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The three pillars of a ‘learning culture’

If you were to identify in a word the type of culture you want in your workplace what would it be? A culture of excellence? Transformation? Service? A trusting culture? Achievement-oriented? Connected? 

If we delve under any of these cultural descriptions, the ability to step into collective learning is the common denominator in attaining any of them. We can’t transform if we don’t take risks, getting out of our comfort zone together. We can’t attain a culture of excellence if we don’t improve our skills and approach as the context changes. Connection and trust will not grow if we are not willing to learn about each other. Yet, often we see learning as something organised by the L&D team, that people go and ‘do’. Team members attend workshops of professional learning, and we hope that whatever they were exposed to permeates the way they work immediately. 

In a true learning culture, learning is an ongoing process undertaken by all members of the team, including the leader. The beliefs that a learning culture sits upon are about the power of the collective conversation, the ability to learn better ways of doing things together, and that our role is to always to seek to evolve as a collective. I call this culture ‘The Buzz’. 

When The Buzz is in place, this learning culture enables us to challenge the status quo, have growth conversations rather than ‘feedback’ and create an environment of psychological safety. The quality of the conversations is high, with professional robust debate seen as an important element of being part of a team or project.   

Three main capacity areas stand out as the foundational elements, or pillars, of this type of culture: 

1. A collective growth mindset

Teams showing high quality learning culture behaviour see the learnability of the collective as their superpower. Focusing on increasing these skills in and across our organisations can help to evolve beyond individual and isolated learning to working as a collective to approach challenges, build innovation and challenging the status quo. Team members all show willingness to: 

  • Discuss and commit to the behaviours of learning. 
  • See feedback as a critical part of the individual and group learning cycle. 
  • Assume the positive intent of actions and seek to understand. 
  • See failure and mistakes as opportunities for learning. 

2. A compelling environment

This is about creating an environment where people feel compelled to learn from and with each other, rather than repelled. Team dynamics play a major part in this, as does the modelling of the leaders, displaying openness to listening and learning. Being curious of the context a team sits within, encourages people to explore. Here are some gamechangers: 

  • Foster a warm and inviting space to have rich debate, leaving the personal behind.  
  • Make meetings purposeful and interactive. 
  • Use processes to facilitate dialogue rather than a free for all. 
  • Have behaviours and norms that build trust and psychological safety.  A willingness to be open and vulnerable together are critical to step outside our comfort and grow into our learning zone.  
  • Learn out loud with each other, be curious and explore thinking. Inquire more, tell less. 

3. Authentic dialogue

The quality of our culture is found in the quality of our conversation. A learning culture has certain words that ‘glue’ the language of a team. Words and phrases such as “we, possible, OK, what did we learn, how can we, what do you think, tell me more, what will we do differently next time” are heard in far greater numbers than “can’t, won’t, never, done it before and didn’t work, not a hope, it wasn’t my fault”. Have a listen out for these authentic dialogue indicators: 

  • We balance high challenge and high support in our conversations.  
  • Our conversations build trust and understanding.  
  • We challenge ourselves with curiosity, not with judgement.  
  • We clarify our misunderstandings when they arise.  

Learning cultures don’t happen by chance.  Building a strong collective learning mindset, a compelling team environment and having the right conversations is a momentum turbocharge for teams. These cultures are crafted by leaders who create environments were curiosity, reflections and deeper discussions are the norm – not the exception. 

Tracey Ezard is a keynote speaker, author and leadership and team educator. Her Ferocious Warmth leadership framework and collaborative learning culture framework The Buzz help leaders build environments that create both quality results and quality relationships. 

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