Leader's Guide to Creating a Learning Culture.

A team that wins the race of business disruptions? One that embraces a learning culture.

Leader's Guide to Creating a Learning Culture.

For as long as machines and artificial intelligence technology are concerned, we often question what skills will still be relevant throughout the 21st Century, most importantly, what will make humans relevant.

Perhaps the question isn't 'hard skills' as much as 'soft skill' or the quality that allows us to adapt to change quickly. What we need is an ability to un-learn and re-learn. Creating a learning culture is most certainly a great learning and development strategy for any organization.

A research conducted by LinkedIn in 2018 finds that half of today’s in-demand skills didn’t appear on the list three years ago. This shows a tremendous change in demand for skills and how it quickly becomes obsolete. With this information, we have not much choice but to build a system for learning quickly. Certain skills may cease to be relevant, but a learning mindset and culture will thrive.

“The single biggest driver of business impact is the strength of an organization’s learning culture.” - Josh Bersin.

Defining A Learning Culture.

With this being said, there's a need to define what exactly it means when a team embraces a learning culture, and to some extent, it has to do with leadership.

Learning culture definition by CEB: “a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organization,”

The definition is structured, but if we cut to the chase, it is a culture that embraces lifelong learning, strives for growth in and outside of the organization, and adopts a growth-mindset.

In practice, a learning culture looks closely like:

  • A team that is empowered to act on new ideas and share their learnings.
  • Failure is not punished, but celebrated as part of growth journey.
  • Leaders facilitating feedback sessions and giving team space and resources to learn from failure.

A learning culture is not limited to the amount of capital or how big a size the team is. It is a way of being that results from consistent, small actions; and as a leader, you play an important role.

How Leaders Create a Learning Culture.

The suggestions below are behaviors and action-oriented steps for every leader to start doing if they want to foster a culture of learning in teams.

1. Lead by example.

Start by showing them you care about lifelong learning. For example:

  • If you want your team to strive for new knowledge, you share with them recent interesting findings you read about, or stretch their curiosity by asking challenging questions.
  • If you want them to learn from failure and feedback, start by sharing your own reflections on those experiences and encourage them to share theirs.

When the leader is not afraid to be vulnerable in sharing lessons learnt, their team is also empowered to do so. It’s not enough to tell your team they should keep learning, leaders should also practice what they preach and show actions.

2. Focus on developing growth-mindset.

A growth-mindset goes a long way. To build a learning culture, your team has to believe that they can learn new things and they’re not limited by their circumstances or age. Focusing on growth-mindset besides all else puts your team on the line for self-driven learning. This, in turn, gives them the ability and motivation to coach themselves and self-reflect.

Developing growth-mindset is another long article, but to keep things short and concise:

  • Introduce them to the concept and explain why it’s important.
  • Give them examples of fixed vs growth-mindsets.
  • Don’t tolerate fixed-mindset - point it out before it becomes a norm.
Growth Mindsets.
Realigning our thinking to an accountable mindset can help us progress. When we accept that growth is achievable through our own efforts, we spur ourselves on to develop. The main hurdle may indeed be breaking away from a restrictive ‘Fixed Mindset’.

3. Support initiation of ideas.

The best way to learn anything is to practice it. Encourage your team to come up with new ideas, and when they do, don’t shut them out. Listen to every idea carefully and take them into consideration. When you shut ideas out early, your team will take that as a sign that ideas are not well-welcomed.

When an idea sounds great to try, empower your team member to execute it by giving them the resources and coaching they need. And if it fails, instead of punishing them, try to facilitate a feedback session to foster deep understanding of the project and why it didn’t work.

In every stage, a leader’s role is not to command and tell the team what to do, but to facilitate learning and give feedback when needed. Sometimes projects fail without proper closure because leaders are afraid to have difficult conversations and provide negative feedback, and this is when you strip away your team’s chance at improvement.

4. Encourage side projects.

When team members are encouraged to pursue side projects they’ve always been passionate about, it not only shows sign of support, but they’re also given a chance to develop new skills and learn from doing.

However, sometimes side projects can backfire - team members may be too caught up in them that they become laid back with work responsibilities. This is the fear many leaders face as they encourage side projects. When this happens, it’s important that you address it with the individual and give early feedback.

5. Foster meaningful discussions on diverse topics.

Whenever you can, post interesting questions on team group chats or shared board at the office to stretch everyone’s critical thinking. This could lead to great ideas and meaningful discussions. It also encourages team members to think outside the box and stay curious.

The Bloo team often asks thought-provoking questions on random topics to explore different ideas and creativity. Lately, we ask “What would the world be like if cars were never invented?” And some of us came up with “traveling in Iron Man suit” or “traveling in aircrafts”.

Recent Discussion in our Bloo HQ Project.

These random questions stretch our imaginations and allow us to explore that possibilities that were not thought of. In a way, it helps stretch our thinking when it comes to developing Bloo.

6. Provide free educational resources.

A learning culture invests in learning. This means stocking up new books at the office library and hosting events related to reading to spark interests in team members. It also means subscribing to online courses or paying for the team to attend sessions or conferences that can help them up-skill.

When team members have resources at their disposal and are encouraged to learn by their leader and peers, they are more likely to give it a chance.

Keeping record of books in the Office Library in Bloo.

Final Thoughts.

The future is about lifelong learning. Building a culture of constant learning never goes out of style; a team that continuously learns from experience and iterates, that strives to explore new knowledge and insights, and empowers peers to do the same, is a competitive advantage. A learning culture can start from the leader, and these six tips help get you started.

  1. Lead by example: start being proactive in learning and show the team you mean it.
  2. Focus on developing growth-mindset: your team has to believe they can improve and learn before they actually do.
  3. Support initiation of ideas: empower them to care about the organization as much as you do.
  4. Encourage side projects: don’t stifle them off their passions, let them learn by doing.
  5. Foster meaningful discussions: ask great questions that stretch their thinking.
  6. Provide free educational resources: It incentives them to learn.