Synchronicity of Color (DWPittard/flickr.com)

Encourage collaboration and team learning

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Our areas of work are siloed due to limited resources and time, the huge scope of our global mandate, the high level of specialization required, and internal politics. Collaboration and learning as a team (beyond the unit level) requires leadership and concerted effort. It is hard to sustain over time.

Yet, to collaborate we build, sustain and renew many individual relationships based on trust and need. These are much less subject to fluctuations in our environment. We may get to know each other and become friends first, perhaps because we are work next to each other in the office, share lunch or coffee breaks, or engage in the same activities outside of work. Being in the field together is a powerful accelerator. We also share the commitment to the mission, despite our frustrations with the here and now. This is how, on one level, we come to establish trust, by being human together. For collaboration to lead to results, the quality of human relationships is a critical factor. “Good colleagues” are those whom we trust.

On another level, we learn to be careful given the volatility of our environment. Perhaps we first test the waters of both technical and collaboration competencies by asking for input on a concept paper or inviting a colleague to contribute to a meeting. We observe how they behave to determine how and to what extent we can collaborate with them – and how much value can come from collaboration. Only then can we begin to be transparent with each other to achieve shared understanding.

What about those of us who are not technical experts, but provide support, for example, for planning, project development, learning or communication? Negotiating collaborative learning is a necessity. Asking questions of others is legitimized by the recognition that your own expertise is in another area of work.

Even though much of relationship building depends on the behaviors of individuals, our organization can do much to provide an enabling environment to foster dialogue and collaboration. We also need to rethink the rules of engagement that, in some cases, provide the appearance of consensus but slow our ability to identify and tackle a problem.

Photo: Synchronicity of Color (DWPittard/flickr.com).

Crossing Golden Gate (Noël/flickr.com)

I have no idea

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

What do we do when we cannot achieve certainty?

We increasingly accept that we need to make decisions without the comfort of certainty. It is okay to not know. It is healthy to accept the unknown as we no longer seek certainty. It is when we are no longer certain that we learn.

In some cases, uncertainty opens the door to knowledge that we were not seeking. This is incidental learning.

The organization still expects certainty. Some of our leaders demand it. As working professionals, we are expected to provide answers, i.e. to know. Yet our expertise is increasingly in our ability to respond when faced with new contexts (for example, new technologies, reduced budgets, or changes in political leadership), new challenges (for example, Ebola or noncommunicable diseases) where learning is the process of constructing viable but context-specific answers.

We straddle between expectations that we know (as experts) and the unknown that is part and parcel of our daily work. There is some comfort in certainty, as well as lower risk we may value because of the political nature of our environment. This is, in part, why we may pull back, as we may fear others seeing that we do not know.

Noah and Reg discuss teaching and learning theories

Teaching and learning in The Walking Dead (S05E14)

Reda Sadki Culture, Learning

In this episode, the young Noah has asked to meet with Reg, an elderly architect or engineer who had the know-how to build the wall that protects the community of Alexandria, which some believe has survived zombies and other predators mostly by sheer luck.

Noah recognizes that it’s more than luck – and wants to Reg to pass on knowledge and expertise that is different from that needed only to avert death. Reg shows him a notebook in which he’s kept personal notes on events, and offers one of the notebooks so that Noah can begin to keep a record.

Outcome? Noah dies in the next episode. So much for transmissive learning and container views of knowledge.

(It appears that YouTube will prevent viewers in some countries from accessing the brief excerpt I’ve posted there. Apologies if you are unable to see it.)

– How is it that you called this extremely early morning meeting, yet I’m the one bringing breakfast?
– ‘Cause you’re a good guy.
– The evidence seems to go in that direction.
– What’s up?
– Can we start meeting in the mornings?
– So I can bring you steel-cut oatmeal and ask you why we’re meeting?
– So you can teach me how to build things.
– You want to be an architect?
– I want to make sure those walls stay up.
– Do you think they could fall?
– I think they could get knocked in. Could be years from now, could be when I’m your age.
– (chuckles) I’ll still be around when you’re my age.
– Well, it wouldn’t hurt if I knew some of what you knew. For the walls, the houses. Some new buildings.
– So you’re in it for the long haul?
– Yeah. What are you writing?
– Oh, I write everything down. Everything of note. Now you should.
– There’s gonna be a lot to remember.
– This is the beginning of this place. You should record all that. Along with everything I’m gonna teach you about building things. (turns off water)
– Oh, no, thank you.

