Real learning is a part of the work, not apart from it.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Work Within the System to Change It

Social Learning happens constantly in organizations, but the moment you recognize and work to formalize it by adopting social media, the skeptics appear.

Many organizations view learning as happening by and through training only. i.e. if we're not training, they're not learning...

Therefore when you present ideas that drive learning without training, bottom up solutions vs. top down control, collaboration & conversation vs. stand & deliver ... your bound to meet barriers.

So, how can you convince your organization to embrace the power of collaboration, sharing and community to cure company ills when the key stakeholders either don't get it, fear it, or are repulsed by it?

Mask it as training.

Here's what I did - you be the judge...

Last Fall I was asked to develop a 2.5 day "training" for mid-level managers to improve their staff's performance (ideally through stronger coaching/mentoring). I had roughly 55 managers who work in a highly mobile environment from across the US rolling into town for a January meeting.

I did my homework; I analyzed my learners, the contexts, and tools. I learned quickly that these folks varied in skill, experience and tenure. What they did have in common however was most interesting ... they almost never had opportunity to talk to each other.

The key for me then was to balance what made management comfortable/familiar (formal F2F training) with what the learner's really needed (opportunity to collaboratively problem solve).

Fortunately for me I had leaders who were open and trusting of my design skills.

The Plan:
  1. Use a blog to open up conversation and identify prior individual/community knowledge
  2. Leverage asynchronous elearning to prime the pump and create a baseline knowledge of a coaching model
  3. Capture from the learners, through a survey tool, "stories" of unsolvable, lingering staff performance problems.
  4. Create an opportunity for formal and informal collaborative problem solving to generate innovative solutions.
After capturing and analyzing 144 anonymous "stories" I saw several themes emerge. Drawing on the themes I selected the 8 best examples of those themes.

I set up shop in a local hotel conference area with multiple breakout rooms. Here I adapted and expanded a Thiagi frame game - Improved Solutions

8 Problems and 55 people moved between 4 rooms as diverse groups analyzed, dissected, created, and critiqued. Over a period of 5 hours people who rarely spoke offered their insights and approaches with each other. They shared, laughed, contemplated, debated and ultimately generated community vetted and approved solutions to 8 very sticky problems.

In the end the participants had a sense of empowerment, ownership and community. No top down answers, no F2F training, no media....all engaged, all social, all real solutions.

A good reminder that social learning is not one-in-the-same as social media. However, social learning can be a springboard to help with the adoption of social media tools in the organization.


Michelle Robertson said...

I love this! I've been working on a social media coaching model to implement with my clients and am hugely encouraged by your story.

John R. Turner said...


Great up-fron analysis in identifying that the employees didn't have the opportunity to communicate to one another. In today's work environment it's hard to believe that there are still some companies that operate this way, but they are still out their.

Did you perform a performance analysis or did you take the exploratory approach and observe.