In a time of high demand and record-low unemployment, it’s more critical than ever for businesses to develop their staff. And by fostering an organization-wide culture of learning, they not only keep their workforce skills sharp, but establish a strong internal pipeline of talent that is much more likely to stay.
“This is an important topic today because of the skills gap, the rapid pace of technology change and the lack of available training,” says Dan Schawbel, partner and research director at Future Workplace, and author of the new book Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.
“Leaders have to create a ‘shared learning’ culture so that teammates can learn at the speed of business, stay relevant in their jobs and grow their careers,” Schawbel says. “We are our own filters for information — this is how social media works, right? Friends share content with and between each other, and you have to adopt similar tactics within organizations.”
The skills required to perform today’s technology-enabled jobs are constantly changing. While teams and their leaders used to hold onto information to secure power, today the most successful workplaces are ones that support shared learning, Schawbel says.
“When teammates are learning, and sharing that knowledge with others, everyone becomes smarter and more effective at their jobs together,” he says. “The average relevancy of a learned skill is only five years, so the big challenge is to stay relevant as the business world continues to change at a rapid pace.”
Now, with artificial intelligence, even more jobs, and tasks within jobs, could be eliminated fast, potentially changing entire industries as we know them, Schawbel says.
By establishing a culture in which peers and team members help train one another on skills vital to future success, your organization will be better positioned to roll with — or lead — those changes in the years ahead.
5 steps to shared learning
Schawbel offers five steps for practicing shared learning within your organization. Because the emphasis is on peer-to-peer training, the following pertains to any individual in the organization with knowledge to share.
1. Empathize with your teammates
Because you know something that they don’t, you’re the authority figure in the teacher-student relationship. To make them feel more relaxed and comfortable working with you, consider sharing a weakness of your own or a skill that you could improve on, he says.
“By understanding what each other needs and wants, you’re able to better serve each other,” Schawbel says. “This can work for almost any type of thing, obviously, but in the context of your work, and sharing your expertise, you can’t help someone learn something new or understand how to do certain tasks if you don’t know what they need to know. If I know certain things will help them and are relevant, then I know what will help you, and then I can focus on how to teach you that,” he says.
2. Display your skill
When you’re showcasing your skill, explain the step‑by‑step process you use so your colleagues can follow along with you. For instance, if you’re showing them how to use a computer program to create a short piece of code, walk them through the process of how you got to the final product so that they can replicate it on their own, he says.
“A lot of people learn by doing — and the first step is showing them how to do it, and then having them do it alongside you,” Schawbel says. “They can better understand what something looks like if they can see it in action in the real world. For example, if I’m coding an application and I can show someone else how my code turns into features in an app, then that’s the next step in showing them how they can address a problem.”
3. Encourage them to practice the skill
This is especially important for hands‑on learners who need to perform an action several times to master it, Schawbel says.
“After you walk your teammates through how you apply a skill, let them test it out on their own to see whether they can repeat the process you used and achieve the same or a similar result,” he says.
With so many organizations relying on technology for training, this hands-on aspect is key.
“We’re moving from a world where just watching online tutorials and going to classes was enough to one that emphasizes experiential learning. Just knowing isn’t enough — it’s about doing,” Schawbel says. “If you’re lucky, your organization will give you access to learning, training, educational materials or subscriptions to various resources, but they aren’t actually providing the hands-on, peer-to-peer learning, mentorship, situational and project-based knowledge.”
4. Give them feedback
Once your coworkers have attempted to complete a task using the skill you taught them, review it, Schawbel says, but understand that nowadays, people don’t even like using the word “feedback,” and prefer “suggestions for improvement.” Here, the key is starting with the positive.
“Pick an area where they did well and showcase praise and recognition before you explain what they got wrong and how they can do that better next time,” he says. If they’re still having trouble, go back to step two and review your process again. Some people take longer than others to learn and master a new skill, so be patient, he adds.
5. Follow up
After a week or two, have another meeting to see whether your teammates have been able to successfully implement the skill you taught, answer questions or provide additional help, Schawbel says.
By checking back regularly, you’re ensuring that your teammates will improve, and you’re demonstrating your commitment to them and their development and success.
“This doesn’t have to be a formal, serious process — you can do a casual check-in to make sure they’re confident and comfortable with the skills they’ve learned,” he says. “This also ensures they’ll continue to perform that task or demonstrate the skills because they know they have your support.”
Embracing and promoting a shared learning culture allows business leaders to ensure they have the right talent, at the right time to fill skills gaps and needs as they arise. A culture of shared learning also improves retention, engagement and morale within organizations by building strong, interconnected teams that encourage and support each other.