Working Out Loud: The End

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I shared the following message with our Working Out Loud group this week:

Tomorrow.
Tomorrow is our last meeting.
Tomorrow we continue the learning.
Tomorrow we discuss our accomplishments, what we have learned, and how we have incorporated WOL into our lives.
Tomorrow we share our challenges. What did not work, what did not go as planned, what else we wish we had time for.
Tomorrow we make plans for the future.
Tomorrow.

When our group first met 12 weeks ago, we were colleagues. Though we all knew each other, most of us were not close friends. But, as soon as Working Out Loud began (only about halfway through our first meeting!), we all became tightly connected to one another. We shared challenges, we were vulnerable with one another, and we all became deeply invested in one another’s success.

When our group first met 12 weeks ago, not everyone was even sure what Working Out Loud was all about. But, people trusted the process, and made a commitment to learning and participating.

  • “While I had NO idea what the heck this was about, I took a leap of faith to experiment and explore and I am glad I did! It opened a whole new way in bringing intentional thought to personal goals and did so with the help, encouragement and trusting conversations from our WOL Circle.”
  • “I too took a leap of faith and pushed myself out of my comfort zone and feel blessed and honored to have connected with such outstanding colleagues who are now friends. Each of us is growing and connecting our sacred work and our lives in new ways…both within and with each other.”
  • “WOL is now a sacred part of my week! I’m grateful to have this opportunity to connect with colleagues across the organization in such a unique way and working towards my personal goal has brought focus to other areas of my work (and life).”

We had goals in mind, but we did not have a clear idea about how those goals might be achieved. We worked together. We followed the excellent circle guides created by John Stepper, and we all made meaningful progress. We supported one another, challenged one another, and celebrated with one another.

This is not to say Working Out Loud is not without its challenges. Time must be found outside of meetings to pursue goals, and grow relationship lists. We read books and we read blog posts. TedTalks were watched. We researched, we wrote emails, we sent tweets and we made posts. We committed to our goal, and we found ways to pursue that goal every week for 12 weeks.

But every person in the group found some level of success. Everyone made new connections, learned valuable new skills and developed habits that will serve them well as their learning and networking continues. Some group members are even talking about doing Working Out Loud again, as they feel they want to experience the process again.

Sadly, not everyone in our group could join our last conversation, as holidays and vacations conflicted with our meeting. So, we agreed that our meeting today was Part 1, and we will have Part 2 of the meeting once everyone has returned to work. While it would have been nice to have everyone on the call, I think it will be nice to be able to reflect with everyone after a couple of weeks have gone by. Will we still be using our newfound skills? Will we still be making connections? Will we still be Working Out Lod?

When we first met 12 weeks ago, we did not know what Working Out Loud was. Today, the six of us are connected by an incredibly positive shared experience. We have learned new skills, and we have made positive changes to our work lives and personal lives.

12 weeks seems like so long ago.

Working Out Loud: Week 11, The Week I Missed

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A Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle meets one hour a week for 12 weeks. As Working Out Loud author John Stepper points out in his circle guides, this may feel daunting, but it actually represents only 2% of your time. When we commit this one hour a week, we give ourselves the opportunity to create new habits within a fixed period of time. We know we won’t get burned out. We know the end is in sight, only 12 weeks down the road.

But, our lives are busy, and other commitments may conflict with our WOL meetings, despite our best efforts to keep that a “sacrosanct” time. I was out of town this week for several days of meetings, and for the first time, I missed a WOL meeting. Though I was very sorry to miss the time with my group, as we meet regularly using Zoom video conferencing software, the meeting was easily recorded and shared in our private Yammer group for later viewing.

It was a long week away from home, but upon my return I was able to settle in and watch the meeting recording. Usually, I dread the prospect of having to watch a recorded meeting or webinar, but watching my WOL friends and colleagues talk about their goals, their challenges and victories was a real joy. I felt oddly detached and closely connected, all at the same time.

It occurred to me that these people I was watching started WOL only as work colleagues, and now one could only surmise they were all dear, lifelong friends. They were laughing, sharing intimate insights, and encouraging and challenging each other throughout the entire conversation.

It was a real joy to see how far along we have all come. The assumption is that after 12 weeks, we will have developed new habits and be thinking in new ways, and watching the meeting recording, I found this to absolutely be the case. People are blogging, people are connecting with contacts in new, innovative ways, their work and personal lives are being changed for the better through what they have learned in WOL.

