Benefits of Internal Collaboration

Community logo with textEarlier this week I was interview by HR Daily in advance of my presentation at the Workplace Learning Congress (8-9 June 2017 in Sydney) on Advocating Working Out Loud in your Organisation.  The interview discussed the benefits of internal collaboration.  Full text of the HR Daily article is posted below.  Please contact me via LinkedIn or Twitter if you would like to discuss how to build collective capability in your organisation through knowledge sharing and collaboration.

Benefits of internal collaboration too great to ignore

Too many organisations are not yet recognising the benefits of fostering collaborative online employee networks, an L&D strategist says.

Many employers today have an internal social network, or use Yammer or SharePoint, but far fewer are realising the full potential of online sharing, says learning practitioner and collaboration expert Michelle Ockers.

Some fear inappropriate comments and behaviour, others are overly concerned about sharing information too widely across the organisation. But a bigger risk, she says, is the “opportunity cost” of not utilising collaborative networks.

There’s a “business continuity risk”, for example, of employees failing to pass on unique and valuable knowledge. “There’s that risk they walk out the door with it, because there haven’t been active efforts to cross-pollinate, to share it, and not everything can be written in documents and trained – there’s a lot of tacit knowledge-sharing that you risk missing,” Ockers says.

There’s also an increased risk of unnecessary rework and duplication – “if people aren’t connected and working openly, there’s a lot of waste and cost in that” – and the risk of losing employees who thrive on online collaboration and networking, particularly those from younger generations.

The benefits, on the other hand, can create a significant competitive advantage, and have a big impact on productivity. Regular status updates among members of a project team can, for example, make for shorter, more efficient meetings.

“I’ve sat on projects where we’ve transformed project team meetings from status updates more to getting straight into issues, risks and so on, because people were providing their status updates online,” says Ockers, who is currently reviewing Qantas’s L&D approach, and previously held senior L&D roles at Coca-Cola Amatil.

The key to effective online collaboration is to be clear about the purpose of the network, and structure it accordingly, she says.

“Think strategically… what is going on in your organisation and what is it in your strategy that you need to address?” If the strategy is to leverage internal expertise more effectively, the focus might be solely internal, but if the organisation needs to stay abreast of certain cutting-edge fields of knowledge and expertise outside the organisation, the approach might be to assign key people to build external networks and collaborate there, before bringing that information back to in-house networks.

HR should ask, “what are the relevant communities of practice or bodies of knowledge we want to connect people around?” and consider setting up different forums around different interests, projects and topics, Ockers says.

Differentiation is important because if employees know their knowledge is relevant to all members of a community, they’ll be more likely to share with greater detail.

One way to improve internal network participation is to get senior managers and executives to lead by example by sharing updates on their own work and thoughts, she says.

“I worked at one organisation where the CEO did a weekly blog… She wrote about what she’d been doing that week, what sort of things she’d been thinking about, who she was meeting with and the kind of conversations she was having. She put in a little bit about her family and what was going on for her personally. It made her very approachable and it gave people a sense of what was on her mind and the direction she was heading, which was very powerful.”

Some leaders will require coaching on how to increase their online presence, others will simply need encouragement. HR can also consider running regular events to increase participation, such as monthly chats where different leaders field live questions or answer questions that have been submitted beforehand.


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Join me in Sydney for a Social Learning Workshop 13 March 2017

Are you interested in using social / collaborative learning strategies to create impactful, engaging, high-quality learning experiences?  Join me in Sydney on 13 March 2017 to hone your skills designing and implementing social learning solutions.


In March I’m facilitating a program that is focussed on using social / collaborative approaches as part of a learning solution to meet a business need.  As a result of participating in this program you’ll be able to do the following:

  1. Determine how social learning can help address your specific business problem / opportunity
  2. Design or redesign a learning solution to effectively incorporate social learning
  3. Select social learning activities and enabling tools to use in your solution
  4. Develop a strategy to implement your social learning solution

How This Program Works

learning-playThis is a program about social / collaborative learning.  As such it is a social learning experience.  There are three elements to this program:

Pre-workshop – You can familiarise yourself with the program by viewing a small set of online resources.   It is essential to select an appropriate workplace project to work on during the workshop – guidance is provided in a pre-workshop introduction to assist with this selection.  Participants are also invited to join a private online discussion forum in LinkedIn.

Workshop – This is a highly participative and collaborative event, focused around a number of individual and group activities.  Participants will be able to work on the design of a social learning solution for your workplace project.  You should bring your smartphone, tablet or laptop as we will be making good use of them to access web resources and use online tools.  We will use a shared Google document for collaborative note-taking, and you are invited to use the LinkedIn group as a backchannel.