Transcript source

Islamic mosaic pattern (Jörg Reuter/flickr.com)

Patterns and trends

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

How do we navigate these rules while achieving intended purpose? When we need new knowledge, where do we go? How do we go about it? How do we limit our exploration to ensure that we can still deliver on our tasks? What if we need to upset or question assumptions about how we work in order to find the answers we need (learn)?

Wherever we may sit in the organization – from the headquarters in the capital city to the field –, our field of vision cannot possibly span the global complexity we face.

When we analyze a situation or a new problem, we are looking for patterns. We build the “muscle” of pattern recognition through practice. This is where we mobilize our experience, which sometimes manifests itself as intuition. As we gain experience, we learn to trust our intuition and deepen the insights we bring to dialogue with our colleagues.

Patterning is the process of recognizing the nature and organization of various types of information and knowledge. As we walk forward with an adaptive mindset, we recognize trends and patterns in a changing environment.

Our ability to recognize patterns is a critical skill that the organization must both foster and support, in order to make learning strategic.

Photo: Islamic mosaic pattern (Jörg Reuter/flickr.com)

Conversations.1 Stills from a music video for The Hole Punch Generation (Gwen Vanhee/flickr.com)

Dialogue and inquiry

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We learn from each other through dialogue and inquiry. We are excited that we can participate in a rich, diverse world of different perspectives and opinions. Conversation, as George Siemens says, is the “ultimate personalization experience. We ask questions and offer views based on our own conceptions. We personalize our knowledge when we socialize” (Siemens 2006:42).

Newcomers may find dialogue and inquiry to be lacking, but this may be in part that they have yet to learn the unwritten rules of our learning culture. These unwritten (tacit) yet sometimes rigid rules of engagement frame how we may respond to each other’s knowledge needs, especially in group contexts. Confusion or even anger may result when breaking this culture of consensus.

In formal settings, our organizational culture of consensus prevails. Disagreements are seldom expressed overtly. Decisions may be made in informal settings, and meetings then serve to make public what has already been agreed upon.

The task orientation dictated by our learning culture and by the pressure of workload and line management expectations also leads to suspicion when one asks too many questions.

Siemens, G., 2006. Knowing knowledge.

Photo: Conversations.1  Stills from a music video for The Hole Punch Generation (Gwen Vanhee/flickr.com)

Express (Darien Law/flickr.com)

E-mail is formal learning

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Technology has enabled new conversations across time and space. Yet e-mail, for example, has become a formal medium, subjected to some of the same rules of consensus that prevail in other formal spaces for dialogue. It can be argued that reading and responding to e-mail requires stopping our (other) work. We also have to figure out how to apply what we learn from e-mail to your work – the applicability problem. (The fact that it is equivalent to a postcard in terms of security is a different issue). Etiquette for a new medium must be negotiated over time, and confusion persists as different people apply differing assumptions about what can be said and how to say it.

Photo: Express (Darien Law/flickr.com).

 

S.S. Eureka, paddle steamer "Eureka" seen at the San Francisco Maritime Museum (Dave Wilson/flickr.com)

Eureka

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

If informal learning constitutes an important way in which we learn, adapt and grow, it is important to be able to describe when, where, and how such learning occurs. Only then can we determine how the organization might provide or improve an enabling environment.

We can begin such a process by recalling “aha” moments of significant learning or problem-solving that occurred outside of formal training contexts – and then asking questions about how we identified the problem, what strategies we used to tackle it, what surprised us, and, of course, what were the outcomes.

The “aha moment” is a point in time, event, or experience when one has a sudden insight or realization. It has also been referred to as the eureka (“I found it”) effect. The “aha” moment is a kind of coming together of learning, made compelling because the solution identified may allow for perfect alignment with work. For most “aha” moments that we can recall, the problem at hand is recognized to be exceptional in some way.

Such incidents are significant because they demonstrate:

  • the central relevance of informal learning to solve real-world business problems we face;
  • the ways in the “aha” moments of incidental learning often represent significant leaps in our ability to reframe, tackle or solve problems;
  • that informal learning is embedded into the work and therefore does not require stopping work to learn; and
  • informal learning outcomes foster complex, sometimes profound growth of individuals and teams, improving performance not just for the problem at hand but for a set of capabilities that can then be applied to future problem-solving.

We have difficulty recalling the sequence of events and learning process that lead to such moments. The “process of learning through experience is so routine, that it becomes almost automatic and part of our tacit knowledge” (Watkins 2013:18). There is no time to reflect on what or how it happened, and no obvious incentive to do so. The sudden realization and its implications are so strong that the context for it is promptly forgotten. We retain lessons learned and are able to describe how these were applied in their work, but find it more difficult to identify and reflect on the learning processes at work. Our minds focus primarily on the take-away or the lesson and their implications, the knowledge outcome we can use.

