The Power of Shared Learning and Experience in the Workplace

Business People Meeting Growth Success Target Economic ConceptI remember as a child my mother saying to me, “most often two heads are better than one.”

This phrase still pops into my head when I am contemplating whom to involve in an upcoming work project or initiative. On occasion, working solo is the right course of action, but in most situations, involving others produces better outcomes for everyone.

The part that was left unsaid by my mother is what happens when the shared learning and experience involves two, three, four or more individuals. Here are some things I have learned about the power of shared learning and experience in the workplace.

  • Change in people and in organizational culture is stimulated and inspired through shared learning and experience.
  • It is easier to ask for or receive feedback, offer advice, and show support and encouragement when others are dealing with the same challenge or situation. One of the most memorable special action teams I was on required a wide range expertise from its six members, but we were the strongest when we collectively worked through highly visible fieldwork issues and made learning from each other intentional. The grounding I have today in using questions to engage others and open up discussions is the result of this team experience.
  • When individual assumptions are suspended, it opens the door for genuine thinking and talking together, creating the possibility for shared learning and experience.
  • Reflecting on and questioning the roles and practices of others helps to develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of your own role and practices. This practice is particularly useful when there is confusion among a group of people as to who is responsible for what. It is easy to make assumptions that may not serve you well.
  • When individuals challenge their own thinking by listening to the perspectives of others, they are able to interact in new and different ways. Easy to say, but not so easy to do.  It takes practice to get comfortable with it.  In my professional leadership coach training program, I had many opportunities to practice using my listening skills and through this practice I could see myself get better and better at closing off everything but what should be my immediate focus.
  • Shared human experience creates deeper relationships and meaningful learning. When shared as stories with others, it has even greater impact.  For example, while it has been 15 years since 9/11, the powerful Man in the Red Bandana story continues to connect people in new and special ways.

Organizational leaders that recognize the power of shared learning and experience use many of the following practices to engage with others:

  • Create connections. Identify individuals from different parts of the organization to work on specific organizational improvement initiatives so they can wrestle with new or different perspectives and try out various ways to work together and communicate with each other.
  • Be intentional about making desired behaviors a key focus and provide opportunities to test understanding and concerns about the new behavioral expectations to help them take shape.
  • Give focus to the habits, such as being curious, failing fast, and encouraging others, that are formed by groups working together so they can be applied to new and different situations.
  • Identify opportunities for immediate interactions, such as teaching others or sitting alongside someone to share experiences.
  • Use critical incidents to advance thinking and learning as a collective group, including addressing performance and behavioral expectations that are met and not met.
  • Provide tools and resources for sharing learning experiences and stories.
  • Be deliberate about role modeling, mentoring, and coaching to help others internalize desired values and associated expected behaviors.

What “two heads are better than one” stories do you have to share?

What practices have you observed by leaders who make the power of shared learning and experience a priority?

Written by:
Kathryn Johnson
Human Capital Advisory Services
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