Do you have a learning zone?

Few organisations would openly say they don’t value their employees’ learning and development, yet many fail to deliver when it comes to cultivating an environment that nurtures learning.

At what cost? Organisations that lack a strong culture of learning are likely to have lower engagement, reduced productivity and higher overheads. And this is only likely to get worse as the pace of change means more and more employees become ill-equipped for the increasingly digital workplace.

In contrast, according to Research by Bersin, companies who effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries.

So, how can we as leaders do a better job in creating a positive learning culture?

Start with a learning zone

Workplaces can be frenetic environments. Each day employees walk into a performance zone, the cultural environment where they’re expected to deliver results. There’s often little room for play, exploration or experimentation here, the stakes are too high.

High-performing teams recognise the need to balance the performance zone with a learning zone.

When we talk about a learning zone we’re not talking about tatty, unloved training rooms. What we mean is the wider organisational culture and how the opportunity to reflect on our performance and enhance or adapt our skills is woven into the everyday — so that it becomes a natural part of business as usual. Creating a regular learning zone is crucial because it satisfies people’s desire for curiosity and development. Employees will be able to think about their daily tasks more creatively – and their contribution to the organisation –  and provide new solutions for old problems, driving performance and results.

We have an event coming up on April 3-4 that enables you to create your own learning zone. The Practice of Unhurried Leadership is a two-day residential workshop that provides space and provocation for you to tackle a challenge that is holding you back. It will be a unique, collaborative experience that will help you to step back in order to move forwards.  

You can find out more by joining the free webinar on March 6th at 9.30 GMT. Sign up here.

Space to Think

We recently held our fourth Breakfast of Change. Over the year our little movement has been organically growing as more people hear about what we are doing and are drawn to join. It is very much a dedication to creating space. Space to think, to hear, to digest, to experiment, to explore, to connect, to slow down, to contemplate not what we do, but how we do it. 

Working with executives and business owners I know the need for this is desperate; we don’t give ourselves permission to slow down and really see what is going on, to consider the impact of our behaviour and decisions. 

Our focus on this occasion was inspired by Google’s research demonstrating the importance of creating psychological safety to aid team performance, to question what risks we take to create safety. We experimented with a process to help us slow the conversation right down and enable us to hear each other’s contributions without interruptions. 

The conversation and connections were rich. People talked about silence, vulnerability, fear, blame, judgement, connection and disconnection, being busy, being uncomfortable in the moment, needing the answers and not having them, wanting to be okay to say ‘I don’t know’, what it’s like in their organisations, what they observe in their clients, what taking a risk means, letting go. Unsurprisingly, there was the odd mention of Brexit too. 

We are conscious in how we set up the Breakfasts to ensure psychological safety, focusing on creating an environment of acceptance and warmth over judgment, because that enables people to feel free to express themselves, just as they are. And as yesterday’s Breakfast confirmed, that doesn’t mean that we all agreed with each other or that there wasn’t some robustness and discomfort in the conversations. But it did mean that people, some of whom had only just met, some who hadn’t even gotten to learn each others names yet, were able to express what they experienced. 

As we closed the session, we turned our minds to ‘So what?’. It’s always nice to have breakfast and discuss important issues with a diverse group but So What? 

What I took away was a commitment to hold these slowed down conversations more. With my clients, with my husband, with my children. To create space where people feel safe to express what they are really experiencing over what they feel they should contribute. In my experience that’s how we get to the heart of the matter rather than gloss over the surface. 

Is anybody listening?

I think I’ve lost count of the amount of times that people have said to me during a coaching session: “This feels really self indulgent, I’m not used to talking about myself”.

In fact I think what people aren’t used to is being listened to. One of the most fundamental principles of coaching is to listen, intently with no agenda other than to understand and support someone’s thinking, helping them move from the place they are now to where they desire to be.

In the busy, fast paced, noisy world we live in, many of us can’t get a word in edgeways while others are shouting ever louder to force their point. 

Recognise this? It’s taking place in meeting rooms and classrooms and around kitchen tables across the world right now.

Something I’ve been experimenting with as I get to work with teams of people, something that Nancy Kline talks about in her book ‘Time to Think’, is providing a simple structure to team meetings:

  1. Pose a question that everyone will have something to contribute to, that coming together to discuss will add value to:

    1. What would transform our relationship with X Stakeholder?
    2. What are the main sticking points in X project/process and how can we overcome them
    3. What do you need to perform even more effectively in this team?
  2. Allow everyone to take a roughly equal turn in responding to the question, uninterrupted
  3. Everyone listens intently and with interest to the speaker

Sounds simple right? And yet the old habits of butting in or remaining silent are strong! We’re holding an experiment on this at our next Breakfast of Change. Why not come and play with us and see how this simple idea has the power to transform the way your teams work together.