And yet, “if we are to capture and retain such lessons, deeper reflection is essential so that we can tell others what we learned” (Watkins 2013:18) and so that our organization can recognize the value of such insights and provide an enabling environment for them. Any learning that is retained solely by the individual is likely to be lost if and when the individual leaves, and unlikely to improve the knowledge performance of the organization.

Watkins, K., 2013. Building a Learning Dashboard. The HR Review 16–21.

Photo: S.S. Eureka, paddle steamer “Eureka” seen at the San Francisco Maritime Museum (Dave Wilson/flickr.com)

Salvador Dali, Chess Set, 1971 (Andrew Russeth/flickr.com)

Accidents happen

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Question: Why were you looking at their data? Answer: Just out of interest to see.

We recognize that some of our most significant learning may occur by accident, as a byproduct of some other activity such as task accomplishment, interpersonal interactions, or trial-and-error experimentation. Where informal learning may be sometimes intentional and more possibly planned, incidental learning is semi-conscious. Call it learning by accident. Call it serendipity.

Surprise comes with a new realization, when we are not looking explicitly for answers: The element of surprise may actually be conducive to making the learning “stick”.

Outside of “aha” moments which remain exceptional, incidental learning grows slowly through a process of accretion. New insights come when you do not expect them, whether in formal or informal spaces.

Incidental learning is embedded into work. Incidental learning depends on context and purpose for its significance. Discovering a new way to do something new has immediate meaning  only if the learner had been personally frustrated with existing practice or had met failure with existing means.

Why does incidental learning matter? Growing evidence has shown that informal and incidental learning drive performance in the workplace. However, we struggle with how to “capture” or strengthen informal learning – by definition fluid, relaxed, friendly or unofficial in style, manner or nature – and even more so with learning by accident.

Recognizing the value of incidental learning does not mean that we discount or diminish the importance and relevance of other forms of learning, including traditional education and training, especially with respect to the acquisition of foundational technical knowledge and skills.

Photo: Salvador Dali, “Chess Set,” 1971 (Andrew Russeth/flickr.com)

10 habits (Audrey Low/flickr.com)

Learning habits

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

What are the learning habits that we perform on a regular basis to stay current? As professionals, we organize our personal learning habits in different ways that reflect our interests, personalities, and career paths. We rely on a variety of information sources, engage in reading, attend seminars and conferences, or take MOOCs or other online courses. And, of course, we connect with others. The content we seek may be directly related to our work – or conversely we may seek to acquire knowledge outside our immediate realm and field of vision.

Some or if not most of our reading of work-related content takes place outside of work, even though some of us may choose to cordon off our private lives and succeed in doing so at least some of the time.

We use these information sources in different ways, striving to question what we learn, sorting and organizing what we gather.  We recognize the deeply personal nature and diversity of these learning habits. Informal learning is not limited to the context of work. We may mobilize modes of inquiry or specific values to approach a problem in work, drawing on our personal lives, faith or culture, or family contexts.

Each of us organizes such mostly informal, continuous learning in different ways. Making this strategic is not about prescribing best practice, but about recognizing the value of such practices. Our ability to quickly make sense of new knowledge – and to make it a habit – may be more important than the knowledge itself.

Photo: 10 habits (Audrey Low/flickr.com)

Casse-tête (Frédérique Voisin-Demery/flickr.com)

How do we solve problems in work?

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

What do we do when we are confronted with a problem?  Problem solving begins when we encounter a new experience. We do this out of necessity, but also because we enjoy it. We also need to be able to solve problems fast. We develop our ability and willingness (including on a political level) to identify, analyze, and solve problems. We accept that tackling problems is painful. It involves risk-taking that may not be supported by the organization. Yet so much of how we learn and grow stems from such experiences.

We know that our organization does not necessarily recognize – much less reward – uncovering problems. We need our line management and leadership to support this willingness to tackle problems. Even with supportive management and great colleagues, in many cases we are alone in confronting a problem, if only due to resource and time constraints. Yet we know that our ability to solve problems depends on the quality, depth and meaning of our connections to others.

We strive to reframe our problems by questioning our assumptions and those of others. The way in which we frame our understanding of a problem and the degree to which we are open to re-framing that view depends on the context and the organization. Our organization’s culture and pressures, including time and resource constraints, may reinforce our reluctance to take time out to reframe, rethinking, and reconsider.

Photo: Casse-tête (Frédérique Voisin-Demery/flickr.com)