The folks at Scotland’s GoodPractice for leaders & managers have a white paper on How Managers Learn, with some interesting, but not surprising, results. They conducted a survey to find out more about informal learning in the workplace, inspired by Jay Cross, who has shown that “informal learning plays an important part in the learning and performance landscape“.
Respondents reported that the most-used as well as the most effective informal learning method was: informal chats with colleagues. Other top-rated methods include the use of (external) search engines; trial & error; informal on-the-job instruction; and professional reading. Without looking at any other ways to encourage informal learning among leaders (everyone is a leader in a knowledge-intensive workplace) – just promoting informal conversations would be beneficial. That’s one small step for each person; one giant leap for the organization.
Here’s a quote from Jay’s book on Informal Learning:
“Conversation is the most powerful learning technology ever invented. Conversations carry news, create meaning, foster cooperation, and spark innovation. Encouraging open, honest conversation through work space design, setting ground rules for conversing productively, and baking conversation into the corporate culture spread intellectual capital, improve cooperation, and strengthen personal relationships.”
There are many great tools and technologies to facilitate conversation, which I’ve discussed here and used with clients and partners, but the key is having a culture of conversation. Part of it is just being interested in what’s happening in the enterprise. It’s likely easier for managers to be interested in what is happening because they are empowered to do something. The challenge for organizations is to get everyone involved in conversations. With complex problems, we need as many and as diverse conversations as possible, and there are a variety of ways to get started.