Safe Learning In The Workplace For Greater Organizational Agility
One of the greatest assets you can have at your disposal as a leader or team member, especially in these uncertain times, is agility. The ability to rapidly and competently shift gears and perspectives with the fast-paced, chaotic and tumultuous times we currently find ourselves in can mean the difference between failure and success.
The times of the successful, staid, large corporations ruling the game are, for the most part, gone. It’s a time for the nimble and swift organization to shine. The burning question is how to join the ranks of the flexible and effective companies with their eyes on the prize.
One of the puzzle pieces that you need to fit into place is implementing a safe learning environment in the workplace. Without that, your organization will most likely be mired in the usual red tape. The days of “we do it this way because we’ve always done it this way” are over. It’s past time to be open to new points of view and new ways of thinking. This can help you achieve the goal of being an agile company.
New Mindset Around Training
Perhaps your company provides occasional training in a formal setting. Intensive, all-day workshops are common, as are seminars and mandatory online learning. Those all end up feeling like you’ve bitten off more than you can chew. Turns out, it’s much easier to be less intense with training. People who take their training one bite at a time tend to retain more of the information. It also helps to have rest periods in between training sessions.
The old-school version of flying in a trainer and corralling your employees in a room together isn’t very effective. Being cooped up in a room for hours at a time only increases anxiety — what are the supervisors and managers missing? They will more than likely spend each and every break checking voice mail, email and returning messages instead of reflecting on the material that was just presented.
Instead, “chunks” of learning are easily assimilated and cause less stress to the learner. The new mindset is to make it safe to learn, and members learn faster when they’ve had time to rest. The company needs to embrace a learning mindset, all the while emphasizing the need for personal well-being during the process.
In their book Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work, authors Richard DuFour, Rebecca DuFour, Robert Eaker and Thomas Many explain, “The goal is not simply to learn a new strategy, but instead to create conditions for perpetual learning — an environment in which innovation and experimentation are viewed not as tasks to be accomplished or projects to be completed but as ways of conducting day-to-day business, forever. Furthermore, participation in this process is not reserved for those designated as leaders; rather, it is a responsibility of every member of the organization.”
One of the important keys is to ensure that you, as the manager or as the peer, appreciate all of the ideas presented in a group setting. The diversity of perspective is essential to signal to your people that it’s OK to take your team off of the mute button. You can help them get into the learning mindset by encouraging team members to support one another.
Peer-to-peer learning is especially effective. Peers can feel safe in an environment where there is no “boss” figure lurking, listening and judging every move. It should take place in a safe environment to encourage candid conversations. When it is a peer-to-peer conversation, there’s no hierarchy to get in the way of giving and receiving honest feedback. This kind of setting encourages members to understand they’re all in the same boat. They are free to develop empathy for one another and embrace a diversity of viewpoints on the same subject.
In her book The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety in the Workplace for Learning, Innovation, and Growth, Amy C. Edmondson writes, “More specifically, when people have psychological safety at work, they feel comfortable sharing concerns and mistakes without fear of embarrassment or retribution. They are confident that they can speak up and won’t be humiliated, ignored or blamed. They know they can ask questions when they are unsure of something. They tend to trust and respect their colleagues.” If your colleagues feel comfortable sharing their real-life experiences in these learning sessions, they will often find they have more in common than they ever imagined.
Do your best to keep the sessions short and productive. A coach or facilitator can help to keep the group on topic and ensure the environment safe, positive and open. It’s also important that the organization, after investing time and effort into this learning scheme, knows it’s important to make learning a habit to encourage corporate agility for the future. Budget time for your employees and your team to create new experiences and enhance the strengths of the participants.
Encourage your team to learn interdependently. Each team member can help support every other team member, and that enforces the team bond. Teach your employees adaptability, and you are far more likely to come out ahead.
This article has previously been featured on Forbes.