Mara Tolja is Head of the Collaboration Centre of Excellence at Deutsche Bank and after working for the bank in London is now based in New Zealand where she has played a key role in spreading working out loud in the APAC region. Mara has been involved with John Stepper in facilitation the working out loud circles approach in Deutsche Bank and beyond.
Mara, you have played a critical role in the development of the practice of working out loud together with John Stepper at Deutsche Bank. Tell us the story on how you got involved in this approach.
John Stepper and I have worked together over the past 7 years partnering with multiple divisions in initiatives across the organisation. These initiatives ranged from innovation challenges, cultural change programs, professional and talent development, cross divisional sales collaboration, cost efficiency programs to technology adoption and employee engagement programs.
I have always had an interest in connecting people across boundaries such as geography, division, profession or hierarchy and I was able to explore different ways to achieve this in the initiatives we worked on.
We realised early on that technology was only an enabler in these initiatives. Changing organisational culture and behaviour and connecting people across these boundaries required more than just a slick marketing campaign and the latest platform/widgets.
Two practices that were key in developing and spreading the digital literacy and collaborative behaviours we needed in those initiatives were, Community Management and Working Out Loud. Connecting people together in communities or circles, helped employees develop new habits and work in new ways across the organisation, which was critical to the success of these initiatives.
I am continuing to explore creating these connections both inside and outside of the organisation. Using digital tools and techniques to connect people in working out loud circles and professional virtual communities.
What benefits has working out loud enabled for your life and career?
For much of my career I would do good work and wait for someone to discover it. To pick me out from the crowd and give me the career and recognition I was waiting for. Sometimes this worked for me and sometimes it didn’t.
It was by practicing Working Out Loud (though at the time I didn’t realise that it was called this), I realised I could play an active part in shaping what my career could look like. I could create a role in the organisation and I could work in the way that worked best for me. Whether this meant creating the role for the Global Head of the Collaboration COE or whether that meant working a global role from my home office in New Zealand. Working Out Loud has helped me articulate and explore what I want from my life and how to build the purposeful network I need to help me reach my goals.
You have helped foster a vibrant community of people working out loud in New Zealand, Australia and in other parts of the world through your advocacy. How can individuals play a role to share the movement?
The more we spread the practice, the more I realise that Working Out Loud really is for everyone. The passion that people bring to our collaborations and the diverse skills and experience all help make the practice better.
I would strongly recommend joining a WOL circle, to experience the benefits of the practice to your career and your life. If you are wanting to be in an independent WOL circle before trying it in your organisation, there is a signup form for the next wave of independent circles here: http://www.connectle.com/sign
What would you recommend to anyone looking to start working out loud in an organisation?
Every organisation is different and is at different stage of their cultural, digital, engagement journey. Implementing Working in Loud organisations requires an advocate(s) who understand the organisation and where the value of WOL would be best realised.
It was with collaborations with people in New Zealand that I have discovered how WOL can been combined with other practices such as TEAL and Agile. Whereas my collaborations with those in Australia and India, I see a real need to address challenges such as geographically dispersed teams and timezones. Connecting people in certain locations who are spreading circles in their organisations helps people get the support and strategies they need to help their initiative be a success. Which is why we have set up regional peer support sessions for those wanting to spread WOL in their organisations.
Sign up for the next one here: (http://www.connectle.com/wolfororgs/).
What challenges have you faced in working out loud?
For me, the biggest challenge has been balancing Working Out Loud within the organisation and Working Out Loud in public. Within the organisation I can find time to regularly let people know what I am working on and become part of the movement as it is a part of my job. Outside of the organisation, I have found that I have spent more time helping others further the practice and have not done the same for myself in the public domain. To combat this, I have joined in an independent circle (currently in week 2) and actively working towards my own goal.
What do you see as the next challenge for working out loud?
Working Out Loud as a practice is continually evolving.
From starting the first WOL circle in London 3 years ago with John Stepper writing the circle guides (www.workingoutloud.com/circleguides) the night before our meetings, to my #FirstNZWOL circle with some of the most inspiring people I have met, to working with Michelle Ockers on the independent WOL Circles (www.connectle.com/sign), to being involved with Helen Sanderson and others on the WOL Circles Course (www.wolcircles.com) to our WOL for Organisations regional sessions (www.connectle.com/wolfororgs).
The challenge will be to keep developing the practice without losing the essence of the practice as seen in the 5 elements of Working Out Loud. http://workingoutloud.com/blog/the-5-elements-of-working-out-loud-revisited.
I look forward to seeing where we are 3 years from now and I promise to blog publicly again.
One thought on “#WOLWEEK INTERVIEWS: MARA TOLJA”
This is a nice interview with plenty of inductors, links for further actions and developments. Very growth mindset oriented.
I loved how Mara mentioned that advocating #WOL don’t replace practicing it. Lately, I’ve seen more advocates than people actually practicing the visible part of Working Out Loud. I think it would be good to give them a louder voice in future editions of #WOLWeek