How to collaborate human-to-human with purpose: Working out loud in the digital age

Working out loud is about sharing what you are working on in a way that brings other people to understand how they can contribute to the work that is being done. When you work out loud, you don’t need endless one-way presentations and conversations. You put your work out in the world and find unexpected and unlikely partners.

Working out loud is about more than just sharing information; it is key to building and strengthening relationships, helping to identify the right connections, and having the right conversations that open the door to co-creation. The key benefits include:

  • Less time in mind-numbing meetings, which means more conversations about what matters most, as you can share information openly in online forums and communities;
  • More access to information and people that leads to increased effectiveness, because we are working in an open environment;
  • An opportunity to build trusted relationships and communities with people across geographies, focused around a shared purpose;
  • Improved ability to have meaningful connections and relationships in our day-to-day lives and work.

I ran a workshop for an IT leadership team on working out loud. In the beginning, the participants simply wanted the mythical “seven steps to success” (what I call the mechanics). When I sat down with each of them weeks before the workshop and had one-on-one empathy sessions, I learned that they had not tapped into the possibilities inherent in their ability to work together every day. As I talked to people and listened deeply, I realized that this team first needed to adopt the values of working out loud in their daily work. There was no way they would be successful in moving to working out loud when they wanted to compete with each other or couldn’t trust each other. I could run a great workshop showing them the mechanics of running the program, but to be effective I first had to help them deal with the dynamics of building trust around shared purpose. Each person had to write down and share their biggest opportunity, and we then had an open conversation about each opportunity and how the team could support each other around them. We modeled the required behavior in an all-day meeting where all we did was build trust and share openly. All of a sudden there was a realization of the duplication in efforts, inefficiency, frustration, and mistrust that we could now address.

It was not about moving to the technology as the answer to all their woes; rather, we uncovered their ability to trust each other and become whole with purpose. If we want people to feel valued, co-create, and trust each other, then we must first make sure the workplace values people above all else. Trust will work wonders, and working out loud is not a gimmick. It works when people show up and are vulnerable and courageous.

77% of global CEOs are concerned that a shortage of key skills could impair their growth, and say they cannot innovate using technology alone. PwC 20th CEO Survey, 2017

Look at the introduction of the collaborative Enterprise 2.0 social platforms, and consider why they have not been an overwhelming success. If we lead with technology, we will fail. If we see technology as a place to go, rather than focusing on people, we fail miserably. Too often, internal communication and IT were given responsibility for these platforms, and they used 20th century thinking in implementing them. Too many internal communication functions still practice one-way communication, when these platforms could be used to have meaningful conversations and encourage co-creating.

If you are simply using these platforms for one-way communication (such as executive announcements and memorandums), you are missing their true value. But that’s what I have seen so many organizations continue to do over and over. We use relevant technologies because they help connect us with people, but it is up to us to use the technologies most effectively.

Where we are headed

Working out loud will no longer be considered a separate process, as more people will share openly what they are working on, realizing that doing so is to everyone’s benefit. We will no longer be rewarded only for being the smartest person in the room, as collaboration becomes a much more important way of being in the world of business. We will also recognize the value of communities and the increasing need of community management as a force for bringing people together in conversation and making an impact. Meetings will be places where we go to work in open conversations that lead to decisions and action.

Ayelet Baron
Ayelet Baron
Ayelet combines lessons learned from more than a decade as a high-tech industry executive with her roots as a researcher, change catalyst and strategic communicator. This rare blend of expertise enables her to assess and advise individuals and organizations that seek to embrace new ways of working. She helps leaders transform and build healthy and resilient organizations. She is also a sought after keynote speaker on collaboration, leadership and building 21st century organizations. Her award winning business book, Our Journey to Corporate Sanity, helps you navigate a new path for business as a conscious 21st century leader.

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