Crop Circle - Waylands Smithy (Ian Burt/flickr.com)

Decentralization done wrong

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Leave the global functions to headquarters, and shift responsibility for the field to those who are actually there (or close by). It sounds perfectly sensible. And, in fact, it is an approach to decentralization adopted by some organizations. What are its implications for learning strategy? At the most obvious level, decentralization for those of us who work at the global – and, to a lesser extent, regional – level has reduced direct contact with the network. We often experience this as a constraint, limiting our ability to stay current with what is happening in the network to ensure that our work is closely aligned to the mission. We duly note that privileged relationships with donors have been preserved at the global level, despite decentralization. We observe mostly negative consequences of decentralization, even though in principle it should be the best support to take into account differences from one geographic region to another. In the organization’s culture of …

The hub upon which all things turn (Nic McPhee/flickr.com)

The hub in a network

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

We sit at the hub of a distributed network. In the past, only some organizations sought to organize as networks – those that had to bring together, federate or otherwise affiliate disparate groups characterized by diversity. Today, an organization that does not distribute its functions is unlikely to leverage its network. Learning strategy therefore carefully considers how to decentralize the means while sharpening the aim. We explore the tension between the consequences and risks of decentralization and the benefits of learning in the network. We share a collective vision and commitment to building the capacity of our network and leveraging our organization’s connectedness to improve. How well we execute on that commitment is measured by mission performance. We are empowered as connectors in the network: from members to the hub, from the hub to the members, and members to each other. What is changing about the collective vision we share? What needs to change? How …

Under the Bridge (Kim Hill/flickr.com)

Mind the gap

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

How do we establish a mentoring relationship? What do we do when we identify a knowledge or performance gap in a colleague? This is a sensitive issue. Pointing to a gap is more likely to lead to a productive process when mutual trust is a pre-existing condition. When we mentor a colleague, we rely on our relationships as peers and our shared values. We deploy a range of context-specific approaches. We use sophisticated strategies to provide support while respecting silo boundaries, personal pride, and limitations circumscribed by institutional culture. When we establish a mentoring relationship, we take a careful, considered approach, respectful of the other person’s experience and context. Developing mentoring is easier in smaller teams. Because the concept of “mentoring” implies different levels of experience, we emphasize mutual support between peers. One recurring gap is the lack of knowledge or experience in the organization or industry. Those of us who …

Chinese Garden of Friendship in Sydney Australia (Ajith/flickr.com)

Being mentored

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Mentor was the name of the adviser of the young Telemachus in Homer’s Odyssey. A mentor is an experienced and trusted advisor. In the workplace, mentoring usually involves providing counsel to colleagues. Mentoring relationships may be purely informal one-offs or imply a deeper investment for both mentor and mentee. For mentoring relationships to deepen and become sustainable requires mutual identification and recognition. The organization does not currently formally prescribe or support mentoring. And, for some of us, at times we have had to find our own way because there was no one to turn to for guidance or support. Yet, most of us can recall how support, counsel and advice received from more experienced colleagues both helped collaboration and furthered our individual development. By exploring when and how we received mentoring, we can better envision how the organization might be able to recognize and support it. Line managers may be …

Boarding Royal Carribean's Vision of the Seas in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (Light Nomad/flickr.com)

Onboarding

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

How do we get newcomers onboard? Onboarding refers to the mechanism through which new staff acquire the necessary knowledge, skills, and behaviors to become effective “insiders” of the organization. The organization’s onboarding process, for most us, was very informal and lacked structure, except for various administrative tasks. We know that there are no shortcuts, given the amount and complexity of tacit knowledge that is difficult to transfer. When we started working in the team, we may have found gaps in our knowledge, skills, or experience – including ones that no one could foresee or expect. Efforts to formalize onboarding inevitably run into the same difficulties as formal training. When a person arrives in a role, there are likely to be urgencies to attend to. In the process of dealing with these, newcomers have to establish themselves, begin building relationships with others, and make sense of the complexities of the workplace, often …

Benjamin West, Calypso's Reception of Telemachus and Mentor (Daniel Reinberg/flickr.com)

Mentoring

Reda Sadki Learning strategy

Fostering relationships that enable and sustain collaboration and inquiry requires building trust about both technical competencies and each person’s interest in dialogue. Therefore, two contexts require special attention. First, when newcomers come onboard to the team, they may or may not be familiar with the general organizational context or the specific working conditions. This requires thinking through how they are brought on board (“onboarding”). Second, when a performance gap is identified, in-service coaching and mentoring may be considered, especially if stopping work is not a possibility or the gap covers tacit knowledge that is not taught formally. Although coaching and mentoring require specialized skills, most of us recognize that the mentoring and support we receive helps develop our capabilities. Having received support, we are also willing to provide it, with or without institutional support. When we identify a gap in knowledge, skills or experience in a new colleague, how do we provide …

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 …

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 …

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 …

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 …