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Making it simple to cultivate learning in workplace communities

L&D expert Shannon Tipton walks us through the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool in the latest blog in our Making it Simple series.
Laura Overton - Guest Contributor

Over the past year, the Emerging Stronger team has developed a series of tools to make it simple for L&D professionals to embrace evidence-informed tactics to improve business impact. In the fifth of this series of “Making it Simple to Do the Right Thing”, Shannon TIpton introduces you to the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool.

Download the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool here.

Table: Who is the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool for.

A community is “a way of being together with both individual authenticity and interpersonal harmony so that people become able to function with a collective energy even greater than the sum of their individual energies.”  M. Scott Peck

Communities create belonging. And this is particularly true in the workplace today. When people feel as though they belong to a workplace community, they become more dedicated to their group and become more motivated to level-up their performance. 

Studies tell us that those who feel isolated in life also feel hopeless. And within the workplace that feeling is compounded by a sense of powerlessness and apathy, which ultimately can take its toll on morale, productivity and engagement. 

Today our workplace communities have the same potential for creating a sense of belonging, especially with the increase in remote working. In fact the glue that has been keeping us connected is enterprise collaboration and the technology that enables it. Last year Gartner revealed that 80% of workers were using tools such as Slack, MS Teams in 2021, up 44% from 2019.

These online communities provide us with fertile ground in which learning can grow. All we needs is a plan to prepare, sow, and nurture. What is more, the rewards of that plan is a harvest of learning, a  sense of belonging, an increase in psychological safety that develops an energy for creating positive change.

Here we will guide you through the benefits of using the Cultivating learning in Workplace Communities Tool – with some handy hints on how to best incorporate this tool into your workplace toolkit. 

Quote Graphic: Online communities provide us with fertile ground in which learning can grow.

Benefits of using the Cultivating Learning In Workplaces Communities

The use of this tool will:

  • Encourage people to take responsibility for their own continuous learning
  • Support people as they learn from work and each other
  • Improve performance through practice, reflection and collaboration
  • Build and sustain motivation through connection, accountability and progress
  • Highlight and spread improvement

The tool at a glance

Given all the information about the benefits of learning within workplace communities, why don’t we see more of them in action? What is the barrier? 

Generally, the reasons for why workplace communities fail are numerous, if not somewhat predictable. 

  • Competing platforms - every department is acting in silo’s. This leads to duplication of effort without alignment with the organizational strategy and business goals. This results in platform over-population.
  • Lack of top-down, management support - Generally L&D will put in place a platform, place together a limited communication plan and hope that people will start conversing and engaging on the platform. There may be a “honeymoon” period but shortly the enthusiasm dies down, and the platform becomes a ghost town. 
  • Organizational competitiveness - it is very hard to be collaborative and share openly if an employee knows that s/he will be judged and measured against their peers. This turns team members into opponents. When behaviors are focused on win-lose outcomes, building a community can be difficult. 

However, despite the barriers in front of us, it’s critical to find, nurture and support the learning that is occurring in the workplace communities growing within our organizations. While it may seem a daunting task, it’s not impossible. Just as one may consider tackling a weed strewn plot of land as more effort than reward. We know that with the proper tools and plan, the weeds will eventually be a proper flower garden.

With the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool we adopt the analogy of a community being a fertile ground which can be nurtured into a garden that blooms of learning. Subsequently then, this tool will help you to cultivate and support learning in the communities that are currently woven throughout the organization - both formal and informal.

It is critical to find, nurture and support the learning that is occurring in workplace communities already growing within our organizations.

This tool has templates to take you through five parts:

Part 1 – Dig into purpose: As mentioned, what is the purpose of the community “garden”. Dig around to unearth why people are gathering in this space, what they are trying to do there and set learning goals that support this purpose.

  1. Identify Purpose. Identify who is working in this space and the problems or opportunities that have drawn them together (e.g: onboarding support to new starters in the organisation).
  2. Define learning goals. Set goals that support the group’s purpose with indicators that will help you know if you are on track (e.g reduce time for new starters to reach competency).
  3. Identify priority knowledge, skills or topics. Make a short list of priority skill or knowledge topics to (e.g. How to answer customer complaints, how to find critical information).

