Working Out Loud

Introduction and experiences from the first WOL Circle @REWE digital

from  Christoph Baudson

We need a fundamentally different kind of cooperation in order to prevail in times of increasing digitalization and the associated pressure to innovate. Gone are the times when few plan and the masses execute. In the future every single employee will have to take responsibility. Even the agile fig leaf that many companies adorn themselves with and makes them feel invulnerable, can - at second glance -  turn out to be Siegfried's linden leaf. It is not enough to simply dictate such changes. They must be developed and reinforced through empowerment and trust in each individual employee. Working Out Loud (WOL) is another piece in the puzzle of tools that offer support here.

WOL is both a mindset and a method: On the one hand, it functions as a compass that navigates us through change and personal development, guided by values such as responsibility, autonomy and self-actualization that are familiar from the New Work movement. On the other hand WOL, with the concept of Circles, offers a tangible training program that helps to activate this mindset within three months by means of simple exercises. Especially this practical aspect is often underestimated and neglected, a psychologically safe space must be created in which to practice, in order to act by values in everyday life.

What is a Circle?

A Circle consists of a small group of individuals, usually 4-5 persons, who meet once a week over a period of three months. They "train" WOL by using the exercises given in the WOL Circle Guide and by dynamic peer coaching within the group. A Circle starts with an exercise that activates the intrinsic motivation, the setting of a personal goal that one will strive for over the three-month period.

This is quickly followed by another pillar, the expansion and strengthening of personal networks. For this reason it is advantageous to have a Circle group that is as diverse as possible, so that the networks of the participants complement each other as well as possible. An exercise here is to create and maintain a list of relationships, showing how one's own network expands, relationships deepen and trust develops - which ultimately supports the achievement of one's own goal.

In the course of the three months, you will also learn how to work "Out Loud", i.e. to share your progress directly in order to benefit from fast feedback cycles and to keep your own motivation up. In WOL, giving is more important than taking - the key is to plan your progress in such a way that it immediately adds value, and contributes to your own network. You quickly observe how easy it can be to hold an open space session or write a short blog post, and how effortlessly you can help and have a positive impact on the corporate culture.

If you practice all these aspects consistently, you will quickly realize that the work is more effective and effortless: This positive feedback loop, a self-reinforcing system, does not happen by chance but is designed in WOL.

The first Circle at REWE digital

In March 2019 a group of curious REWE digital colleagues got together to start a WOL Circle and gain experience with the method. The goals ranged from learning new skills and exploring new technologies to creating summer camp sessions and entire courses. The first Circle has shown how quickly trust can develop within a Circle and how personal growth can happen. The absence of given power structures allows for a dialogue at eye level. The time investment is manageable with 12 hours in three months.

Here are a few statements of the participants of this circle:

"The WOL-Circle helped me to win over supporters - even across national borders - for my project. The regular meetings have motivated me and helped me to find solutions and ideas together, but also to overcome fears, such as simply talking to other people".

"Without the WOL-Circle it would probably have been much harder for me to stay focused on my personal goals. The weekly meeting brought not only structure but also fun."

"Thanks to the WOL Circle I was able to make new contacts and focus better on my goal. By becoming aware of my relationships and the exchange with the other participants I got to know other perspectives and got a lot of good help to finally carry out my project".

"The WOL-Circle has helped me to finish my project, which is very close to my personal heart, and not to postpone it again and again. The networking into new areas is super valuable and allows different perspectives. The participants have strengthened me a lot in my project - due to the great feedback I felt much more secure and found new motivation. I have finally implemented my project".

Two more REWE digital Circles are just starting up. So it is clearly still experimental in character, but in the meantime 40 people have already attended various introductory events and a dozen of them are taking part or have taken part in a Circle. We are curious to see how it will develop and how it will change our culture.


If you are interested in trying Working Out Loud yourself, you can either join a cross-company circle (e.g. with the Circle Finder from Leonid Lezner), or start in your own company. Sebastian Kolberg, one of the organizers of the Cologne WOL Meetup, has written a few clever sentences to help you get started. The WOL community is also very active on Twitter, under the hashtag #wol you can quickly get feedback. In the Cologne area, a community is currently forming which is twittering under #wol0221. Otherwise it's worth to talk to John Stepper, the founder of the WOL movement - it's refreshing to see how fast you can get into dialogue with him.

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