Learning from #Blabchat: Working out loud

Dyfrig Williams

A couple of weeks ago I took part in Bromford Lab’s #Blabchat on working out loud. You can read a great overview by Michelle Butler on the Lab blog.

Whilst I’ve been endeavouring to share my work openly since starting at Research in Practice and Research in Practice for Adults, it became clear how successful that has been in the week after a discussion about my biggest weakness — budgeting.

The outcome of that discussion was that I would purposely update my colleagues and highlight the current state of play. This has the effect of sharing the load, and it also provides a strength in numbers. It means that the budget is seen from a variety of different perspectives as it’s no longer seen purely from an operations viewpoint, which is key when it comes to negotiating the numerous factors that make a successful event.

Here what I learnt from #Blabchat:

Working out loud should often be targetted to be effective

It’s one thing releasing a vague update into the world, another thing to target information at where it’s needed most. Working out loud is great at raising awareness amongst wider circles about what you’re doing, but we should also make it easy for the people who really need that info to get hold of it. Just shouting into the ether isn’t enough.

Psychological safety

Why did I not update people on my biggest weakness? Part of it was about ego and being seen to be good at my job. Another aspect though was feeling safe enough to admit that I didn’t have all the answers. Being open means that everyone has the ability to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity, which gives us a much better shot at running a successful event. It’s often said that prevention is better than cure, and sharing openly enables you to right any wrongs at the earliest possible opportunity.

Making working out loud a part of your work

This is something that I’ve been trying to do, but I think I can do better. I’ve built in reminders into our Basecamp timeline for sharing the project plan, venue charges and capacity updates. But I need to give people a reason to buy-in to it so that they can interrogate my workings out. I need to share the rationale behind the decisions and open it up to challenge so that others can offer much more rigorous actions than when I’m working alone.

Publicly admitting you don’t have all the answers

I think this is more difficult than it sounds. There is so much pressure on leaders to be fonts of wisdom and knowledge, and ultimately it is the boards and Chief Executives who pay the price for errors that are made. However is it helpful to keep a shroud of mystery around your decision making processes, or is it better to have them thoroughly interrogated? I don’t think that it’s an accident that my financial skills have improved as I’ve better communicated what I’m doing. I’m also fortunate enough to have a line manager who is a financial ninja and has been a great help and support as I’ve been developing my skills.

Ultimately, a lot of this is linked to a fear of failure, or at least the fear of being seen as a failure. I ended up in a discussion with Chris Bolton (a.k.a. whatsthepont) a couple of days after the chat where he shared some really useful resources around on health and safety culture in oil and gas, including the move from pathological to generative regulation. I think this table is also really useful when thinking about setting the right environment for working out loud.

And if that wasn’t enough, Chris also shared these flowcharts. The Sweep It Under the Carpet School of Management would be hilarious, if it wasn’t actually so true.

Focus on your weakness

The key thing that I learnt from all of this is that we can gain so much by working openly. The challenge isn’t just to share what we’re good at, but also to honestly share our weaknesses. It can certainly feel uncomfortable and awkward, but it’s also often how we can start making the biggest improvements. I’ll do my best to walk the talk on this going forward, and good luck to anyone else who is contemplating doing the same.

Dyfrig Williams

Written by

Cymraeg! Music fan. Cyclist. Scarlet. Work for @researchip @ripfa . Views mine / Barn fi.

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