The Value of Sharing and Working Out Loud
Sharing is one of the three key practices offered in my book, The Plugged-In Manager: Get in Tune With Your People, Technology and Organization to Thrive. The Plugged-In Manager focuses on how to work with all of your human, technical, and organizational resources for greater commitment, performance, and innovation. The value of sharing is that others can learn by your example, you can learn from theirs, and you can bring back some of the general awareness we lose as more of us work on global or distributed teams.
Thinking out loud enables usually unspoken assumptions to be included in the team’s decision making.
Rhonda Winter, CIO of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, was the first executive who helped me focus on the value of sharing. In my interview with her she talked about everything she learned and was able to share by asking people to think out loud. Thinking out loud enables usually unspoken assumptions to be included in the team’s decision making. This made for better decisions and allowed people to learn from other’s thought processes.
More recently, Sheila Babnis, global head of strategic innovation for Roche/Genentech, wrote a post on LinkedIn highlighting the benefits of working out loud. Working out loud goes a bit beyond thinking out loud as you’re more explicitly sharing your work as well as your thoughts. She shared:
“We have cut our meetings down almost 50%. I often ask for input and gather stories via [Working Out Loud] posts. And when we do meet, we have more productive conversations instead of getting recaps of information. There is a new flow in our conversations that gets connected between the different platforms we use.”
Babnis’ strategy somewhat parallels how I first started blogging. I could either answer a student’s question quickly in an email, or I could spend a little more time preparing a blog post that would help the student, the class, and anyone else on the Internet. It also turned out to be a great way to ultimately write a book.
Some companies, like Automattic (they give us the popular WordPress.com web platform), have always worked out loud – online – and don’t even have traditional offices. Sharing their work through blogs, chat, and Slack (real time messaging) provides common ground and coordination for working together. Teams do come together occasionally and there are face-to-face hackathons, but it’s foundational that they’ve been working out loud together all along.
My colleagues and I typically share two documents for each project: 1. A “lab notebook” where we keep track of our steps and ideas in a Google Doc (could be any online document that lets everyone edit), and 2. The research document that is our actual work. From the first word to the last edit, everyone can see where we are at the moment.
The key is to value how the work is happening as much as the work itself.
Note that you don’t have to do all of your working out loud and online. Winter’s team uses it as part of face-to-face meetings. I’ve even seen assembly line workers in automotive plants sharing across shifts by keeping chalk notes on nearby pillars. The key is to value how the work is happening as much as the work itself.
Even the classic Hewlett-Packard practice, managing by walking around, was about staying in touch and knowing when and how to provide support. One of the most powerful predictors of team performance is whether members know who knows what, who needs what information, and how they should be coordinate. Teams typically gain this knowledge through working together -- but we can always find new and sometimes more efficient ways.
One of the most powerful predictors of team performance is whether members know who knows what, who needs what information, and how they should be coordinate.
To get started I recommend trying an experiment similar to Sheila’s. She started by blocking a couple of two-hour time slots to put together her posts. Follow her lead, steer clear of email and instead find a way of posting in a shared document, discussion thread, or blog so others can comment. Another experiment might be a week of quick updates or letting more of your work be public to colleagues. See what happens to your meetings. Do you have fewer and/or are those you have more productive?