Whether you agree with 70:20:10 or not, you probably accept that employees learn a huge chunk of their skills, attitudes, assumptions, and expectations from their peers. But some corporate cultures encourage learning, open curiosity, and acceptance of new ideas while others foster secrecy, knowledge silos, and the dreaded group think.
It does make a difference. Training Journal cites research by ATD and the Institute for Corporate Productivity which concluded that “having a culture of learning is a hallmark of high-performance organizations.” As a manager, you have greater power to shape team culture and initiate change than anyone in the company. You can lead the way to continuous learning by adopting some key habits and encouraging others to follow suit.
Regardless of how many posters they have with the slogan “There’s no stupid questions,” I’ve always been astonished at how defensively some managers respond to questions from their reports. If you view questions as veiled criticism of your leadership, you’ll shut down any natural curiosity that would drive learning.
But as Inc. Magazine reports, questions are the key to ideas and innovation, especially “the ambitious, frame-changing sort that send companies down unexpected paths of inquiry.” Sentences that start with “why,” “how,” and “what if” can lead to amazing insights.
Practice looking at each inquiry as an honest attempt to learn. And if you don’t know the answer, great! Let everyone know that they have stumbled upon an excellent chance to discover something new. Ask the questioner to do a little research and report back to the team. Or just kick start a good discussion. You’ll be letting the team know it’s ok to have gaps in their knowledge and it’s even better to fill those gaps collaboratively.
Learn from your team.
If you want your team to learn from each other, learn from them yourself. For example, ask them to explain how they handled a tough situation. Or find out what they did to increase their efficiency.
If there’s a major fail, walk debrief it together. You might learn that extra training, performance support materials or even a re-arranged environment can help prevent such mistakes going forward. Make it clear you want to understand what happened not judge their performance.
Reflect as a team.
It’s always tempting to skip the post-project debrief, but if you do, you’ll miss a huge learning opportunity. By reflecting on past actions, you can take the time to see what you might have done differently or think of a new strategy. Research published by the Harvard Business School found that people learn from their experiences better if they take time to think about them.
As a team, you can review a project together and identify ways to improve next time. Just talking about these observations and ideas helps people internalize the “lessons” from the past and make changes.
Ask your team to teach each other.
You have more experienced people who can help newer team members develop skills. Ask your veterans to mentor others and share their wisdom. This process works best when two people work together on a real task. So you’re getting work done while upskilling the team. Remember to praise and reward mentoring efforts or your people might feel that it’s a hardship to take time helping peers.
[Here’s a tool that helps you manage peer-to-peer learning.]
When people learn about how others do their jobs, they develop respect for their counterparts, understand their challenges, and learn how to work together better. One case study reported by Sans Technology Institute found that cross training in the IT department of a managed services company helped the team lower stress, improve communications, solve problems faster, and increase customer satisfaction.
As an added benefit, make cross training a channel for new ideas and innovation. Coming to a new department from the outside, learners may have some brainstorms about how to improve.
Focus on experiments and results.
Give a few of your more creative folks the latitude to try out some ideas and see what works. Ask them to identify a new process to try; specify the results they’re looking for; then look at what happens to see if the it was successful or not.
Share the whole process with your team to encourage discussion and curiosity and when you hit on something that works, ask your innovators to teach others. Innovation may well become a habit – the kind of habit that can turn your business into a market leader.
It’s very likely that your company doesn’t have a culture of continuous learning right now. The Society for Human Resources Management cites research findings that only 1 in 10 companies has a learning culture and only 20% of employees know how to learn. But you don’t have to change your whole company at once. Start with your team. You’ll find that success spreads like wildfire.
At Pract.us, we’re dedicated to helping you build a learning culture. Learn more about how our tool encourages continuous learning for your team.