Learning at Work Week 2022 – Uncovering collaboration at the heart of learning 1

Learning at Work Week 2022 – Uncovering collaboration at the heart of learning

Caitlin Grieves 17th May 2022

This week is Learning at Work Week 2022 – an initiative that encourages lifelong learning and learning cultures in work. Like many other week or day-long events, it often leaves me pondering “wait…what are we doing the rest of the year”? However, there is certainly power in celebrating the impact that continuous learning can have on people and their organisations and focusing energy to promote work cultures that put learning at their core. 

This year’s theme is “Learning Uncovered”, and within this are three strands – uncovering learning potential, uncovering hidden powers and uncovering new dimensions.  

The “potential” strand is about better understanding what motivates people to learn and what obstacles are in the way. Uncovering “hidden powers” is about digging deeper to discover the range of skills, knowledge and experience people in your organisation already possess and might be able to share. The final strand of uncovering “new dimensions” is about exploring how we can learn and work in new and innovative ways. 

Rediscovering connection and the new normal 

What was the inspiration behind this year’s theme? Well, the campaign doesn’t spell this out explicitly, but it still makes absolute sense to me.  After two years of pandemic and a slowly reopening world, it feels like we are all experiencing some sort of rediscovery – of what normal feels like, how to interact with people face-to-face again, what matters to us and how we want to craft our futures. It’s unsurprising, then, that in the context of work and learning, we also need to do some “uncovering” – how can we help people learn now, what do they actually want or need to learn and how can we support them to share their existing knowledge? 

So many of these questions have been on hold since early 2020 in the face of crisis response and shifting demands. Now, more than ever, we feel that humans need to reconnect and find out what’s happening for others in the communities and groups around us. New expectations and norms are still being created, and as learning professionals we must make time to uncover what these are and how learning can adapt to and be a strong part of shaping the future working world. 

Collaboration on purpose 

With this backdrop – of questioning, connection and discovery – enhancing collaboration has to be part of the solution. This isn’t a new aspect of learning – after all, social constructivism, cross-silo programmes, and embedded collaborative activities have been part of the learning landscape for ages. However, it is an aspect that hasn’t always been a foundational element or key driver for learning in the way it feels now.  

Our increasingly dispersed and digital reality makes collaboration a crucial piece of any learning organisation. Our worlds and perspectives have the potential to shrink as our exposure to other people, experiences, new places and ideas decreases. This in turn influences the quality of ideas and experiences we bring and share within our organisations – innovation, well-being and ways of working can all be negatively impacted. 

Targeted collaboration must now be both purposeful and championed, not simply a “nice to have” element or by-product. Leaders and learning professionals need to make more concerted efforts to actively create environments and opportunities that foster collaboration. There are fabulous digital tools popping up every day trying to recreate the natural ease and power of things like casual coffee chats, and these are well worth exploring. However, I would also challenge leaders to think about how they might shift their perspective and discover a new dimension of learning as a facilitator of collaboration. 

A new dimension of learning – elevating collaboration 

Any good learning intervention will start with a smart analysis of learning needs. This leads to better-designed learning solutions that develop the right skills, behaviours and knowledge for individuals and teams. However, in this new world, this traditional approach might need to expand slightly – what happens when the main need isn’t to learn a new skill or behaviour?  

What happens when the stronger need is to build relationships? Do training or learning events have a role to play here or is this more the realm of workshops, teambuilding excursions or enhancing work procedures? I believe the answer is that learning can play a large role, and, in the spirit of Learning at Work Week, it’s worth examining how to use learning differently.  

It’s OK for developing participant skills and behaviours to fall to a secondary objective, and for cleverly crafting collaborative connections to rise to the top. This sort of learning design enables collaboration on purpose, while still giving individuals personal development and investment. 

What could this look like, and how would you approach the design?  

You can start by asking yourself some key questions…

Who needs to connect?

What groups of people, or individuals, would you love to see communicating and working together more regularly? What silos can you see in your organisation? Where would bridges between people help improve the work your organisation does?

Why do they need to connect? What do they need to share or do together?

Not every need to connect will look the same. Sometimes, collaboration will be focused on pure relationship-building. Other times the aim may be relationship repair or targeting inefficiencies from processes that aren’t working between groups. Are there issues of poor communication channels or lacking information/knowledge? Or, maybe, you’re really excited to build on successful connections to drive even more innovation?  

While similar to a traditional needs assessment…instead of focusing on a learning need, you focus on which conversations and connections you can foster through a learning experience.

What learning would benefit everyone and facilitate the required collaboration? 

There is no one right answer here. It’s time to get creative and think beyond traditional skills or behaviour training. If you foster purposeful collaboration, and individuals feel they gained something too, you’re onto a winner. 

For example, maybe your marketing and product teams are clashing about product knowledge gaps and unclear information? Meanwhile, both groups have expressed a desire to improve their communication skills. You might run a presentations skills course that has members from both groups and builds in a presentation activity that asks learners to present a product they work on now. Or perhaps an influencing course with a group activity crafting competing investment cases for two key products? 

What would it look like to launch mindfulness or wellbeing training for a designated pool of first-line managers across the business, to help these individuals build resilience, but also establish stronger support networks outside their immediate teams?  

At Roffey Park Institute, we have a monthly podcast club, open to all our people and focused on topics relevant to our expertise. Listening to and discussing current podcasts on topics like leadership, management and OD is a great way for our wider team to continuously develop, but the real power is how it connects people across our organisation and promotes conversations that illustrate exactly how we each contribute differently to deliver great work. 

Examples are endless – this is the joy of being creative with learning solutions and exploring how they can drive collaboration on purpose. 

A challenge

Learning organisations of the future will depend on enabling as many opportunities for knowledge sharing and connection as possible. So, for this Learning at Work Week (and the other 51 weeks), I challenge you to ask yourself the questions above and think about how you could experiment with learning as a tool for collaboration.  

Finally, make sure you include yourself in the first question. Think about who you need to connect with, about what and how you can work with others collaboratively to create great learning and relationships at work.