Working Out Loud, or #WOL on Twitter, is more than a description of how we can work together as a team. It’s a philosophy for managing a career, and a core principle of an increasing number of organizations. It’s a movement.
While transparency may be one of the reasons that we want to collaborate differently, Working Out Loud is the method. There are plenty of books, consultants, and workshops that can help your team understand and embrace this approach to work, and I won’t do them the injustice of trying to summarize them here.
My colleague, Simon Terry, wrote an excellent post about Working Out Loud and tool selection. The most important line for our purposes is:
The right community matters more than size or the tool used to share. Any form of sharing is making work more public.
Rather than concerning ourselves so much with which tool we’re going to use, we should get on the same page with whether we’re going to work out loud, and what audience needs to see our work. Using the simple three questions that John Stepper (founder of Working Out Loud) suggests, the team asks:
- What are our goals for the project?
- Who could potentially help us accomplish our goal?
- What can we contribute to them to deepen our relationship?
There’s a catch in that 2nd question. It’s too easy to assume that you know who could help you accomplish your goal. If you drop those assumptions, you’ll see the importance of sharing your work–of contributing–to the widest possible audience.
That said, Simon is exactly right. Regularly sending a trusted mentor a private email about your progress on a personal goal is one form of “Working Out Loud.” So is working in a closed team on Slack, in that at least everyone in the team sees all the conversations in every channel. Working in more open forums like Workplace or Yammer groups is at the other end of the spectrum, with a targeted audience of a group, but with a potential audience of the entire company.
Each tool can be used in loud or quiet modes. Each tool was purpose-built to operate best at a particular point on work “volume” knob.
It would be easy to assume from the other posts on this site that I hold the position that working as loud as possible is always the better choice. Not so. Recently, a client that hired me to increase the “volume” of his teams’ work made an important observation about how NOT to work out loud. He pointed to a community post from a service provider where they’d committed to a date for a highly-desired feature. The epic thread that followed for months as the feature experienced several delays was a lesson in the importance of “circles of trust.”
It was wise to talk about plans to deliver the feature, especially in light of the demonstrated demand. It may have been acceptable to talk about design (if the team was truly committed to deliver) in that open forum. Delivery dates, however, are notoriously fluid and should’ve been kept to the inner circle to avoid disappointments.
Be thoughtful about your goals, audiences, and contributions. If you approach your decisions in this order, you’ll be much more effective at achieving the right “volume” and selecting the best tool than if you approach it from the other direction.