How to create a shared learning culture

“Here, have some information.”
“Here, have some information.”
Image: Jopwell
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Leaders of the past believed that hoarding information was the path to power, but today’s leaders understand the importance of building a culture that allows teams to learn what they need to know when they need to know it—and to close skills gaps by sharing knowledge with each other.

Here are examples of how executives at Starbucks, Instagram, and MasterCard have worked to build this kind of “shared learning culture.”

Intentionally hire collaborative employees

When you evaluate candidates, make sure that you spend part of the interview trying to assess how they feel about the importance of learning. For instance, you might ask something like, “How willing are you to teach a new skill to a fellow employee?” or, “Tell me about a time when you helped an employee complete a task or project that wasn’t related to your job.” The answers to these questions will give you a better sense of how willing an individual is to share knowledge.

Develop an onboarding program to share your knowledge with new hires

Jessica Roberts, a Brand Manager at Starbucks, developed such a program for a new member of her team using a book she read, feedback from company veterans, and examples from other plans used by her peers. “It incorporated skill onboarding, as well as organizational and cultural onboarding for the first six months, instead of just the first couple weeks,” she said. Jessica’s effort in creating an onboarding program helped her new team member feel comfortable, supported, and ready to be fully productive.

Create the structure that enables teammates to support each other through mentoring and teaching

At Instagram, Daniel Kim, an Engineering Manager, structured a mentoring program for his team so they are supported from day one. Employees are paired with mentors who hold them accountable and help them feel more secure in their positions. Aside from mentoring, Kim encourages everyone on his team to share skills or lead workshops for the rest of the team, both of which are accounted for on their performance evaluations. “If you aren’t helping those around you to be better at their jobs, then you aren’t doing your job,” said Kim.

Use shared learning to solicit feedback from your team so you can provide more value to them

You can create better training materials by listening to your team’s needs and incorporating their ideas in the final product. At MasterCard, John Mwangi held a series of training meetings with colleagues in different regions to educate them on the digital platform they had built and give them materials for their discussions with customers. “The trainings were a great opportunity for me to get feedback on what part of the product resonates with our customers and what can be improved—it also benefited our regional colleagues and led to rapid deployment of the product,” he said. Your teammates naturally want to share ideas because they want to feel like their voices are heard and their expertise is used.

Recognize shared learning as it occurs so you can create a culture where teammates are organically spreading knowledge to each other

When you see an employee helping a teammate, say something positive. If one employee is teaching another a new skill and it’s benefiting them both, applaud the effort. In addition, you should reward those who are investing in new skills and abilities outside of office hours; others will copy that behavior.

A shared learning culture is the best way for teams to stay relevant, aware, and productive. It also helps build stronger team relationships, because members are supporting each other in a positive way that benefits their careers, while also supporting the company.

Dan Schawbel is the author of Back to Human: How Great Leaders Create Connection in the Age of Isolation.