A few #lrnchats ago we discussed how learning professionals themselves learn. Someone (forgive me, I can’t remember who) recommended that, to learn new things, we should occasionally set out to be the dumbest person in the room - to admit what you don’t understand in order to gain understanding.
Of course, intermittent “dumbness” comes naturally to me. This is particularly true because I work in a room full of software developers, and their conversations, on a good day, sound like German to me. In that situation, in order to learn, you have to be willing to admit that you don’t speak German.
As defined in Part 1 in our Social Series, social learning is the process of learning from those around you, and creating a social learning environment in your workplace is an incredible way to promote collaboration and and build an effective team. But social learning is impossible without trust.
If you want to encourage your colleagues to get involved, you have to create an atmosphere where people are comfortable being the dumb person in the room and admitting what they don’t know. Building a culture of trust will make it easier for everyone to admit when they don’t know the answer.
For the learning and development rock stars out there, here are some thoughts on promoting the dumb-friendly workplace:
- Set a good example. If you don’t understand something, be frank about admitting it. Ask for help, explanation and clarification, trusting that you will set an excellent example for your colleagues.
Also, don't be a jerk if someone doesn't know something. Set a good example with respectful treatment of
- Promote team work. Create situations where your colleagues have to admit something they don’t know. Create an project where people from disparate backgrounds team up to work together on a complex task.
For a hypothetical example, get someone from IT and someone from sales to partner on selecting new customer management software. They will approach the project from two different perspectives and skillsets, and they will need to find a way to communicate and work together to make a good selection.
- Encourage discussion. When you convene meetings or training sessions, set a “dumb-safe place” tone. Make sure your meetings are full of stimulating discussion, and encourage everyone to participate. Ask leading questions that give employees opportunities to demonstrate their what they do know (and what they don’t)
- Tear down walls, perhaps literally. In my own workplace, we all work in one big room. That creates connections, promotes teamwork and ensures that we are all up-to-date with the latest developments. Plenty of companies find great success with open, shared spaces.
If this isn’t practical in your organization, whether because employees need privacy or because your office’s architecture rules it out, consider inaugurating “team working” sessions. These are collaborative jams, where people accomplish their usual work tasks, but together. There’s no leader and no agenda. A team working session brings people into one place, encouraging on-the-spot information sharing.
- Connect virtual employees. If you don’t work in the same office with your colleagues, encourage them to use Skype, Google Talk or another instant messaging client to keep in touch and access their coworkers’ assistance. We have remote employees at OpenSesame, and we use IMs to keep a constant conversation in the background.
- Promote laptops. It’s awfully hard to promote a collaborative, social culture in an office or workplace if people need to be at their isolated desks to get work done. Google issues laptops to all of their employees as a standard rule, to ensure that people can do their work wherever they want. To the extent that you can, promote the use of laptops in your workplace.
Any more ideas? The collaborative workplace is joyful place to be, but it doesn’t happen all by itself. Here’s to embracing the “dumb”!
Photo Credit: ~C4Chaos on Flickr