It was a real joy to not facilitate the meeting. Don’t get me wrong, I love facilitating WOL conversations, but after facilitating this group for 10 weeks, I was so happy to see the momentum easily continue in my absence. Other participants stepped right in, they kept the conversation on track, and they prepared for the next meeting.

It was a real joy to be tested. Yes, tested. The meeting was liberally peppered with information my WOL colleagues insisted I report back to them to show that yes, I had indeed watched the recording. I love this. It mattered to them that I was not there, it mattered to them that I keep up with the group, and it mattered to them that I continue to learn along with them.

It was a real joy to know that although I missed the meeting this week, I was able to continue making meaningful progress in my goal. Through connections made online and in person, the work of Working Out Loud continues.

Although it is just 2% of your time, one hour a week for 12 weeks is a serious commitment, and from time to time, meetings will need to be missed. But a missed week does not mean missed opportunities. Stay connected to the group, stay connected to the goal, and before you know it, week 12 will be here!

Working Out Loud: Week 10, The Instinct of Protection vs. The Virtue of Generosity

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The Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle Guide for Week 10 is titled “Become More Systematic.” As everyone in our group works to make new habits, this week provides a valuable opportunity to run through a check list of things we can be doing to strengthen our relationships and deepen our networks. In other words, we are checking in with our WOL systems.

  1. Connect with someone online.
  2. Show appreciation by clicking a Like button, or sharing a public thank you.
  3. Share something you’ve learned that can help others.
  4. “Connect the dots” by spreading something of value through @mentions or direct shares.
  5. Ask a question.
  6. Answer a question.
  7. Offer feedback.
  8. Reflect on your experiences.
  9. Offer original ideas.
  10. Connect a purposeful group.

We spent time talking about gratitude, and recognized that sharing words of gratitude with anyone is so powerful, yet so many of us are hesitant to say “Thank You” in any kind of public way. Why is that?

Ironically, many people on our staff regularly communicate using Yammer, and when making a post in Yammer, all users have the option to make a post as “Praise” rather than just as a regular update. Those posts automatically send the person being praised an email notification, and we can pick fun, wacky icons to go along with our words of thanks and recognition. Whether we choose a thumbs up, a gold star or a bag of money, there are many ways to praise a colleague in a fun, meaningful way.

Sadly, very few of our colleagues ever use the “Praise” functionality. Sharing a public thank you can be challenging because when we are public with our appreciation, we are concerned that for that moment in time, we are unprotected.

We are unprotected because through our praise, we have shared the fact that we needed help. Or there was something we didn’t know. Or that someone else is better at doing something than we are. Or maybe we think we are the ones who should be getting the praise, not the other person. We are sometimes afraid that something valuable has been lost when we help a colleague to look good through a public “thank you.”

If we don’t praise anyone at all, our armor stays firmly in place. Nobody ever needs to know there is something we didn’t know. No one needs to know that from time to time we need help, and we can always keep to ourselves the fact that there may be someone else who is also good at doing things. If we never share anything, we are sure to always be protected.

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However, the result of our self-protection efforts is that we are living in a thick suit of armor. We can’t see, we can’t breathe, and we can’t move. We definitely can’t grow.

When we show praise…when we are transparent and generous with that which we don’t know, that for which we are thankful, and those for whom we are appreciative, people are given the opportunity to connect with us in valuable tangible and intangible ways.

When you give the gift of praise and thanks to a deserving colleague, you will absolutely be making someone’s day. You will be setting a valuable example to your colleagues by showing positive, public vulnerability and appreciation. You will have the opportunity to surface important issues such as weaknesses in systems that may have been identified and resolved, customer service success stories that can be learned from, or ways that one colleague was able to help and support another colleague. As a result, your organization be more effective because people are being more transparent and more collaborative.

We all have the instinct of self-preservation and protection. But when we step out of our armor and share genuine praise, thanks and appreciation, everyone benefits.

On to Week 11!

Working Out Loud: Week 8

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Week 8 of our Working Out Loud circle is largely based around the simple concept of empathy. I have been dealing with the concept of empathy more and more in my work, so it was especially meaningful to explore the concept in detail with my Working Out Loud circle colleagues.

When sharing resources in our Yammer network, I encourage users to post with empathy. I encourage users to imagine they are someone else looking for the piece of information they have to share. How can they make that piece of information easy to find? Where will it be stored? How will it be named?

Imagine a leader at Congregation Beth El has a membership policy they would like to share. Would it be easier to find if it was named “Beth El Membership Policy, 2017” or “BethElMemPOL.LGv.o2”?

