When Learners Fly the Coop

For the last few months I have been working with a business team in my company responsible for their cross-specialisation as part of a cultural transformation change initiative.

When I first started working with them, the team only had two subject matter experts who had been in the organisation for some years and knew all the processes inside and out.  However, when they were sick or absent from work, all their knowledge went with them and many times, the team had to wait upon their return to the office to solve a problem, rectify a customer issue or continue the process.  This simply wasn’t good enough and we had to figure out a way to get the team all cross-specialised so that these delays wouldn’t impact the customer.

It took three months and how I did it will be a blog post for another day but it involved an instructional coaching model where the majority of learning was within the workplace with minimal face-to-face class time.  (The only face-to-face workshop was the time required for me to demonstrate the skills to SMEs on how to get an effective learning transfer on the job by using adult learning principles, showing them the skills and getting them to practice it in real life using online performance support and other tools at their disposal).

However, the bulk of the learning was a subject matter expert coaching the processes, tasks and skills on-the-job under workplace conditions and standards.  It also involved many self-directed activities that learners could explore and engage and work together for team problem solving and lear.

Initially, I was met with some resistance by the SMEs who would say things like, “they couldn’t possibly learn all that! It took me YEARS to learn these processes!”

However, they did provide the support and the coaching but I think they were quite surprised of the result.  It wasn’t what they were expecting.

The ultimate result?  Cross-specialisation occurred but another wondrous thing was unfolding in front of my eyes.  The team bonded, enjoyed their work, collaborated more with each other and worked together when issues came up.  It seemed to “equalise” their relationships in the workplace – the pecking order slowly disappeared.

And so the dark clouds were forming in the SME camp…

This morning I received a heartfelt thanks from the team leader who has seen his team grow as individuals and a team.  He told me that their team was awarded the Business Unit’s Shining Star Award – for recognition of their hard work in training as well as meeting business targets and they have been held up as an example of what collaborative and open learning in the workplace can achieve.  For their efforts, the team gets a substantial cash award which they can spend on any celebration of their choice.  I was really proud to be given the opportunity to work with this team and deploy what I learned through my Personal Learning Network.

The dark cloud however was that the SMEs now felt devalued and unacknowledged.  Team members were not coming up to them and asking for their opinion or seeking help and assistance anymore.  What they saw was the team growing, learning, showing responsibility and being accountable.  It hurt them not to be needed anymore and it was demonstrated by their absences, obstructionist views in team meetings and lack of involvement with the team.

So with the good comes the bad.  Although I feel badly for the SMEs having these concerns, it is a vicious circle for them and it’s something they can choose to accept and in so doing, possibly explore potential new ideas and ways of solving issues in collaboration with their team.  Or, they can make life miserable for themselves by further extricating from the others and feeling more isolated and unacknowledged.  I do hope that we can get them to see the benefit and the potential of the new situation and over time, they come to accept the idea and have a real pride to see their team grow and be the best it can be.

Maybe I should take reference to the many parents (in particularly, mothers) who must have felt the same way when their children left home.

When learners fly the coop, there will be someone left behind but we shouldn’t forget or not acknowledge their efforts.

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About Activate Learning Solutions

Helen Blunden is the founder of Activate Learning Solutions and Third Place. She has over 20 years of experience within learning and development across private, public and not-for-profit organisations. With a specialty in performance consulting and networked learning, Helen believes that workplace learning is integral to business success. She has a passion for enabling people to learn beyond the classroom and believes in the power of networks and communities to drive collaboration and meaning within the organisation. From facilitator-led instruction, online and blended, Helen deploys social and informal learning such as enterprise social networking, collaboration tools and emerging technologies that have been proven successful and embedded workplace change.
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