In early January I completed my first 12-week Working Out Loud (WOL) circle. It was not the first circle I had started, or the first I had seen benefits from, but it was the first time an on-line group I was part of got the whole way to 12 weeks (well, technically we lost 1 person in week 1 but following that the remaining 5 of us made it to week 12).
It’s fascinating how much the circle and those in it became part of my weekly life and routine, 12 weeks is a long time – as our “falling leaves circle” name aptly demonstrates - there were no leaves still falling come the new year. I don't count this as my first #WOL "success", I am learning and succeeding in #WOL practice every day, but it is something of a milestone on my journey that I wanted to reflect on, particularly what made this circle tick along so well.
And tick it did! Prior to starting I knew two of the members a little, one of whom I had been in a previous (incomplete) circle with and the other members were recruited via Facebook. I now consider all of them to be good connections and collaborators, and would happily initiate conversations, requests for advice or feedback or offer them information I think they may find useful. Indeed, I think most of the circle would probably/ hopefully count ourselves now as friends; the signs are there in the emails with photos, twitter and FB messages sharing our adventures and the intent to meet for a long, boozy Italian lunch this spring.
It's been fabulous to watch everyone's behaviours and practice evolve. There's been significant, public achievements like Lesley Crook (Working Out Loud in a Network) being rewarded as a Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional) recognising leaders in the technology community, and in January meeting with John Stepper, author of ‘Working Out Loud: for a better career and life'. And there's just been the day to day, week to week way in which everyone in the circle has reported some good to very good impact on their approach to being connected, their networks and their confidence to share and use social media. Most importantly for me, the trust and relationships we have developed were most rewarding on the more than one occasion when a member felt able to share something difficult that was occurring in their work or other area of their life and seek support from others.
As the circle facilitator I think there are some important things that helped this circle get there:
In two senses we were flexible. We had a regular day and time to meet, but on more than one occasion we needed to postpone or merge sessions, and we were relaxed if someone had to miss a session – although someone generally summarised for them anything we found really useful. So having our last session in early January was a sensible decision given people's focus on Christmas that worked really well as we all had a lot more energy to focus and think about our next steps; a fitting way to end.
I was also after the first couple of weeks getting to know the individuals and the group dynamics able to be more flexible with the agendas; recognising that it was best not to pack too much in and focus on what was most relevant for the group at that point in time. Largely this was because I became most focused on the importance of .....
We started every session with a “check-in”; I’d ask each member to share “one thing that had gone well for them in WOL over the last week and one other thing in life or work that had gone well”. This practice helps build knowledge of each other and supports people to become present. In reality, despite the emphasis of the question on positives the opportunity allowed each member to share the most pressing thing on their mind that they needed to. Ideally, this is 10 minutes at the outset really well spent, although on one occasion it did take about half of the session! It enabled me as facilitator to judge the mood and focus of the members and the group as a whole, adjusting the agenda accordingly.
This combined with a focus on completing exercises together that were about appreciation and generosity helped us to build a solid foundation of trust and comfort. We all agreed that a turning point in our relationship came when one of the circle felt able to attend from their sick bed, in their pyjamas with the video camera still rolling!
Using Slack as an online tool to keep us in touch was really helpful. Practically, I was able to remind everyone of where to find the agenda, what to read and what other tasks we had agreed to complete each week. But members were also able to easily share resources and links and generally continue to comment on each other’s goals and asks. There is some reluctance within the group to entirely lose the thread now demonstrating its effectiveness for asking questions and seeking advice form others.
The circle was conducted entirely on-line via video-conference, and that is a great and feasible way to build relationships and practice. But it was evident that when 3 members of the circle had the opportunity – generously gifted by 1 of our members – to attend a conference together this improved their relationships, and that of the group as a whole. It may not be during a circle but it is beneficial if members can meet face-to-face.
As the facilitator of this circle I would say the role matters! But genuinely having sought the views of others in the circle, having someone who takes care of the agenda, moving things along and has an eye on the circle’s weekly mood and the space each individual is having really does make a difference to it’s productivity. We were 5 unique characters, each strong in our own ways, getting to 12 weeks is really a testament to me that we each felt the circle continued to be able to meet our needs and provide us with something beneficial. Facilitation is key to making that happen.
If you're interested in joining a further circle starting in the next few weeks message me at email@example.com