In our previous blog, we quoted the World Economic Forum’s view that life long learning keeps us relevant in the world of work and in our personal lives.

How can we go about making this happen in practice?

Most of us tend to think of learning as something we do in the earlier part of our development in a formal learning context and in the early stages of our career.

What if we were to broaden our view of learning to include life long learning and at the same time to cover all learning in all aspects of our personal and professional lives, not just academic learning?

The fascinating TED talk by Eduardo Briceno  (view link) highlights the importance of learning in all areas of our lives where we want to improve, ranging from our relationships to our performance at work. He suggests creating “learning zones” distinct from performance zones where we can be free to practice new skills in a safe environment.

Most organisations today are structured according to teams. Teams can act as ideal learning zones that provide support and space for team members to grow and learn in all respects. However, when teams operate as completely independent units within an organization, opportunities to learn are restricted and performance may be compromised.

As an example, a company exporting fruit internationally was facing complaints from suppliers due to delayed and incorrect payments. When the operational team that liaised with the suppliers spent time interacting with the accounts team, they discovered that details which they had viewed as less important in their submissions to the accounts team were in fact critical for creating payment schedules. The teams were able to discuss the challenges each one experienced and gained a better understanding of the links between them. Payments became more streamlined as a result. The learning for both teams went beyond the processes that needed to be followed: relationships were strengthened and a climate of support was created between the two areas of the business.

They had in fact created a learning zone where they set time aside to understand their respective needs. This resulted in improvement in the performance zones for both teams and the organization as a whole.

So why does this not happen more frequently in our organisations when creating these spaces can produce such positive results?

Possibly some of our ideas and assumptions about how learning happens can actually undermine and get in the way of how we learn in orgaisations: this is understandable when we look at the main ways in which most learning is structured at both school and tertiary levels:

  • The focus is on individual performance, which can give rise to comparisons and competition
  • Although there may be some team or group work, sharing of information (“copying”) is generally not acceptable and can in fact land you in a lot of trouble!
  • Subject areas are mostly viewed as separate from one another, e.g. economics and history

It’s quite easy to become stuck in this “school” mindset or paradigm with regard to learning when we enter the world of work.

In the world of work a different learning mindset is needed:

Of course, individual performance is important in a team, but in contrast to a “school” situation, cooperation and sharing of information is critical.  Sharing individual learning within a team benefits other team members and the team as a whole.

All teams and functions are inter-dependent: everyone needs to understand the total landscape of the organization.

How do we go about creating these spaces for better understanding, learning and sharing in organisations? At Coaching Café we are experienced in designing learning processes that enhance both individual and team knowledge. We will continue to explore how we do that in the next few blogs