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A learning culture is key to effective transformation

A learning culture is a catalyst for transformation. It provides the momentum and right environment to tackle the status quo and most importantly, do it as a collective focussed on improvement.

Team culture commonly falls into two categories – one with momentum for change and transformation, while the other prefers the safer, risk adverse way of the status quo. With the world of work in a seeming endless whirl of shift, transformations are required to retain market and service relevancy. Transformation can be small, incremental changes that result in new ways of working, or large and radical shake ups that turn the way we work upside down and venture down completely new pathways. Whether evolution or revolution is required in your business, the ability for effective transformation can be found in the answer to this question: ‘Are we a learning organisation?’

When a learning culture is in place, we create a fertile bed for new ideas to propagate. People are willing to undertake experiments and make mistakes that are learnt from. This enables transformation to flourish rather than sit in the ground never fertilised. While transformation may be about the context requiring us to adapt, it is the energy and dynamic between people that creates the environment for change. In a learning culture, the conversations are about challenging the status quo and the way we have always done things. The focus is on growth rather than resistance, possibility rather than status quo, stretch rather than safety, openness rather than defence.

Be A Safe Set of Ears
A culture with an environment for learning speaks about the topics that remain unsaid in other places. People listen deeply to each other. They feel heard and safe to contribute their thinking. The leadership response to these contributions is critical. What happens on the other side of contribution proves to people whether it is safe to speak their ideas for transformation and to take risks. This is psychological safety in action. Dr. Timothy R. Clark, and author of The Four Stages of Psychological Safety defines this critical concept as ‘an environment of rewarded vulnerability’. What happens to people on the other side of their honesty in your organisation? Are they rewarded, or punished for speaking up?

Be Experimenters not Perfectionists
Transformation generally occurs when we are aware that current ways of working are no longer fitting our context. In essence, it is saying something we are doing currently will somehow fail either in the long or short term. When we put new ways of working into process, to assume they will be fully formed and perfect is a recipe for a blame culture and risk adverse behaviour to rise to the top.  A learning culture explores the implementation with a forensic curiosity.  When we frame this work as experiments or cycles of inquiry, we see things that are not quite right as simply things to work at, not be disgruntled with. It tackles what is working and what is not with interest, not attack.  This exploration helps us learn from our mistakes rather than hide from them or shift blame.  What happens when mistakes are made in your teams?

Make Challenging the Status Quo a Team Sport
IDEO – global design and innovation company’s findings show that the chances of a failed launch decreased by 16.67% when team members felt comfortable to challenge the status quo. Data from my Buzz Diagnostic, a learning culture survey given to over 11 000 people and 500 organisations in the education sector shows just how difficult creating this environment can be. For example, ‘I feel confident to challenge our assumptions and beliefs’ sits on the bottom of the rankings of ‘very like us’ as a team.  Creating this positive challenge culture requires the development of skills that are some of the hardest to achieve. Here are some steps to help:

  • Listen without judgement
  • Be curious not defensive when team members voice their opinions
  • Make set times to step into a collective challenge space. Regularly set the scene and model learning by asking curious questions around any particular topic
  • Have everyone identify the assumptions that are in play. The question ‘What assumptions are we making here?’ can unearth some fascinating gaps of knowledge, sweeping generalisations and never-before challenged ways of working.
  • Don’t punish people for speaking up. Step in with curiosity and be open to learning more about what they think and know.

A learning culture is a catalyst for transformation. It provides the momentum and right environment to tackle the status quo and most importantly, do it as a collective focused on improvement.

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