on taking small steps over the course of 12 weeks till you develop a habit that makes you feel in control. You experience earning your own access to people, knowledge, and possibilities.

Helping people develop an internal locus of control is relevant to any organization. In an extreme example, Duhigg cites the Marines general who revamped their basic training. The program that was famous for breaking down recruits and instilling strict discipline evolved “to force trainees to take control of their own choices…teaching a ‘bias toward action’…We’re trying to teach them that you can’t just obey orders.”

As human beings, the feeling of control is “a biological imperative,” and we need to practice developing it. The modern workplace needs us to practice too. Work requires more than people who just sit and await instructions. It needs people to feel more fully alive and motivated, with a bias toward action and meaning.

We don’t have to accept work the way it is. We have choices, and we have to practice making them.



The missing piece in most organizational change programs

Think for a moment of all the change programs you’ve seen or have been a part of. Maybe there was a new strategy or new management team. Maybe that led to a culture program, or perhaps a big push to create “one firm” that would be more agile, connected, and collaborative. 

How did it go?

My own experience is that none of the change programs I’ve witnessed realized what they set out to accomplish. Zero. Not one even came close.

Something has been missing, and I think I know what it is.

The three elements

You’ve probably come across articles about the most important elements of a successful change program. Most will cite the critical need for a certain kind of leadership. Or a certain kind of culture. Or the need for certain talent or incentives or measurements or employee development or employee engagement. And so on.

These are all good and important things, but of course no one thing is enough for changing how people work.

At a high level, three sets of things that have to come together to enable an organization to realize the collective potential of its people: 

Environment: This is the structural stuff. How people are organized and how they’re paid. The strategic objectives and Key Performance Indicators. The physical space as well as the policies and procedures.

Technology: Increasingly, this defines - in both good and bad ways - how people can access information and each other. 

Behavior: This is the soft stuff. How do people act at work? How do they relate to each other? Not just the one percent of senior managers, but everybody.

The missing piece

Most of the programs I’ve seen have focused largely on the environment. There’s a lot of emphasis on the organization chart (particularly who’s in and who’s out), the strategy, and objectives and measurements. Some included major IT programs or were even technology-led. 

None focused on behavior. They may have mentioned words like “collaboration” and “values,” but not a single change program helped people experience new ways of working in a way that led to new behaviors, habits, and mindsets.

It’s why so many change programs don’t stick. There’s a lot of sound and fury at the beginning, but the vast majority of people keep doing what they were doing, albeit in a new environment or with new technology.

A book that helps & one that ties it all together

As I work with more organizations, several have referred to Working Out Loud as “the missing piece.” They may have an excellent strategy and good tools. But they're usually missing a way to intrinsically motivate employees to work in a different way and a way to spread those new behaviors and scale those changes across the firm.

So I’m spreading and adapting Working Out Loud circles inside organizations as a means of addressing exactly these deficiencies. The peer-to-peer process helps with motivation, tapping into an employee’s needs for autonomy, mastery, and purpose. And because circles are largely self-organizing and self-directed, they can spread changes more readily.

A book that describes how highly evolved companies have changed their environment, technology, and behaviors is Reinventing Organizations. It includes examples of highly evolved CEOs and modern pay practices, and of “active internal social networks” that make possible a new level of transparency and access to people and knowledge.

And in every example there’s mention of changing individual employee behaviors and motivations. Of helping employees learn how to communicate effectively, make decisions as teams, and how to relate to other stakeholders in the firm. Working Out Loud circles are a way to help more organizations do that, to equip and empower individual employees and change how they relate to each other. It can be the missing piece.

Have you been part of a successful change program? If so, how and why did people change their day-to-day behavior at work?

If you're just embarking on a change program now, is something missing?


New Circle Guides Available!

The new guides are based on feedback from hundreds of circles and practitioners around the world. They’re simpler and easier than ever.

If you haven’t formed a circle yet, now is a perfect time to invest in yourself.

What’s changed?

The last version was published in August 2015, and since then circles have spread to 17 countries. (This week alone I heard from people looking to form them in Austria and Israel.) We’ve learned a lot over the past nine months and put that learning into the new guides.

Here are some of the improvements:

  • A simpler progression from week to week that makes each step easier and provides positive reinforcement sooner.
  • A two-page summary of the 12 weeks and a short “What to expect this week” section at the beginning of each guide. 
  • Introduction of “spiral learning” (revisiting core concepts in different ways) to reinforce the fundamental elements of the practice.  
  • No “homework.” The optional exercises and related reading were chosen so you can put in as much or as little effort as feels right for you.
  • New exercises for helping with time challenges.
  • The Facilitator role has been replaced with a simpler “Circle Coordinator” role which can be rotated among members.

How to get help

The guides are designed so anyone can form a circle, download the free guides, and make progress towards a goal they care about while they develop a new habit and mindset.

Yet many people would like help forming a circle and advice on how to handle challenges and issues that come up. Such help can make the difference between success and never making it to the first meeting. 

