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Ever sit in zoom calls and wonder how your coworker in the little square above you knows so much about a certain topic? Or get stuck on a problem and wish you could get someone’s expertise to help you?
Departments within organizations often exist in information bubbles. The human resources department may not know how the sales associates find partnerships; the communications team may be in the dark about what exactly managers do. Now, when many workspaces exist virtually, these walls continue to isolate team members and limit knowledge flow.
As a platform for knowledge sharing, summits, events, and panels play an important role in the social impact world; they serve as classrooms to changemakers, imbuing them with new knowledge and perspectives about their work. But on a more informal level, it’s conversations that are the starting point to any form of learning within organizations.
When the pandemic pulled the curtains down on in-person events, the Montreal-based peer-learning company e180, switched gears to launch virtual braindates. The online platform helps people connect through peer learning in a casual but direct and intentional way, both virtually and in-person. But the company has also been a huge advocate for peer learning, regardless of the setting.
“If your employees are connecting on both professional and personal things with each other, building ties and sharing, they will feel a greater sense of belonging, they will feel more loyal to their colleagues, the work that they’re doing, and they will then stay longer at your organization,” says Gabriel Couture, e180’s learning experience and product strategist.
And if an organization engages in peer learning actively, and on a regular basis, Couture says it is an incredible way for people to feel empowered, grow and contribute back to the organization.
We sat down with Couture to chat about how to build a culture of learning in an organization — and how that culture can strengthen a team.
Be creative — otherwise people will be bored
Peer learning can take many forms. It doesn’t have to be a “knowledge transfer” meeting that feels like a chore. It can be one-on-one conversations, brainstorming debates, ask-me-anything sessions, help-me-solve sessions, or storytelling circles.
And the very best kind of peer learning happens through doing something together. “The ability to facilitate workshops, facilitate collaboration, initiate projects is the best form of peer-to-peer learning, because you can put your understanding and your knowledge into motion through words and activities,” says Couture.
Also, encouraging different departments to work on projects together or learn a course together can be an effective way for a team to understand each other’s unique skill sets.
Crowdsource topics on what people are interested in learning about
This may seem obvious, but many organizations miss a crucial first step to the peer learning process: ask people what they’re interested in learning, says Couture. While there should be strong leadership in driving peer learning within an organization, there should also be enough liberty and freedom for team members to learn what they want to, and to find personal value in it.
Couture explains that at e180, they often explore monthly themes when it comes to learning, and try to find a common ground of interest in the theme they choose. Above all, there needs to be an incentive for why the team should care to learn about a specific topic.
“Knowledge sharing between peers is a much more effective and empowering way of getting people to grow. Top down learning is not for everyone. It’s not for the majority of people, and it leads to a lot of forgetting, because the learning isn’t usually delivered when the employee needs it,” says Couture.
In June, as e180 enters their busiest period of the year, they’re focusing their attention on mental health. In conversations, this includes: “sharing knowledge about strategies you have for organizing yourself, taking care of yourself, or employees will go in and chat and share between themselves and it’s successful,” says Couture.
“The act of collaboration means that it’s experiential. It also means that over time, you’re building relationships, connections that are both personal and professional that you can seek out answers or advice from that person later on,” says Couture.
Personal storytelling shouldn’t just be allowed, but encouraged
Couture says that it’s a mistake when organizations think non-work related conversations are unproductive and a waste of time, negatively impacting productivity. In reality, personal stories and conversations can be a door to learning more about team members, and strengthens collaboration.
“One’s ability to talk about their interests, a passion or their personal challenges contributes to their wellbeing, their willingness to support their colleagues, to nourish each other, and nurture each other,” says Couture.
Whether in weekly meetings, or casual chats, making space for people to show up as their authentic selves can transform the way a team interacts with each other, as well as how they solve problems together. And don’t just see this kind of interaction as team bonding — see it as high-value peer learning.
“People with a lot of work and life experience can address challenges and questions from a multitude of different perspectives,” says Couture, “When you bring people with different backgrounds and knowledge together to tackle something, the results are so much more nuanced and interesting.”