Post-workshop – The LinkedIn group will remain active for at least four weeks after the workshop.  You are encouraged to continue to work on your social learning solution, and you may seek feedback on your solution via the  group.  You also have the opportunity to participate in the collaborative development of a social learning resource.  Additional resources will be posted and you can continue the conversation with the group online.

How to Enrol

The workshop is being run as a pre-conference event at the 9th Annual Blended Learning Conference.  For more information on the workshop, about me as your facilitator, and how to register download the brochure.

Follow on Twitter

Use the hashtag #blc to follow the Blended Learning Conference backchannel.

Add the hashtag #soclrn to follow the public backchannel for the workshop.


Demonstrating Value from Working Out Loud Circles in an Organisation

This is the second in a two-part case study on the first wave of Working Out Loud Circles at Coca-Cola Amatil.  The first post discussed how the Circles were set up and supported.  This second post  discusses the evaluation and outcomes.

Recall from the first part of this case study that this was the first wave of Working Out Loud (WOL) Circles run in the organisation, and that it was done as a grass roots initiative, with a senior manager as sponsor.  The purpose of the experiment was to understand the potential value of the Circles in the organisation in order to get management support.  We were also interested in how we could run future Circles effectively.

WOL Circle Stories

I read some statistics this week about the low number of  people who make it all the way to the end of a blog post.  So, I’m posting the bit that don’t want you to miss out on first.  (BTW – there’s some good stuff further down so be sure to at least skim through – most of it is presenting visually and easy to understand.)

As part of demonstrating the value of WOL Circles some of the participants agreed to make a video discussing the value they got from being part of a Circle.  These videos can be used in a range of ways to promote Circles in an organisation, including getting support of managers and encouraging people to join a Circle.  Thank you to Navya Chandran and Justine Jardine for agreeing to their videos being shared publicly.


Two weeks after completing their Working Out Loud Circle participants were sent a survey – 13 responded.  Topics covered in the survey were:

  • Individual goals – what type of goals did participants set, how much progress did they make on their goal, and how did the WOL Circle help them to work on their goal.
  • WOL program – program structure, duration, activities, materials, and participant time
  • Individual value – what people can do as a result of participating in a Circle
  • Organisational value – potential benefits of WOL Circles to the organisation
  • General feedback and recommendation to others – including asking participants whether they would be willing to be interviewed and have their story shared with others
  • Facilitator questions

Here is a link to the full set of survey questions.  This survey was adapted from one used internally by Bosch since 2015 and generously shared with other organisational WOL Circle practitioners such as myself.  Thank you to Cornelia Heinke and Katharina Krentz from Bosch for the support they provided me in getting started with WOL Circles inside an organisation.

I prepared a summary PowerPoint presentation and made a short screencast video.  I shared both broadly via the Enterprise Social Network (ESN) and with a number of managers who had previously expressed an interest in WOL Circles.

Individual Goals


Participants made good progress towards their goal with the support of the WOL Process and their WOL Circle peers.


Participants were positive about using WOL to make progress on a goal.


Individual Value

Participants overwhelmingly believed that Working Out Loud had improved their skills in networking, accessing information and expertise, and sharing knowledge.  They also felt more in control of their professional development and career, and more fulfilled at work.


Potential Organisational Value

Again, the feedback was overwhelmingly positive.  Participants thought that Working Out Loud could help the organsiation be become more collected and collaborative. Note that some of the statements in this section of the survey were aligned with transformation goals specific to the organisation.  If you are going to run a similar survey I recommend customising the statements to your organisation’s strategy and goals.

WOL CCA Org benefits .png

Participant Recommendation


All participants recommend Working Out Loud Circles to their colleages.  92% stated that they would participate in another Circle.

Social Proof – Participant Videos

John Stepper recommends internal social proof as one way to get management support for WOL Circles.  Short participant videos discussing their Circle experience and the benefits of Working Out Loud are one way to do this.  If you haven’t already done so, go to the top of this post to view a sample of the ‘WOL Circle Story’ videos that we made.

I was inspired to make these by the videos shared by the University of Melbourne.

What Next for WOL Circles at CCA?

The short answer is that I’m not sure.  I moved on from CCA shortly after completing the evaluation of our first wave of WOL Circles, in September 2016.  At the time of writing this post no further Circles have been run at CCA, which is in the midst of a significant change program.  The first wave of Circles seeded some Working Out Loud champions in the organisation, and demonstrated how easy and low-cost it is to run Circles.  There is also a WOL site on the SharePoint intranet where a record of the Circles can easily be found.  My hope is that between these assets and the participants that remain in the organisation that further WOL Circles will be run.