Clearly, the second file name is a working title. The content of the file may be valuable, but a user may be less hesitant to click on the name, unclear as to what is in the file. However, the first file name is clear, easy to read, and easy for a user to determine its content. Before uploading the first file, the person sharing the information paused. They considered the needs of a person looking for this information. They wanted this information to be found, and used. They were exercising empathy.

In Working Out Loud this week, we took this concept of empathy and applied it to our efforts to connect with people, and grow our networks.
-Empathy over email. How can we word our emails so that the person we are trying to connect with will actually find the email subject interesting enough to open the email, and will find the email compelling enough that they will actually respond to the email?
-Empathy and introductions. How can we connect two people we know, and not have one person feel forced into a networking relationship they don’t want to be a part of?
-Empathy in sharing information. We all receive dozens, if not hundreds of emails every day, but I have a book recommendation I want to share with you. I really want you to read this book, I think you would  enjoy the book. Do I send you an email that simply says “Click on this link. I think you’ll like this book.”? Or do I say, “You have been doing so much great work with fundraising. I just came across this  book that provides lots of fresh ideas. I read it and immediately thought of you. Check it out!”

Working Out Loud encourages us to “lead with generosity.” When we network while focusing on what we have to share, what gifts we have to give (rather than what we might receive), we can grow our network much faster, and much more effectively. These lessons of empathy we learned this week serve to further the message of generosity.

Empathy is, in effect, a generosity of spirit. Though we are certainly focused on ourselves when we are networking, and focused on how we can grow and improve our career and life, those goals can be achieved by focusing on others. What do other people need? How will other people connect to information? What is of interest and concern to people in our network?

This week our Working Out  Loud group came to the difficult realization that we are 2/3 of our way through the process. So much has been gained, so much has been learned, so much has been enjoyed. I think these next 4 weeks will be particularly meaningful as we realize we will soon be on our own to continue these important practices and habits.

Working Out Loud, Week 7

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Either you develop habits, or you don’t. Several years ago, I made up my mind that the only way I will regularly go running, is if I run regularly. I committed to myself to make running a habit.

Almost every single weekday since, my alarm has gone off at 5:00 a.m. Every day, I wake up and get out of bed. Most of those days I go for a run. Some of those days I actually run for the distance I set out to run. It took several months for this new practice to become a real habit. Now, most weekdays, I wake up before the 5:00 a.m. alarm and feel guilty if I don’t get out of bed.

My victory is not in the run itself, but rather in the habit I have created for myself to get out of bed early to provide the opportunity for the run. That’s one habit. One victory. Lying in the wake of this one victory though is a battlefield full of wounded and dead habits I have tried to create, or even harder, break, to make a better life.

In week 7 of Working  Out Loud (WOL), we evaluate whether or not we have created the habits necessary to create our goal. This week, I asked to be the first one to speak during our meeting to express my frustration with myself. I have clearly seen what I need to do to succeed in achieving my goal, but I have yet to create the habits.

This week, I sat down in front of the Twitter screen, and told myself it’s time to connect to more people who manage external Yammer networks (my WOL goal). How do I do that? I sent out a Tweet.

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Much to my surprise, this simple Tweet resulted in a number of re-Tweets, and I got added to a Twitter list of other Yammer professionals. Though I am happy about this victory, my challenge now is to turn it into a sustainable habit.

During our WOL meeting today, another person in our group pursuing a goal of finding more of a work-life balance, talked about the Pomodoro technique, which encourages you to plan your day so you are working non-stop for shorter periods of41quz1-sfwl time, with planned breaks in between. The technique is named after the classic Pomodoro kitchen timer, and has developed a dedicated following over the years.

In pursuit of a work-life balance, this member of our group has started to use the Pomodoro technique, and has even begun to use it at home. Though she lives in a clean, well organized apartment, she told us how much she hates to do the actual cleaning, and how she always feels like she has to set aside hours of time to get the task done. So, what did she do? She tried the Pomodoro technique.

In 3 short, 25 minute bursts of uninterrupted activity, she had her apartment completely cleaned in only an hour and a half. She did not feel overwhelmed, she did not feel lazy, and she had much more time for other activities throughout the rest of the day. In other words, she created a new habit at work, found an application for home, and found new time and new balance.

Although she has found new time and balance in her life, the challenge will be if this victory of hers can turn into a meaningful habit. The challenge will be if I can turn my Twitter success into a habit of regularly sharing, learning and connecting.

