Tuesday, 9 June 2020

Taking a structured approach to learning to build your team

Guest post by Mark Turpin.

In Peter Senge’s book ‘The Fifth Discipline’, written in 1990, he suggests that:

“In the long run, the only sustainable source of competitive edge is your organisation’s ability to learn faster than its competitors”

This is truer now than ever – and is true in all sectors of business and the economy, including marketing.

In fact, learning becomes the main work of any business that wishes to stay ahead and competitive, or to be the leaders in your field.

In the 21st century, all other forms of competitive advantage can be bought, loaned or borrowed with ease – whether this is in the form of physical capital, financial resources, or even smart people.

Smart people can be hired by your business, and can also be poached away by other businesses, as people are completely mobile in a global connected economy.

Enabling a learning culture and environment for your people is a nexus point, where the interests of your business and your people coincide beautifully.

Your business needs to create a learning environment if it is to be (1) efficient (so as not to repeat mistakes made previously and improve how things are done going forward), (2) innovative (with products, services and processes),  and (3) responsive to the environment (to changes underway or emerging that can impact on or even disintermediate your business model).

Your people need to be stimulated by working in an environment that encourages their own learning, growth and development so that they expand their own skills and comptetencies for the job market. It is known that people are quick to move on when they are no longer stimulated in ther work and feel they are not learning anything.

So how does one start to create this learning environment in practice?  Taking the 3 business imperatives above, here are 3 tips that can help you start creating a learning enironment in your business.

A really good starting point is to build a regular habit of reflection. After each and every assignment or project or activity, the team involved can spend a small but valuable time together to reflect on what went well, what could have been improved, and what has been learned. This is a step to building increasingly efficient ways of working, especially if facilitated in such a way as to build a strong feedback culture within the team, and does not have to take long.

Too often this important activity is missed, or not even considered. We have a ‘bias for action’ and a business culture that tends to encourage us always to start the next activity, thinking that time ‘sitting around talking’ is time wasted when there is much to do.

The difficulty is that we then rush into the next thing, without any consideration of how to do things better – and the mistakes of the past are repeated again:



The result is that your business and your team lose out on innovation and efficiency at great cost. And your people also become increasingly de-motivated as they often know, like the person in the cartoon above, that there is a better way if only we pause for a while!

Innovation is also important if businesses are to stay relevant to customers needs and be ahead of the competition. Allowing your people to have regular brainstorming sessions can also unlock huge creativity. No idea is too stupid as a starting point, especially if people are encouraged to build on ideas that are put forward rather than shooting them down. Again, good facilitation can help.

A business that wishes to be responsive to the environment needs to allow and encourage its people to be well-networked with others in other areas of the economy and in other businesses, both by developing their own professional networks, and also by encouraging them to attend business conferences, to read widely and be familiar with the latest developments in your business field. And then to encourage employees to ‘bring back’ their learnings from the outside and share them within the business – whether through regular ‘brown bag’ lunches or other sharing platforms.

These practical steps will bring great rewards to the business when taken seriously, and will also enable your teams and your people to feel that they are also learning and growing in their work, which will result in higher levels of motivation and commitment.

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Mark Turpin is a learning consultant, coach and mediator with Kessels & Smit The Learning Company, and a sessional lecturer at the Wits Business School. Reach out to him on LinkedIn to discuss the organisational learning challenges in your business.

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