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How to use Labels for Learning & Development Approaches

There are a range of labels or overarching terms in use in Learning and Development (L&D) to describe different modalities or approaches to learning e.g. eLearning, mobile learning, social learning. My recent search to understand how the L&D profession defines the term ‘blended learning’ led me to think about the pros and cons of the way we use labels in the L&D field.


An Example – Blended Learning

There a range of views on what the term ‘blended learning’ means, exemplified by Taruna Goel’s 2010 post ‘Make It Blended‘ (As an aside, it was prescient of Taruna to product that the specific blend would change over time as more possibilities became available via technology).  The situation had not changed In 2015 when Jane Hart  ran a poll on what the term means. The poll results show a range of interpretations, with 49% selecting ‘a training programme containing a mix of face-to-face and e-learning.’ This dominant view is reflected in the Wikipedia definition.

Other people have suggested that in addition to using a range of delivery formats and media the range of aspects that can be blended include:

– social contexts* – individual / one-to-one, small group/cohort, community
– learning strategies* – exposition, instruction, guided discovery, exploration
– communications media* – same-time/synchronous, own-time/asynchronous
learner opportunity to learn, do, share and teach

* source – More Than Blended Learning by Clive Shepherd, 2015

Clearly when discussing blended learning it’s important to explain what you actually mean by the term for people could have different interpretations. I like the approach taken by Chris Coladonato who told me “I don’t call it blended learning, I simply say we are creating a learning experience that is a blend or mixture of a few different media formats and delivery modes to create an experience that will achieve our desired performance outcomes….and meet your needs.” The point of sharing this explanation from Chris is not to propose that this is the correct definition of ‘blended learning’.’ Rather it’s to suggest that a plain language explanation of what you are trying to do and why in a specific context is clearer than using jargon that others might not understand, or may interpret differently to you.

Pros and Cons of Labels

What are the benefits of using labels such as blended learning, mobile learning, working out loud (add your own to this list – there are plenty)? When they first emerge these labels can alert us to emerging trends in our field – be they something that is genuinely new, or something that may have been around for a while but we have moved away from or have the opportunity to use in a new way, usually through technological advances. They can invite us to explore and have conversations. They prompt us to examine our practice both individually and collectively. They are triggers or reminders to consider a range of approaches – to be flexible in our practice, and an invitation to consider a wider range of options in designing learning experiences.

However, if we latch onto labels or get lazy in our use of them or thinking about them they can become unhelpful. It’s easy to throw a term around or focus on one aspect of an approach without taking the time to understand it or critically examine it. This leads to myths (e.g. social learning requires the use of technology) and unrealised potential. A ‘mini-industry’ can arise around an approach with people overcomplicating it and making it seem harder to implement and less accessible. Jane Bozarth’s ongoing reminders to keep ‘showing your work‘ simple and accessible is a plea against this kind of overcomplication. Different interpretations of a label can impede discussion and development of our practice rather than promote it. Confusion and rigidity can result, rather than openness, flexibility and increased effectiveness.

How Should Labels Be Used?

Labels can be useful shorthand to refer to learning approaches, however should be used with care. To help me use them effectively here are some guidelines I’m adopting:

  1. Take the time to understand a label before you start using it or applying the approach that it refers to.
  2. Identify the essential characteristics of the approach in order to avoid unnecessary over-complication.
  3. Consider whether the label is redundant. Does the approach it describes already exist under a different name?
  4. Consider whether the label is necessary. Use labels sparingly. Could you use a plain language description instead?
  5. If it’s appropriate to use the label, then clarify what you mean when you use it. Keep it as simple as possible.

What do you think of these guidelines – Agree? Disagree? Got something to add? Post a comment if you’d like to continue the discussion.

PS – My Conclusion on Blended Learning

In the case of ‘blended learning’ my view is that it’s too broad a term and has too many interpretations to be helpful. The important point is to be flexible in learning design.

My thanks to Chris Colandonato and Shannon Tipton for sharing your views on this issue with me.



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.

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#WOLWeek Day 7 – Plan Next Steps

Last week (7-13 November 2016) was International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek). I used it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.


Image source:

In addition to consciously completing the WOL activity each day I committed to writing a blog post about that activity.  My posts described both what I had done on the day as well as my experience with that activity during my current WOL Circle.  Over the past few days I’ve been reflecting what I’ve learned and what I will do differently in coming weeks.

Reflecting on my Goal

A goal needs to be something I care about in order to motivate me.  I’ve realised that to be a high enough priority for me to put sustained effort into it over the 12 week period of a WOL Circle it also needs to be highly relevant to my current work.  It needs to be something I can apply to a current project.  In the nine weeks since the start of this Circle my work focus has shifted.  I’ve started an assignment with a new organisation, but I didn’t update my goal to be relevant to this project.  Consequently my attention has moved to the new assignment and I’ve struggled to make time to progress my original goal.

