You’re a senior manager with responsibility for the learning and development not just of your team but yourself too. You and your team don’t have lots of time and you certainly don’t have lots of money for training and development. This is something always at the forefront of my mind and stems from my time as a manager with a limited budget who wanted to ensure that there was maximum impact from any learning opportunities for my staff.
Therefore, one of the key things I talk to clients about with a major question being, “How are you going to create space to embed learning?” As Richard Bolden outlined in his chapter on leadership development, in the Gower Handbook of Leadership and Management Development, the essential elements of leadership development are reflection, practice, self-awareness, personal support, opportunities to apply learning and relevance to work.
In their systematic review of 50 studies looking at the impact of action learning, Yonjoo Cho and Toby Marshall Egan identified different examples of reflective practice. I’ve depicted these in the sketchnote which is the header image for this post but here’s an outline of the six main approaches Cho and Egan found:
- Dialogue, problem exploration and systems thinking
- Individual and group process feedback
- Public reflection
- Break space
- End-of-course interview
- Action learning conversations
Cho and Egan dive into a couple of these, offering helpful advice for managers, coaches and facilitators. For example, they suggest that an action learning set facilitator can use break space “for 10 minutes at the start of each meeting where all set members close their eyes, remain silent and reflect.” This is reiterated by research from Boston University which found that interrupting problem-solving teamwork activity with breaks for individual reflection boosted the chance of finding the best answer, particularly for complex problems.
Here are some research-based ideas on how you can create space for reflection which, in turn, can help embed learning and lead to greater return on investment:
1) Book in time with each team member a week after they’ve attended a course or workshop to ask them how they are using what they’ve learned.
For example, a 2014 study led by Giada di Stefano, asked volunteers to take time to pause and reflect while trying to tackle a problem. They found people were better at the task after being asked to take a moment to reflect on which strategies were working for them. di Stefano and her team repeated this approach in a call-centre, where those employees who took the time to pause and reflect did 23% better on a post-training test.
2) If you’re designing a bespoke training course or workshop, try co-creating with participants in advance, giving them some responsibility for design and delivery of specific elements.
A course format, called a “hack week,” blends elements from both traditional lecture-style delivery with participant-driven projects. Research led by Daniela Huppenkothen looked at the impact of hack weeks in relation to data science education and collaboration. In surveys conducted after eight hack weeks, participants ranked the events positively as spaces to learn, teach, network, and foster relationships. More than three-quarters ranked the hack weeks as successful learning experiences, while two-thirds reported the benefits of teaching skills to someone else. This feedback was constant across different backgrounds, showing that the unique format of hack weeks might help all participants feel included.
3) If you’re responsible for evaluating the impact of training and development, include questions about the space given for reflection and embedding learning.
In 2018, researchers developed an evaluation checklist by surveying scientific research on learning and organizational training, then figuring out the best ways to achieve “training transfer”—the translation of knowledge to skills for better performance. The checklist is divided into three sections of “yes” and “no” questions to be answered before, during, and after employees undergo training.
- The ‘before’ section assesses if the training program will meet the organisation’s needs, asking questions such as, “Are there policies and procedures in place to support training?”
- The ‘during’ section examines the training content, asking questions like “Are trainees provided sufficient opportunities to actively participate during training?”
- The ‘after’ questions, which organisations can ask themselves repeatedly, check whether participants have had time to reflect and embed their learning. One question asked in this section is “Are managers provided with tools and advice to support the use of learned knowledge and skills on the job?”
4) Using a coaching style of management can help with individual and team learning.
A 2018 study led by Makoto Matsuo, involving over 500 people across nearly 100 engineering team, found that managers who used a coaching style positively impacted team and individual learning. This particular study examined the impact of a coaching style when used one-on-one, as well as when it was used in a team setting to facilitate the sharing of lessons and knowledge.
One way you can facilitate the sharing of lessons and insights is to use an approach called the ‘After Action Review’. This is one used by the US Navy Seals which Daniel Coyle describes in his book, The Culture Code. The five questions asked in an After Action Review are:
- What were our intended results?
- What were our actual results?
- What caused our results?
- What will we do the same next time?
- What will we do differently?
5) Teach others what you’ve learned.
An approach I used to use when I was a manager was to encourage team members to design and deliver short events, where they shared with their colleagues what they’d learned from a course or event. This is backed up by research led by Aloysius Wei Lun Koh which examined the learning benefit of teaching. One of the main findings of the research was that ‘teachers’ demonstrated better learning when they had taken the time to internalise their understanding, rather than reading out what they’d learned from notes. Therefore, encouraging people to pull together a short presentation, along with one or two activities, could be a way to help aid reflection, increase understanding and further embed learning.
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