It’s a new year, and with the new year comes new opportunities for personal and professional growth. After hosting a dozen Working Out Loud circles at our organization during 2017, we are busily preparing to launch five more circles this month to help staff at our organization identify and reach the goals important to them.

As defined on the Working Out Loud website, a Working Out Loud circle “is a peer support group of 4-5 people in which you ask yourself 3 questions: What am I trying to do? Who is related to my goal? How can I contribute to them to deepen our relationships?”

A Working Out Loud circle meets one hour a week for 12 weeks. Each person in the circle sets a personal or professional goal for themselves, and over the 12 weeks, the group follows a curriculum to learn new habits and skills utilizing 21st century technologies in pursuit of their goals.

Working+Out+Loud+cover+-+1.2MB.jpgIn addition to activities, circle participants also read specific chapters of the book “Working Out Loud” by John Stepper, they read blog posts and other related articles, and they watch TED Talks related to being more transparent and collaborative. The real value of Working Out Loud circles though are the connections participants make with each other, and the learning and growth that happens through conversation.

The first Working Out Loud circle we launched, the participants were all eager to participate, and for the most part, everyone dutifully read the assigned book chapters, did all the exercises week to week, and made real and meaningful progress towards their goals.

However, as we launched more circles…as the year went on, as work picked up and schedules became tighter, we found that people read the book less and less. They came to the meetings eager to talk and eager to learn, but time was just not being put into the Working Out Loud process in between meetings.

When leading a Working Out Loud circle, it is most beneficial when everyone in your group is deeply engaged in all aspects of the learning. Everyone is on the same page (figuratively and literally), the conversations are well framed by what we are reading, and everyone in the group is exposed to similar ideas and inspiration.

So, what happens if everyone is not reading the book? How hard should a facilitator push for everyone to do the work? There may be excellent reasons why a participant is not able to keep up with the reading. Their work and personal schedules may be too full. They may not enjoy reading. They may get a lot out of the meetings week to week, but they have not been able to connect with the book and articles.

It could be argued that any Working Out Loud is good Working Out Loud. Even if participants are not reading the book, they are connecting weekly with other circle participants. They are talking about their goals, and how to use new platforms, how to change habits one step at a time. Without the book, a possibly unnecessary barrier has been removed. A potential feeling of guilt regarding work that has not been done has been removed. Working Out Loud is now a simple, positive experience for everyone involved on their own terms.

Every group is different, and it ultimately up to the facilitator to arrive at a balance that works for the group. If the meetings are enjoyable, if it seems that people are learning new things and meeting people they otherwise would not have met, perhaps that is enough.

So read the book. Or don’t read the book. Whatever you do, just be sure to Work Out Loud.

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