In today's blogpost, i want to introduce 7 different patterns you might want to try out before you even take the plunge into technology enabled methods to facilitate social learning. At ThoughtWorks we see these patterns everyday and that's perhaps one big reason why collaborative learning seems to thrive at this company. Don't get me wrong - you're likely to still need technology. I hope though, that by applying some of these patterns you'll have taken several high impact steps to influence your organisation's learning culture. With that said, let's take a look at the patterns.
Reface your Team Spaces
At ThoughtWorks we've taken a people centric approach to designing team rooms - the above picture is indicative of our open workplace approach. We keep experimenting with seating methods to maximise collaboration on our project teams - the uPod configuration is just one of those different layouts that we keep trying out every now and then. There are several benefits to such open layouts: people talk to each other and throw out ideas without any restrictions or walls. Information radiators and open wall spaces give people enough and more opportunity to collaboratively problem solve and find creative solutions. Most importantly, the open workplace allows for cross pollination of ideas across teams and 'departments', since we've torn down the unnecessary walls. Whether we we like it or not, we see things happen and we learn from each other's successes and failures.
All the chest thumping aside, I completely understand that moving to a completely open workspace isn't trivial for those in cubicle and corner office land. Which is where I think you'll find these tips to build a collaborative workplace really useful. It's a huge, but really valuable change and all the little steps you can take to get there, are worth their weight in gold.
Bring in the Lunch
Pecha-Kucha Nights or Just Ignite It
- Meet on a designated evening.
- People can present on any topic of their choice.
- Their talks should have no more than 20 slides which automatically transition within 20 seconds each.
- If you wish, you can allot a couple of minutes at the end of each talk so participants can do some QnA.
Open Space Conferences - For the People, by the People
At the beginning of an Open Space the participants sit in a circle. The facilitator will introduce the theme of their gathering, and invite all participants to identify any issue or opportunity related to the theme. Participants willing to raise a topic will come to the centre of the circle, write it on a sheet of paper and announce it to the group before choosing a time and a place for discussion and posting it on a wall. That wall becomes the agenda for the meeting.
From that point, it's upto the group to attend sessions they care about. There are just four principles for Open Space conferences:
- Whoever comes is the right people: and so, you shouldn't be offended if some people don't come and the people that arrive are the people who genuinely care.
- Whenever it starts is the right time: spirit and creativity don't run by the clock.
- Whatever happens is the only thing that could have: once something's happened, we can't break our heads over it. We need to move on and let the group dictate the agenda.
- When it's over, it's over: we can't tell how long a discussion can take, but when we feel we're done talking we shouldn't need to stretch the discussion just to make for the time in our slot. As a corollory, 'if it's not over, it's not over' - participants are welcome to take their conversation beyond the planned slot, if they feel they'll gain sufficient value from it.
I've seen some really great conversations and learnings come out of Open Space conferences and if the idea interests you, I encourage you to pick up Harrison Owen's excellent book - Open Space Technology (A User's Guide).
Take it Offsite - Away Days
Unconference It - Barcamps/ Geek Nights
- When you come, be prepared to share with barcampers.
- When you leave, be prepared to share it with the world.
At the end of this rather long blogpost, all I'll say is that these are just a subset of the many social learning patterns I see at ThoughtWorks, which the world can learn from. Do remember that your lobby, your pantry, your cafeteria, your all hands meetings, your project onboarding practices, are all opportunities for you to create the context for social learning. So while technology is important, don't forget the human elements that build the foundation for any collaborative learning you'd like to facilitate at the workplace.
What do you think of the ideas on today's blogpost? As always, I'm keen to hear your thoughts so do let me know by adding liberally to the comments section of this article.