Practice, the “Learning Loop” and peer-to-peer learning

Practice! In the wild. This story from a Harvard Business Review about peer-to-peer learning by Kelly Palmer and David Blake:

For example, when Kelly was in charge of learning at LinkedIn, her team created a peer-to-peer learning program designed around the company’s key corporate values. One section of the program focused on difficult conversations; each participant was asked to identify a real-life difficult conversation they needed to have at work (especially one they might be avoiding). They were first taught about difficult conversations (stage 1); next they practiced with each other before holding the conversations in real life (stage 2). One of the participants, John, confronted his employee Mark about his missed deadlines, a pattern which had been negatively affecting the team. The conversation did not go well — John felt awkward, and Mark got defensive. When John shared this experience with his peers in the learning group, they openly shared their views and ideas, and their own experiences of similar situations (stage 3). As everyone in the group — not just John — reflected on what they had learned, they concluded that they had all become more confident and armed with ideas about how to better handle a similar situation in the future (stage 4). Later group members indicated that their real-world difficult conversations indeed had become more productive.

The “Learning Loop” seems a sensible approach to learning:

People gain new skills best in any situation that includes all four stages of what we call the “Learning Loop”: gain knowledge; practice by applying that knowledge; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned.

And, as an afterthought to the practice example, peer-to-peer learning seems to be a giant opportunity to improve learning in organizations.

How can management skills be improved through practice?

That’s the question I’ve been turning over in my head the last few days.

It was prompted by this Niels Pflaeging passage in a previous post:

Transforming Knowledge into Mastery is a second way of learning: the domain of “collective learning” so to say. One that requires learners to practice with each other, or to practice together with “masters“ (i.e. someone with mastery). One might say that here, you need at least two learners! This “K2M” transformation can happen in the classroom, “on the job”, by practicing problem-solving, by seeking advice, or indirect online interaction.

How can a manager practice the skills of management? I believe it starts with being cognizant that opportunities to practice exist and that practicing work skills is an actual thing that a worker can do.

Robert Schaeffer makes the case for practicing management in a Harvard Business Review article:

Skill-building requires practice. In most endeavors, those who want to improve take this as self-evident. Big tasks are routinely broken into small elements that can be worked on over and over again: scales in music, tight moguls in skiing, certain board situations in chess.

Yet this rarely happens in management, even though we must develop and integrate dozens of discrete skills. Some are almost universally required — for instance, setting goals, coordinating across units, and intervening when a subordinate’s performance is slipping. Others are job-specific, such as critiquing complex project plans and negotiating deals with suppliers and customers.

Any organization can identify the elements that matter most to its managers’ success and help people work on developing them. But a common obstacle is the way most managerial work is organized. There are few opportunities to practice critical skills because many of them are used infrequently.

He offers this advice at the conclusion: “To benefit most from practice in your organization, you’ll want to focus on tasks that can be tested quickly, that provide immediate results data, and that can be repeated and repeated. “