Part 2 – Prepare the ground: Understand and improve the growing conditions of the community gardenIs the garden set-up for success?

  1. Is the purpose or common interests of the community clear so people can decide if the learning is relevant to them?
  2. Are guidelines posted that describe how people are expected to participate and behave in the community? 
  3. It is easy to join the community? Are you asking people to jump through too many hoops?

Part 3: Sowing into your community: To support learning and performance, know what seeds to sow and why. Sowing is about seeding the learning process in the community with relevant content, questions, and activities. Applying principles from learning science will ensure you not only drive engagement and interaction but provide essential nutrients to grow learning.

  1. Thoughtfully curate quality content that is relevant to the community learning goals and share it in a way that seeds engagement. 
  2. Be a role model and share content effectively. 
  3. Questions are a powerful way to stimulate learning. Review recent community discussions to find examples of effective questions.

Part 4: Nurture community learning: How to water, fertilize, weed and prune the garden in order for learning to thrive.

  1. Weed the garden! Make it easy for people to find current and relevant content, find interesting conversations and each other.
  2. Look for areas where engagement and learning are happening and support it’s growth.
  3. Make it easy for community members to support each other, showcase SME’s or others who are contributing value. 

Part 5: Harvest results: Gather and use the fruits of your labourLook for signs of learning maturing.

  1. Gather the crop (find the information or learning that is “ripe” to share)
  2. Prepare the harvest for distribution! Save resources being shared and created into a repository, tagging them for easy search.
  3. Plan how to use the information gathered, can the resources be reused in other “gardens”?

Download the tool for guidance notes and templates for each part of Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool.

Scaling success in your organization

As with anything, there is no “one-size-fits-all” solution. The needs of your organization will vary.

Table: The impact of the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool

Download the Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool here.

Next steps

As you unearth the variety of communities established in your organization, you will find that every learning community will have their own shared goals built around the people within it. Think of this tool as one to help support and nurture a community specific learning journey. 

The best learning community environments are collaborative, with open communication that’s aimed at promoting a rich experience that allows for the sharing of ideas, finding answers, and filling in skill or knowledge gaps. But also, a well-nurtured workplace learning community will provide support and even have a bit of fun together.

Employees everywhere are looking for a deeper partnership with the business, are wanting stronger bonds with colleagues, and are looking for clear paths to collaborate and learn. This tool can help you achieve these goals. 

In this series we have seen that most of the tools work just fine on their own, but work at their best when combined with other complementary tools. 

The Cultivating Learning in Workplace Communities Tool does work stand but will provide even more impact when combined with others in this series:

Use the Cultivating Learning In Workplace Communities Tool with other tools in this series

Needs Analysis Tool: Use this tool to double check that your workplace community activties become essential support business critical needs vs an unwelcome add on.

Curation Decision Tool: Use the curation decision tool to create laser focus on the best content to sow in your communities. 

Power Hour Tool: Use the Power Hour tool to inject accountability and visibiity into your workplace community strategies

Communication Plan Launch ToolUse the communication planning tool to explore smart ways of  leveraging your communities to engage your community and maintain learning momentum 

Improving Impact Tool: Use your improving impact tool to help clarify what conversations you need to encourage to uncover impact and use your workplace community harvest to feed the data in your improving impact tool

You may also be interested in the previous blogs in this series:
Making it simple to conduct a needs analysis conversation,
where Shannon Tipton covers delivering valuable content with the Needs Analysis Tool.
Making it simple to curate with impact,
which dives into moving beyond learning aggregation with the Curation Decision Tool.
Making it simple to engage with managers,
Laura Overton talks through improving engagement with managers with The Power Hour Tool.

Making it simple to market learning and increase engagement, with Laura Overton exploring how to best spread the word on your learning solution with the Communication Plan Launch Tool.
Making it simple to improve impact, Laura Overton walks through a powerful and adaptive resource, the Improving Impact Tool.

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