Working Out Loud is a Force Multipler

On Day 5 I described WOL as a ‘force multiplier‘ – “it amplifies your presence and accelerates you work.”  Although it’s challenging to change your practices to build WOL into the flow of your daily work, the value of working in a more open, connected, generous way is tremendous.  WOL has helped me to:

  • build my network and forge deeper relationships
  • improve my practices and the quality of my work by helping me find resources, get early input and feedback from others, and build on the experience and work of others
  • make faster progress on my goals
  • create new opportunities

Power of Making Your Work Visible

Making your work visible (also known as ‘showing your work’ or ‘narrating your work’) is powerful for many reasons.  For me, one of these reasons that it forces me to consciously reflect on my work rather than plough on in a near-continuous stream of activities.  Secondly, it increases my accountabilty to make progress.  It also leads to connection and conversation.

Power of Conversation

When I work on a project, especially where there is something novel about it for me,  my thoughts shift over time.  There is a process of discovery where I gather information, start processing it, hypothesise, gain insight, make some progress then find something new which results in me updating my view.  The quality of my thinking greatly improves if I can ‘think out loud.’  I can do this by sharing my progress – making my work visible in any appropriate format.

Having a conversation about what I’ve shared is even more powerful, especially if it’s with someone who has some relevant experience or is able to challenge and extend my thinking through the use of powerful questions or different perspectives  The way in which I make my work visible can increase the number of helpful conversations I generate.  I can:

  • target who I share my work with
  • practice empathy and share my work with people to whom it is relevant, and explain why they should care (what’s the WIIFM?)
  • make it easy for others to consume and process by keeping it brief and clear
  • share early in the process
  • ask for input and help
  • maintain and communicate an open mindset
  • thank people for their help
  • acknolwedge the contribution of others

What next with WOL for me?

The reflection on my goal and the power of Working Out Loud have led me to change my goal for the remaining three weeks of my WOL Circle.  My new goal is:

“to Work Out Loud in the flow of work in my current role.”

This goal will help me to build my network in my new organisation, find people with an interest in the work I am doing, access a range of assistance, and reduce the risk that I duplicate work that has already been done.  While waiting for access to the organisation’s IT infrastructure I have had the opportunity to present in person to a range of forums, and have accepted all subsequent invitations to meet with interested people.  I have IT access from today, and look forward to the experience of using Yammer within an organisation for the first time and observing how the learning community is connecting and collaborating online.  I will use Simon Terry’s 3 tiny habits to build working out loud into my day as I familiarise myself with this new environment.

On the flip side, I felt that while I was blogging daily last week I spent more time in ‘output’ mode than in ‘listening’ mode in my networks.  I feel a need to redress the balance and listen more in my public networks over the next few weeks, looking for opportunities to engage and contribute too others along the way.

What did you learn during WOL Week?

Please post below to let me know what you learned during WOL Week, or at any other time when you have worked out loud.



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#WOLWeek Day 6 – Celebrate Help

International Working Out Loud Week (#WOLWeek) is 7-13 November 2016. I’m using it as an opportunity to promote Working Out Loud (WOL) and give my own practices a boost by following the 7 days worth of actions to get you started working out loud.


Image source:

I’m now into Week 9 of my current Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle.  Today I celebrate the help I have received from the three people in my Circle as I’ve worked towards my goal to “to clearly explain the impact of knowledge and expertise on Australian organisations.”   Among the contributions my Circle buddies have made are:

  • suggesting how I could find people relevant to my goal
  • offering a different perspective on reading recommended in each week’s Circle guide, giving me the opportunity to strengthen my WOL practices – even though I’ve read these articles several times in previous Circles, new insights and examples continue to arise in Circle discussions
  • providing a safe space to reflect on my progress each week, discuss my WOL challenges, and helping me to identify adjustments to get me back on track with my WOL habits and routines
  • encouraging me to keep going when I was tired or busy (or both!)
  • inspiring me with their own progress
  • showing me different ways that Working Out Loud can be accomplished, reminding me that there is no one best way and to stay flexible and open in my practices
  • giving me a sense of responsibility as the WOL Circle coordinator to set a good example
  • holding me accountable to do what I say I will each week

This is the fourth WOL Circle I have participated in.  It will not be my last.  It’s a joy to share the experience of Working Out Loud with others, to see them make progress and experience the impact of generosity on relationships and the value of working in a network.  The peer accountability and structure of activities over the 12-week period also move me consistently towards a goal, helping me to achieve far more than I ever could without support.

Have you been in a WOL Circle?

If you have been in a WOL Circle please take a moment to share below about the contribution that your Circle buddies made to you.

Further resources:



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