The good news is, we still have five weeks of Working Out Loud left to go. On to Week 8!

Working Out Loud, Week 6

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Working Out Loud is about the work we do, except when it’s not. Working Out Loud focuses on professional goals we set for ourselves and professional networks we create, except when it doesn’t.

As my first Working Out Loud group enters it’s 7th week, our group is beginning to see the amazing benefits of pursuing a variety of different types of goals. Some goals are purely professional in nature. My goal, for instance, is to connect with other professionals who manage Yammer networks for non-profit organizations. Other goals in our group, when not professional, focus on habits that prepare us for success.

And what about those non-professional goals? In a very real way, it is those goals that are more personal in nature that have really brought our group into sharp focus, and made us something much more than work colleagues.

During our first meeting, one by one, we each shared our goals. One person announced “I want to develop a skill which will enable me to…”, the next person said “I want to become better at…”, and then someone else said “I want to learn more about…”

Then the last person shared their goal, and said “I want to lose 12 pounds in 12 weeks.”

A moment of silence. We all processed what we just heard.

We were all, frankly, a little surprised that someone would choose to be so open and vulnerable in our group, especially during our very first meeting! We talked about how a network could be created in pursuit of this goal. We talked about websites, resources and contacts that could help.

This disparate of group colleagues and contacts, people with only the most tenuous of connections to each other, became “we.” Through the bravery of our friend, we all became more invested in each others goals, and we realized together that our work related goals were very personal in nature, and that any personal goals we pursue will greatly improve our work lives as well.

As we gather week to week, we check in with each other on the progress of our goals. “How is your relationship list?” “Has your Twitter activity picked up?” “Has your network grown?” Never did we ask our friend how much weight was lost, we were only interested in how collaboration efforts, skills and habits were improving.

Imagine our delight when, during our Week 6 Working Out Loud meeting, our friend said “Proud to announce I’ve lost 10 pounds. Only two more to go!” So, it was not 12 pounds in 12 weeks. It was 10 pounds in only six weeks. “I have tried to lose this weight before, but it was only because of this group that I was finally able to succeed.”

Too often, we talk about achieving a balance between our work and personal lives, as if a balance could ever be found. Balance suggests a separation. Work stays at work, and personal life stays at home. But, as I have learned during our Working Out Loud circle, it is really a smooth blending of the two we are trying to achieve, and a recognition of the fact that a positive work life will always result in a better personal life, and a happier personal life will always make for a more successful work life.

My friend will lose two more pounds in six weeks, if not more. I have no doubt.

Working Out Loud, Week 5

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Generosity takes different forms.

This week in Working Out Loud (WOL), we were encouraged to share a list 50 things about ourself with the other people in our circle. We were advised that this would be a challenging, yet rewarding experience. I agree.

My list begins by stating that “I am Jewish.” This should come as no huge surprise to anyone who knows me. I also mention items such as “I am a runner”, “I play the guitar”, and that “I was a temple executive director for 10 years.”

Our Working Out Loud circle guide for Week 5 suggests that each item on our list can “form the basis of a shared experience with someone, especially if it’s framed as a contribution.” I confess, I was not so strategic in my list. I listed things that occurred to me, things that might be mildly interesting to the other people in my group.

Form of Generosity, #1:
But, the more I typed, the deeper I went, and I realized that every item I added was an exercise in generosity unto itself. It is as if I was saying to my WOL group “I would like to share an interesting aspect of my life with you. I want you to know this about me, because I think it will make us better friends and better colleagues. Please use this as another data point about me. Can this information help you? Does this information give you more insight into my professional and personal experience? It’s my pleasure to share this information with you.”

Form of Generosity, #2:
Conversation about our lists became questions, and we talked about questions. Questions, as it turns out, are also a form of generosity. Though certainly self-serving in nature, they do bring about unexpected “generosity benefits.”

  1. Questions will surface information for other people to learn from. You are asking for yourself, yes, but others will see the replies and those replies will most likely be helpful to you, and to them.
  2. Through your question, you are sharing openness and vulnerability. You are effectively saying Here is something I don’t know. Please help me.
  3. By asking your question, you are giving others license and freedom to ask their questions, and information and helpful replies will be shared with everyone.

Conversation about our lists continue in our private Yammer group. We are asking each other about our lists and the skills brought about by our experiences. We are all learning a lot, and our habits of curiosity and generosity are sure to continue.