Being social for learning and performance

Social learning has been a theme here for some time [my first post on the subject in 2005: from e-learning to s-learning]. Recent research by CMU, MIT & Union College shows that being social is also a key to group performance:

That collective intelligence, the researchers believe, stems from how well the group works together. For instance, groups whose members had higher levels of “social sensitivity” were more collectively intelligent. “Social sensitivity has to do with how well group members perceive each other’s emotions,” says Christopher Chabris, a co-author and assistant professor of psychology at Union College in New York.

“Also, in groups where one person dominated, the group was less collectively intelligent than in groups where the conversational turns were more evenly distributed,” adds Woolley. And teams containing more women demonstrated greater social sensitivity and in turn greater collective intelligence compared to teams containing fewer women.

However, many OD, HR and training departments still focus on individual skill development and the perennial favourite, leadership training. How often do people work in total isolation today? Why are skills taught separately from the workplace and co-workers? As for leadership, how can you decontextualize it from the workplace? Easy cookie-cutter solutions, like MBTI for leadership, are mainstream fare, even though MBTI is about as valid as astrology [see also: I’m a reflector, completer finisher, ENTJ, inspirer – what are you?]

In the evolving social organization, we noted how knowledge workers get things done by conversing with peers, customers and partners, as they solve the problems of the day. Learning from these social interactions is a key to business innovation. To participate in their markets, organizations, customers and suppliers need to understand each other and this too, is social. Social learning is how knowledge is created, internalized and shared. It is how knowledge work gets done.

A serious re-focus is needed for organizations to take advantage of social learning in business and professional networks. Everything from team composition, job titles, performance evaluation and training approaches must be examined through the lens of [social] networks. There is solid research in social network analysis, value network analysis and social learning that can inform this shift. But leaders and managers must first put aside their old mental models, and that’s the real challenge.

With my ITA colleagues, we’re trying to start a shift to working smarter in networks, without some fancy, and unnecessary, software platform to enable it. It’s a cultural challenge to change mental models, not a technological one.

Related post: Let’s talk about work

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