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Björn Burghard

#tbar: How employees become managers at a Telekom BarCamp

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Deutsche Telekom employees have been meeting up at BarCamps for almost ten years now: working and networking meetings that colleagues organize and implement for colleagues. In contrast to traditional conferences, the motto here is: the participants themselves know best which topics are important to them, and these are then discussed. But how does this work and why does Deutsche Telekom use this format?

How does a Business BarCamp work?

So far, there have been very different BarCamps within the corporation. Sometimes 30 people met, sometimes 500. The framework for topics can be rather narrow (apps for wearables) or completely open (digitization of the working world). However, there are a few things that characterize every Telekom BarCamp.

  • Transparent planning: During the planning phase, all employees can supplement the collection of topics online - or live at smaller events. They offer a session (around 30 to 40 minutes) with their topic for the BarCamp and so become "session owners".
  • Sessions usually take place in parallel: Each participant makes an individual decision which of the offers he or she takes up or not.
  • Great personal responsibility: Not only the choice of the right sessions is up to each individual. In addition, the "law of two feet" applies: If I can't learn anything anymore or can't contribute anything, then I leave the session I'm in and move on to another one.
  • Space for networking: As a face-to-face event, the BarCamp offers ideal conditions for networking with colleagues, even if they work in completely different areas of the company. Everyone who is interested or an expert in the same subject area automatically meet up in the same session.

Controlled loss of control: the content comes from the participants, not from the organizers.

BarCamp: "law of two feet"

At the BarCamp the "law of two feet" applies: If I can't learn anything anymore or can't contribute anything, then I leave the session I'm in and move on to another one.

Unlike a traditional conference, the team organizing is faced with the cultural challenge of completely abandoning control of the content. Only real freedom of session content motivates employees to submit their session suggestions. This also allows voices to be heard that discuss across or against the mainstream, creating an atmosphere in which new ideas are given space. In addition, like-minded people who want to pursue a project after the BarCamp can also be found. For those of you who have grown up in classical conference and meeting cultures, this is the greatest challenge: trusting employees to deal with the given space in favour of BarCamp participants. At the same time, letting go is critical to success if you really want to implement an event that leaves familiar paths to enable a different kind of cooperation. The BarCamp participants regularly reflect this in their feedback: "A very special spirit prevails here".

The company – BarCamp, a place to learn for future business working worlds

The BarCamp format automatically serves as a place for learning experiences at various levels. Of course, the focus is on the professional discussion of the content of the sessions. Beyond that, however, additional skills can be studied which are also relevant for future working worlds. When I have a company in mind in which teams operate in flat hierarchies with a lot of personal responsibility, I can think of some helpful skills:

  • Take ownership of your own topic: Whoever presents a topic as a session owner does not know in advance how many participants will attend the session and stay until the end. I have to be completely immersed in my topic to be able to meet this challenge. I need to have the right mindset and drive to introduce and prepare on my own. There is nobody in the project team who would request me as a speaker.
  • Make decisions: Every participant permanently needs to make decisions: Which session should I attend? How do I get involved in discussions? When do I decide whether I prefer to move quickly to another session room? Here I often experience that trusting my colleagues and my own intuition always helps me.
  • Bearing responsibility: Most employees have a manager in everyday life who "approves" bigger decisions. Or responsibility is delegated to experts who make decisions based on facts. But at a BarCamp there is no training department that decides on the basis of my skills which sessions I should attend for a particularly effective learning experience. There is only one person who is responsible for these decisions: My individual BarCamp manager - I see him in the mirror every day.

Currently

On 26.9.2017 the 14th Telekom BarCamp will take place in Bonn with presumably 600 participants and 50 different sessions. The motto is: "Sharing Connects! Really? Opportunities, risks and side effects of a sharing culture". 
Tip for everyone who wants to get a taste of Telekom BarCamp air: Experience has shown that many participants share their impressions and insights directly on Twitter and Instagram.

The hashtag is #tbar.

Björn Burghard

Until 2019 Björn set up Group-wide events which puts colleagues in contact across all business areas at Deutsche Telekom.

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