Learning in the Flow of Work: The new business imperative
In today’s rapid business environment, where technology evolves faster than job descriptions, the traditional paradigms of workplace learning no longer suffice. Employees don’t just need to do their job; they need to continually get better at it, adapting and growing in real-time. This requires a form of leadership development that combines deep learning with opportunities to practice and reinforce learning in a way that integrates with everyday tasks and responsibilities: Learning in the flow of work. This form of continuous learning is fundamentally about changing work and behavioural habits, a shift that takes time, focus, and importantly, adequate support.
The reality is that it can be hard to maintain focus on practising and learning in the flow of work. It can be easy to fall back into old habits or become frustrated, disheartened and start to second guess yourself when things don’t go as planned or seem to be working.
One of the best ways to minimize this risk and get the full benefits for people attempting to learn through doing real work is the introduction of coaching and a culture of coaching in your business.
What is coaching?
In its simplest form, coaching is asking people non-judgmental, non-leading questions to help them better understand their circumstance and make informed decisions about the best course of action they could take to get the outcome they desire.
Coaching is proven to increase confidence, ownership and performance of those being coached, with a focus on building long term skills relevant to the work individuals do. It’s effective, immediately applicable and transferable to many other areas of a person’s work, beyond the particular subject discussed in any one coaching conversation. Simply put, coaching is one of the most effective ways available to improve the effectiveness of leadership at work.
Effective coaching can build problem-solving skills, boost confidence, and unlock untapped potential in team members and leaders at all levels in an organization. It can be offered in various formats, including one-on-one sessions, peer coaching, and group coaching environments.
How coaching can support learning in the flow of work
Learning in the flow of work can take on many forms, but essentially involves leveraging everyday opportunities to learn. Using coaching to maximize these moments significantly improves the ability of individuals to adjust behaviours by reflecting on and learning from experience when practising new skills. All through the use of questions and listening to build that reflection muscle and increase self-discovery.
Insights from ‘Coaching for Performance’ by Sir John Whitmore
Sir John Whitmore’s seminal work, “Coaching for Performance,” provides a robust framework for actionable coaching, which has been globally acknowledged as a transformative organizational tool. The book has been updated this year to reflect the new challenges of an ever-changing business environment and how coaching is more valuable than ever – so even if you’ve already read it, it’s worth a re-read.
The many faces of coaching: Individual, peer and group
While individual coaching offers the deepest level of personalization, peer coaching and group coaching add different dimensions to the learning process.
Peer coaching creates a collaborative environment where team members can learn from each other’s real-world experiences, sharing successes and failures with a good balance of challenge and support in the process, stretching each other’s understanding. Peer coaching also provides the benefit that you create networks of learners, people that are prepared to support one another and learn together through coaching, which accelerates the creation of a coaching culture.
Group coaching where you are working with an “intact” group or team with a shared vision is often led by the manager or an external coach. It is powerful in helping the group to address common issues they face and need to work through. The coach can provide powerful insights from observing the team dynamics at play as they learn in the flow of their everyday real work.
Having regular coaching conversations (in any of the above forms) helps ensure individuals maintain their focus and learning as well as building engagement, confidence, application and importantly, shared learning and real impact.
Building a habit of continuous learning and coaching
Sustainability is key. Leaders must not only introduce but also build and sustain a coaching culture. This involves making coaching sessions habitual, embedding them into the daily workflow, so that they create a continuous loop of learning and improvement. This approach helps prevent employees from falling back into old habits once the initial learning and coaching event is complete. And as learning and new habits develop, employees will feel more engaged, more confident, and will perform better.
One approach LIW has found to be really effective for building and maintaining learning in the flow of work is through our Pod Sprints. Pod Sprints combine micro-learning with an agile methodology to support experimentation in role. Pods are typically groups of 4-6 leaders who, for any given 2-week sprint, experiment in role and support each other with coaching across focused 30-minute stand up and retro sessions. This format provides a powerful way to build a regular practice of learning in the flow of work, supported by coaching, with minimal disruption to work routines. Attendees report that they enjoy the opportunity to experiment with new approaches and behaviours and see the benefit of immediate impact on their work.
Aligning your learning and coaching cultures
A key to building a coaching culture is developing psychological safety within the team or group. The term Psychological Safety was first coined by Amy Edmondson of Harvard Business who defined it as ‘a shared belief held by members of a team that the team is safe for interpersonal risk taking’. If leaders and managers can create a culture where team members feel included, listened to, safe to question and learn, and even to fail, then they will be in the optimal culture to learn, evolve and perform at their best.
An example of this is with one LIW engagement where we worked in partnership with an organization developing enterprise leadership and culture shift with senior leaders of a well-known Australian business. Over a 9-month period consisting of experiential workshops and learning pod sprints, leaders were able to articulate how working in small groups, supporting each other through peer coaching, enabled them to take complex concepts, define ‘experiments’ that they then ran within their teams and business units – learning in the flow of their real work – before reflecting together on the impact, learning and definition of new ways to continue to practice their leadership for maximum impact. The coaching provided space and time for leaders to consider the impact this new competence could have on the broader business, driving wider impact and embedding new behaviours that deliver business results.
In conclusion, the contemporary business landscape demands a new form of learning – one that is as dynamic, continuous, and as integrated as the work itself and effectively bridges the gap between learning and application. Alongside this, to maximize the potential for learning, creating and maintaining a coaching culture is no longer an option but a necessity. Successfully achieving this delivers dramatic improvements in engagement and performance.
LIW has a proven track record and deep experience in designing solutions to capitalize on the idea of learning in the flow of work and developing coaching skills to sit alongside this both as a stand-alone solution or as part of broader leadership development initiatives. For more information visit https://info.liw3.com