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Author's profile photo Annette Jann

You live you learn – My New Work Fellowship at SAP CFITS

“The more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.” (Dr. Seuss)

Last year I was “highly encouraged” by my manager to fill in my first “Development Plan” – I mean the official document me and the manager commit to.  To be honest I never felt the need for an official document allowing me to learn and grow, as I am intrinsically motivated to learn and experience new things and was always seeking for creative ways do so anyhow – and usually I had managers that either supported me with that or at least did not hinder me.  So why would I need a document for that? I am actually still not sure, but I guess it is just a formal manifestation and commitment that you care about something strong enough, and that your manager is willing to support you with.

So ok, if I am now supposed to enter something, I wanted to at least make sure that it clearly reflects my purpose and believes. And sure it should also resonate with the purpose and strategy of the company. From my past experience as a manager I learned that some (mis-)understand a development plan as sort of a career path statement. I personally rather like to see such a plan as a stated current growth potential – and that growth does not necessarily need to be upwards.

At that time I did not have much new challenges in my work life and I already thought how could I prepare myself and teams best for future challenges and what skills SAP would need more of now and in the future. Transformation is one, humanization of work another and I felt being able to purposefully combine the two would be a good skill set to develop.

So the development goal I set myself (and had my manager committing to) was:
“Professionalize my ability to improve people’s lives and foster a working culture people enjoy working in.” That is quite a development goal, but if you do not have aspirations there is not much potential for growth 🙂


For a long time I have been interested in the topics of (re-)humanizing work, self-organized teams, company culture and supportive leadership.  All of which can perfectly be summarized under the trend term “New Work”. As there was not much focus on New Work at that time at the department I was part of, I started looking for a fellowship around New Work and found one in SAP IT – Corporate Finance IT Services (SAP CFITS).

Fellowships are actually a great way at SAP to learn something that you cannot learn on the job in the area you are currently in and allow to fully focus on that new challenge. They usually last around 6 months, but you can shorten or prolong them depending on what you negotiate with your manager and the hosting team. Usually the idea is to bring that learning back to your original team and serve as a multiplier by sharing it with others.

(You find more info on my journey at CFITS in my other post “Unlearning Hierarchies at SAP Corporate Finance IT Services ”  and my take on the revival of new work in my post “Back to the future – back to new work”. I therefore focus in this article mainly on how I approached that learning opportunity to advance myself for the future of SAP.)


One key topic that automatically comes with New Work is transformation and change. And I have to admit that I am extremely curious and not afraid of meaning- and purposeful change and transformation. Though loosing something you created yourself or got used to, can sometimes feel hard or sad,  but I always look forward to what is yet to come and what will be the learning and growth potential of any situation. So for me it was clear that making the best out of these 6 months of fellowship, I also wanted to use the opportunity to learn more about purposeful transformation and change by actually actively practicing it.

For me it is always important to experience things and not only learn them in theory, to later be able to genuinely pass them on. As Götz Werner stated in an inspiring speech at SAP on “innovation” a few years ago, “you gain your knowledge from experiences – and then loaded with this knowledge you turn toward the future and create it.”

This by the way sounds a bit like TheoryU, something I heard about but never had the chance to dig deeper into.  So in parallel to starting my fellowship I registered for the TheoryU training, which is a free/ donation based massive open online course (MOOC) provided by Otto Scharmer from the MIT. It is a great action based method that supports transformation of society and self – from “ego to eco”. This is worth an own article, as it turned out to be the best learning experience I ever had.

And in parallel I started a Working Out Loud (WOL) Circle, which is a peer learning method based on purposeful and trustful relationships. You find more about that experience in my post “Working out loud”.

I can highly recommend both methods as absolutely perfect ways to accompany a change or transformation in life. And being able to experience both complementary to the New Work fellowship – was a real energy and endurance boost and led to a mindset shift for me.


There is a nice saying: “The quieter you become, the more you can hear”. So the key for any learning is being able to listen. The first thing you therefore practice with TheoryU is deep listening. And SAP provides a lot of great inspiring opportunities for practicing listening by bringing in presenters from all different areas. Before, I never “had the time” to join them. Now I would say I never took the time, to listen to all of them. But during the fellowship I was open minded, just followed my interest and thus learned so much along the way, that it became a habit. I attended presentations and luckily had the chance to engage in some great follow-up talks where I listened even more: on self organization (Jos de Blok from Buurtzorg), OKRs (Jeff Beehler from Microsoft), WOL (John Stepper), brain research (Dr. Hufnagel), questioning the status quo (Corporate Rebels), New Work breakfasts, Coffee Corner sessions and much more.

In addition I took part in several great e-learning and interactive online-trainings, read a dozen of books, tons of articles and blog posts and listened to podcasts and audio-books around New Work, leadership and personal growth.