The best way to get that help is with a new online course we’re piloting

When? Six Thursdays in a row, June 9 through July 14 

How long? 90 minutes via live, interactive video.

What’s included? We’ll place each person in a circle and you’ll go through a condensed version of the 12-week circle process in an hour each week, along with 30 minutes of coaching from me. You'll also have online access to coaches. That will help make your experience a success and better equip you to coach more circles in the future.

Organizations who want additional help have additional options. For example, I’m working with a wide range of companies to customize all the materials and train Circle Coaches. For HR, it’’s a distributed, peer-to-peer development program tailored for their organization.

If you have any questions - about the guides, the course, or helping your organization - contact me at You can also join the Facebook community or LinkedIn community and ask for advice from practitioners around the world.

Do you wish you had already spent more time investing in yourself and in your relationships? As the saying goes, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Form a circle or sign up for the course today.


p.s. If you’re asking someone to join a circle, the simplest way might be to send them a link to this TEDx talk “Working Out Loud: The making of a movement.” It provides a simple description of circles and how they’re spreading, and the stories of individuals and companies bring it all to life. 

All you need to add is: “Would you like to try this with me?”

A Slice of America

“Where’s your beautiful accent from?” I asked. She told me she was from Mississippi, and I replied that “To a New Yorker, that’s exotic.”

The audience laughed. I was at a meeting in San Antonio with people who worked with universities across the United States. Over the course of the day, I heard a wide range of wonderful accents as I met people from Alabama and Alaska, Nebraska and North Dakota, Texas and Tennessee, and pretty much every other state.

In that one conference hall, it was like a slice of America


More than just talk

There were over 300 people there, and the meeting was organized by, a part of the U.S. Cooperative Extensions system. (Haven’t heard of it? Neither had I until they started experimenting with Working Out Loud circles.)

“Extension provides non-formal education and learning activities to people throughout the country — to farmers and other residents of rural communities as well as to people living in urban areas. It emphasizes taking knowledge gained through research and education and bringing it directly to the people to create positive changes. "

What started over 100 years ago in response to farming issues had grown to cover topics as different as food safety, personal finance, and even “bee health.”

Something special

Perhaps the most striking thing - even more than their accents or their accomplishments - was their attitude. These were some of the nicest, most caring people I had ever met. Not just a few of them. Literally everyone I met was positive and kind and helpful.

Though they’re part of a large organization and all that that can entail, they clearly cared deeply about their work. They all seemed purposeful and committed. Against a backdrop of sameness spreading across America - the same stores, the same bad food, the growing cynicism - here was a chorus of different voices trying to make a difference.

It’s a strange thing to say about a conference, but it made me hopeful.

The best “Working Out Loud” talk ever

Alas, it wasn’t given by me. In fact, I’ve never spoken to the person who delivered it. But I do know she produced some dramatic results.

Her name is Vanessa North, and she works in the Australian Tax Office in Adelaide. When she spoke to a group about Working Out Loud, 120% of the audience signed up to join a Working Out Loud circle and put the ideas into practice.

Here’s how it happened.

The original idea

A few weeks ago, I wrote about How Change Spreads and how it can begin with a single person who’s willing to try something different. Vanessa is that kind of person.

She had participated in a Working Out Loud circle and liked it so much she wanted to form more of them at work. By mid-December, she was ready.

“I’ve taken the step and scheduled an information session in the Tax Office in Adelaide for next week. I’m going to use your presentation slides as a starting point and ask people to sign up for a circle in the new year. I have emailed all my internal contacts and networks and will see how I go (there are about 1800 people here in Adelaide).”

The talk

I offered my help but she was already completely prepared. A few days later, I got an update:

“Hi John,
Many thanks for your message.
I ran a WOL intro session with your slide deck and just asked people to come along and find out what WOL was about (using my existing networks in the Adelaide Tax Office and also a couple of people from other government agencies).
46 people came, a few people couldn’t come but still wanted to sign up, and a few heard about it afterwards.
So…. Wait for it…..
Out of 46 people who turned up I have 55 people signed up! So …. Drumroll please……I calculate that as a 120% sign up rate :-)
Here I am giving the presentation:
I have some great colleagues helping to co-ordinate and we are having 11 circles with five people in each circle. 
I’m excited and inspired by the enthusiasm in the groups and how quickly the idea is spreading throughout the office. We have 1800 people in the Adelaide Office so I’m aiming to have them all signed up to a circle by the end of next year.
Thanks so much for sharing your enthusiasm, ideas and resources.
Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to you and yours.”

What might happen next

Of course I was please by her results. But I was even more delighted with her lovely note and her aspirational goal of reaching so many people.

When I asked Vanessa if I could blog about her event, she sent the photos below, and we arranged for me to speak with the circles in April to answer questions or just provide encouragement.

What’s next? Perhaps she’ll help 55 people think a bit differently. Or maybe together they'll spread circles and help 1,800 people across the Tax Office in Adelaide develop a new habit and mindset. Or maybe they'll do much, much more.