Mark Pearl

I have for a while believed that for an organisation to stay relevant and improve it needs to embrace a learning culture. My attempts to create that culture in the past have been mixed.

Originally I thought that if I embraced learning myself and encouraged those around me to do the same it would be enough for us as an organisation to have a learning culture. At the time I was operating my small software company and so I invested heavily on my own learning, and encouraged those around me to spend time on their learnings. I would do this by suggesting books for them to read saying that they could take time out during work hours to invest in their growth. I also set aside time once a month for us to learn as a group.

The approach had a minor impact on our learning culture. Those that were already intentionally learning continued to do so, and those that were not continued to focus purely on delivery of features. Failed attempt!

With time and in a new organization I became a little more directive in trying to create a learning culture. I set aside Friday’s as a day of reflection and learning for my team and said anything was appropriate to learn provided it was improving them in their general career. I found some improvement using this approach.

Team members began spending time “learning” however the boundaries of what appropriate learning were broad and the impact was muted. People studied topics they found interesting but often not what they or the team needed. Learning was fragmented and self-serving. In hindsight the value added to our work ecosystem was limited.

Without accompanying changes in the way that work gets done, only the potential for improvement exists - HBR

Since then my thoughts around team learning and having a learning culture have evolved. I believe teams need slack to learn and learning should be focussed. It doesn’t help learning “other” things if you are not good at what your team needs you to be good at. Booking learning into the team routine is important, otherwise it is easy to fall into the “delivery rut”. Adjusting the learning approach to the level and skill set of the team member is critical for growth.

To make learning impactful, identify the key areas your team needs to be good at, what skills need to be developed and how they will be measured/assessed. Also identify where on the scale of maturity their skills sit (you will take a very different approach if someone is a novice vs an advanced beginner). Create slack in the system for team members to learn and provide dates where their learning will be assessed. Leverage peer review as an effective form of assessment.


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