Explore and exchange

It was a great joy for me to combine my experience with these new impulses and exchange with others on them. I had a lot of inspirational talks with colleagues across SAP who can be found under the umbrella of “New Work” and beyond. I attended internal and external conferences and workshops. One highlight was the Work Awesome Conference in Berlin where lots of like-minded futurists gathered and shared their experiences on their journeys to self-organization. I participated in two inspiring and encouraging Unlearning Hierarchies Basecamps from the SAPs New Work Movement (as my hosting SAP CFITS team is one of the Unlearn Hierarchies lighthouse teams). I enjoyed the NextGen@SAP series in the AppHaus and exchanged there with many different people who all seek a purpose in life and how to combine it to create a better future and humanized work place. And I even had the chance to attend a meet-up by KASO (Konzernaustausch Selbstorganisation), which is a community of self-organization practitioners from different companies around Germany and Switzerland,  and exchanged with lots of awesome colleagues on our different approaches, challenges and learnings.

Practice and experience

There’s a nice book called “New Work needs Inner Work”. So that’s what I did. I attended evening sessions in the app house co-organized by friends of my growing network around TheoryU and practiced what I learned. I did and still do meet bi-weekly with my TheoryU coaching circle to practice “case clinics” and just joined my second weekly WOL circle which helps me to continuously progress.

Now how to bring New Work to the teams at SAP CFITS? Actually by making it experienceable.

When I joined my hosting department, Simon, a team member and me started a community of practice (CoP) around New Work. A CoP is a group of voluntary people who share a common set of interest, concern or problems in a topic, who come together to fulfill both, individual and group goals. In SAP CFITS there are additional CoPs around testing, archiving and scrum. The management team fosters CoPs, where intrinsically motivated colleagues contribute in various ways to improve the way we work and/or the outcome of our work.

During my fellowship our New Work CoP grew from 2 to around 30 colleagues across departments. We are since the beginning intentionally open for everyone to join across department and organization. We self-organized share, practice and make New Work, “build bridges not silos”, “embrace differences” and “stay curious” experienceable. The team jointly drives the agenda by their current interests (e.g. Workplace of the Future, Outside View (Buurtzorg, Upstalsboom), Reinventing Organizations, … and more to come). The members bring their learnings, the spirit and mindset back to their teams, which leads to a growing interest and awareness in the topic around New Work. We actively connect and combine efforts with other colleagues in IT who are involved in “change thinking” initiative and mindfulness.

The managers are also seeking for additional opportunities, where the teams take over responsibilities. One example is that they handed over the decisions regarding travel and training budget to the team members who are encouraged to decide themselves how to spend it. Key rules are, to act in the best interest of SAP and your product team, to consider the impact on the environment and to spend SAP‘s money as if it was your own. And yes, self-organization seems to work there as well. I am already curious about the result after the half year test phase.


In my opinion knowledge, skills and talent is nothing that belongs to you. It is necessary to share it with others, to get fresh ideas and combine them to even bigger ones to move ourselves and society from “ego to eco”.

So I not only shared the learnings with my hosting team at SAP CFITS and exchanged on a lot of different topics with individuals and peers, I also started writing a blog and posted my first articles. To support SAP in the transformation I re-started mentoring colleagues, became an active New Work Practitioner, a WOL Ambassadors and Generation Exchange Ambassador.


Learning is a habit. This is nothing that is brought to you. You are the creator of your development. You do not need management approval to learn and grow. Still management that provides enough room for growth and fosters a learning culture is highly beneficial and an attraction factor for employees.

Be open minded and curious, try seeing things from a different perspective. Don’t “download” stuff and sort everything into existing drawers, You need to really see what is there, not what you already seem to know.

Be brave, move your boundaries and your comfort zone every single day. Do stuff you do not dare –  that is where the biggest growth potential is.

Don’t keep your knowledge and experience to yourself. Actively share. I had so many exchanges with people of all areas, that lead to new connections, more learnings, better understanding,.. With that you quickly become part of such a big inspiring network – that I could not imagine doing without anymore.

Do not waste too much time in trying to make change measurable and to convince those who are reluctant. Rather invest your energy into those who are open and those who care. Be genuine, network with like-minded people, proactively exchange with others and combine your energies to be and live the change you want to see.  Others will become curious what you do and how you do it, soon some of them will dare to try out themselves and tell others about it. With this you can create a movement from within.

Thank you

After years of constant challenges and ever accelerating performance thinking, this dedicated time felt like a real luxury for me. It was the studying I always wanted to do. I could focus all my energy on something that means so much to me, connects with my true values and still is important to the people and the future of the company.

I am more than grateful to SAP, the hosting SAP CFITS team and my last year’s manager for such an opportunity, to follow my desire to learn and grow, mixed with freedom and unbelievable opportunities to do so.

It reminded me why I joined SAP and I am glad that I can give something back.

And last but not least I want to thank all my inspiring and supportive colleagues around the New Work community, who taught me “Just do it” and “Save enough to try”.

Stay curious!

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