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Ingo Kallenbach

Leadership in an agile world (4): barcamps

How you can take interdisciplinary cooperation to the next level with "Barcamps" and sustainably reduce team silos.

The fourth part of our series is dedicated to an agile method with which, among others, the company Sipgate provided topics of conversation. Open Friday, a mix of open space techniques and the principles of barcamps, has already established itself there as a regular institution and has now become the heart of the company's cross-team collaboration.

Read how "barcamps" work in detail and how this method can take interdisciplinary teamwork in your company to the next level.  

What are "bar camps"?

"Barcamps" are a participatory event format that focuses on interdisciplinary knowledge transfer. They serve the professional and methodical exchange on a certain complex of topics. The content and the procedure will be designed jointly by the participants and adapted to their interests in the course of the event. The contents of ad-hoc conferences are generally very practice-oriented and provide concrete impulses for everyday work. In some cases, new ideas and projects are initiated together and/or concrete solutions developed together.

The name "Barcamp" originates from the "footcamps" of Tim O'Reilly. These events especially for software developers represented the first event format, the course and content of which was developed by the participants themselves. To further disseminate this concept, former participants designed the "bar camps" on the model of these events. "Barcamps" are based on "open space" techniques that allow for spontaneous organization of the content and flow of events.

Participants are committed to certain basic principles to ensure the success of the event:
    There are no spectators, only participants
    Each participant is entitled to propose sessions and vote on the agenda
    Exchange at eye level: There are no hierarchies
    Join in: Each participant is jointly responsible for the success of the bar camp
    Exchange of knowledge: everyone shares their knowledge and experience

How do bar camps work?

At the beginning of a "barcamp" a short introduction round of the participants takes place. Subsequently, the sessions, which consist of lectures, discussion rounds or workshops, are offered by the participants themselves. The topic is written on a "Post-It", briefly introduced and glued to an empty space/time slot on the program board. Based on this session offer, the participants decide on the final agenda by voting.

Once the planning is completed, the actual core of the "barcamps" follows - the sessions:

At the specified time, all interested parties gather in the corresponding room. As a rule, a session lasts between 30 and 45 minutes. Depending on the availability of rooms, several sessions take place at the same time. Anyone who has proposed the session must publish a summary of the results. According to the principles of the "barcamps", there are no restrictions on the topics and contents of the sessions. In this case, Sipgate's "Do what you think is most valuable to the company" provides a thematic framework to prevent drifting off into trivial everyday issues and always establish a company connection - even if only at second glance. A short summary and the further exchange of the participants in a relaxed atmosphere form the conclusion.



Sustainable development of potential through barcamps

In today's business world, it is necessary to react to changing conditions in ever shorter cycles. To keep up with this pace, a company and its employees must be highly adaptable and willing to learn.

What is the best way to achieve this?

By sharing their knowledge, solving problems together and using new technology directly. "Barcamps" offer an ideal format for integrating permanent knowledge transfer and interdisciplinary exchange into everyday business life. They are an effective instrument for developing employee potential and discovering one's own talents. The events provide above all a free space to focus on other areas and thus break away from conventional thought structures. The exchange at eye level and the intrinsically motivated choice of topics as the central principles of the "bar camps" promote the establishment of a healthy corporate culture. In addition, moderating sessions offers the opportunity to practice leadership skills.


"We consider Barcamps to be an effective tool for sharing knowledge, creating space for ideas and dealing with new technologies. Of course, one should pay attention to adapt such events to the strategy, size and culture of the company. The participation of employees from all departments is particularly important for success.

Our tip: Start small, for example with a mixture of conventional information events and the "Barcamp" format. Let someone who has experience with this method and is convinced of the success of the procedure moderate the whole thing especially at the beginning. Depending on the corporate culture, it takes time for employees to get used to the new format. Don't give up too quickly, therefore, if you don't find enough topics and people for sufficient "sessions" right at the beginning.

See how your employees and colleagues react to the offer and get feedback. "Barcamps are voluntary and based on the principle of will. If nobody wants to, because their meaning and use is not clear, the desired effect will fail to materialize.

(Editorial realization: Corinna Brucker)

You are interested in "Barcamps" or would like to carry out this method in your company? Then please inform yourself further about our services in this area or simply contact us.


Further blog posts from the series "Leadership in an agile world":

Leading in an agile world (1): the concept of agility

Leadership in an agile world (2): "working out loud"

Leadership in an agile world (3): scrum

Leadership in an agile world (4): barcamps

Leadership in an agile world (5): retrospectives

Leadership in an agile world (6): peer feedback

Leadership in an agile world (7): transparency

Leadership in an agile world (8): Delegation Poker

Leadership in an agile world (9): crossfunctional teams

Leadership in an agile world (10): face time



Kallenbach, Ingo (2016): Leadership in a healthy organisation. Extraordinary performance by means of potential development. Stuttgart: Schäffer-Poeschel