Running a First Wave of Working Out Loud Circles in an Organisation

This is the first in a two-part case study on the first wave of Working Out Loud Circles at Coca-Cola Amatil.  In this post I discuss how we set up and supported these Circles.  The second post discusses how we demonstrated value from the Circles and presents key outcomes.

I had experienced the power of Working Out Loud Circles by participating in them, and had supported others outside my organisation to form and complete Circles.  I could see how Working Out Loud could benefit individuals, teams and my organisation as a whole.  Yet in early 2016 I couldn’t find a senior leader to sponsor a first wave of Circles.  Ironically, the leaders in my business unit were focussed on shaping a Transformation program and while some were curious about Working Out Loud, they couldn’t yet see where it fitted into the program.

So I took a different approach.  I set up some Circles and gathered data and stories to demonstrate the potential value and help explain how Working Out Loud aligned with the organisation’s Transformation agenda.

Attracting Circle Members

As the leader of a Learning and Development team I was in a good position to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) as an individual development opportunity.  I used our Enterprise Social Network (ESN) to promote the Circles.  I set up a Working Out Loud Circles site and posted some resources e.g.:

(Note – if you are unfamiliar with Working Out Loud Circles suggest you read the first two articles now.)

wol-5-elementsI ran an information webinar open to anyone in the organisation, which I promoted via a short video.  I made the video by screencasting a Powerpoint slide pack.  I  posted a webinar recording on the ESN.  I also presented to two groups outside my department who had expressed an interest in Working Out Loud based on my posts on the ESN over the preceding year.  People were invited to contact me if they were interested in participating in a Circle.

Forming Circles

I asked volunteers to confirm that their managers were aware of their participation and understood the time commitment (approximately 1.5 – 2 hours per week for 12 weeks).  There were 19 volunteers, who were allocated to four Circles, with diversity in job function, gender and background where possible.

Finding Facilitators

The first person I allocated to each Circle was an individual who would be a good facilitator.  I drew on my experience with Circles outside of my organisation where it can be difficult to find a volunteer for the facilitator role.  The facilitator role is fairly straightforward.  It is mostly coordination and leading each Circle meeting by following a Guide.  However, some people find the role title intimidating and have the perception that a special skill set is required to facilitate a Circle.  I now call the role ‘Circle Coordinator’ to make it seem less daunting.  Three of the people I invited to be facilitators were in my team, and comfortable with the title and responsibilities.  The fourth had previously completed a Circle, so understood what was involved.  All were enthusiastic about the opportunity, and had the support of their manager.

Circle Logistics

wol-bookThe primary material for participants are the Circle Guides which they can download themselves.  Although not essential, it’s helpful to have a copy of John Stepper’s Working Out Loud book to help bring the practices to life through stories and examples.  There are also extra activities in the book if anyone is keen to extend themselves.

Circles were asked to commence in the same week.  This was to make it efficient to support them.  It also meant that participants could discuss their experience and exchange tips between Circles in context of being at the same point through the 12-week Circle period. The actual start dates ended up being spread across two weeks, so half the group were one week ahead of the other in the program.

Note that it is not essential for different Circles to commence in the same week.  I simply felt that for our first wave it would be easier to support them this way, and to evaluate outcomes in a timely manner.

With one exception, the members of a Circle were located at the same working site.  This reduced diversity in the groups, but did mean that participants could meet face-to-face.  While Circles can readily be conducted virtually, my understanding of the CCA context suggested that the peer accountability would be stronger with face-to-face meetings.  Interestingly, the group that were meeting virtually had two people drop out early in the period, while the other groups remained intact.

Facilitators set regular meeting times with the Circle members, booked rooms and scheduled them into online calendars.  They managed ongoing coordination / logistics with their Circles.

Supporting Facilitators

 Early on I checked in weekly with facilitators on progress.  The Circle Guides are easy to follow and the facilitators were confident with their role.  They needed little support or guidance, and could readily communicate with each other for mutual support and encouragement.

We had two further touchpoints – one about mid-way through the program, and the other around Week 10.  There are some typical challenges that arise for participants as the program progresses.  These can include people struggling to make time for Working Out Loud, or to develop a system and regular habits.  The Circle Guides discuss potential challenges and include activities and tips to address them.  A group discussion with facilitators can help to generate ideas for addressing specific challenges within the Circles, and generate motivation by sharing progress stories.  We were fortunate to be able to join real-time videoconference session with John Stepper, which was very inspiring for the group.

Encouraging and Promoting Circles During the Wave

All Circle members were encouraged to follow the Working Out Loud site on the ESN where I posted a weekly update summarising the week’s focus and key activities.  For the first few weeks I also sent the same information in a weekly email before advising participants they would need to check their ESN Feed in future.  I also occasionally posted links to additional resources and relevant blog posts.  Some of the participants were active on the ESN and responded to posts.

In addition to supporting participants, posting on the ESN Feed had the benefit of building broader awareness of WOL amongst others who followed me or the participants.

Many participants also joined Twitter, so I created a Twitter list which I checked regularly and interacted with them on this platform.  One of the things people get a kick out of is when they tweet John Stepper that they are in a Circle or reading his book and he replies.


I joined a WOL Circle too

The Overheads are Low

It takes very little effort to set up and support your first round of Circles in an organisation.  There is no program development required and the materials are readily available and easy to use.  No special skills are required, just a desire to help people take more control over their own development and career.  You can start it as a grass roots initiative from anywhere within the organisation, and anyone can participate.

The next post in this series will cover the approach used to evaluate the outcomes and potential contribution of Working Out Loud to the organisation.


  1. #1 by Cherish @cherishbentley on November 27, 2016 - 2:52 pm

    I don’t know much out Working Out Loud.. so I guess I have some reading and experimenting to do 😀

    • #2 by Michelle Ockers on November 30, 2016 - 8:24 am

      Experimenting with an open mindset is exactly the approach you take. You could find some interested people and set up your own WOL Circle – use the Guides. Alternately, get the book – read it and do activities. It’s also possible to work through the WOL Circle Guides on your own, although you will miss the benefits of mutual support and accountability, plus different points of view.

  2. #3 by Miriam Speidel on November 30, 2016 - 7:45 am

    Thanks for sharing your experiences, Michelle. A very useful article.

  3. #5 by tanyalau (@tanyalau) on February 12, 2017 - 7:07 am

    Love the attitude Michelle – couldn’t find a sponsor, so just did it! Often (and if you’re in a position to do it) it’s the best way to get support: prototype / pilot an idea and provide the evidence – they can’t argue with the data (or at least it takes a lot more effort to convincingly do so).
    Just one question – I assume the goals set by members of the circle were all specifically work / professional development related?

    • #6 by Michelle Ockers on February 12, 2017 - 12:34 pm

      Tanya, Check out the graphic under the title ‘Individual Goals’ – 60% were work-related, 15% were personal and 25% were both (participants indicated which they thought their goal was). We did not mandate that the goal had to be work-related. Regardless of the nature of the goal the skills developed are relevant in any workplace.

(will not be published)