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coaching ourselves: business learning 2.0

I recently stumbled across an interview with Phil LeNir about “coaching ourselves”. This whole peer-coaching and learning-from-each-other always seemed interesting to me. Big companies spend big bucks on big training programs that often don’t have a big return. Sure, they evaluate right after the training how people liked it etc. While these figure might make for a nice PowerPoint-justification of the budget, I often have the feeling that the Dollars are not really turned into value as they should.

Part of the problem might be the unreal setting of those workshop-programs. Away from the people I work with. Concepts that don’t easily fit my reality. Little follow-up after these sessions. Maybe it is not so much concepts that need to be taught but rather attitudes, behaviors and approaches. It is telling that most companies don’t track the impact of a training some months after the trainings. That might be too revealing, so you measure where it still looks good. So why go do companies keep going with this kind of training? I suspect that they don’t have any better alternatives.

But maybe there is a better alternative. In these web2.0-days of openness, collaboration and bottom-up intelligence, it seems time for a change in the training departments. Here are a number of these approaches that point in the direction of learning2.0:

Workout – this approach to problem solving was developed at General Electric under Jack Welch and is well documented. Basically, you bring a big group of people together (20-200), state the problem to them, let them come up with specific recommendations and then decide on what to implement. I have worked with this: very bottom-up-ish, very effective and very empowering. 

Wiki & Crowdsourcing – the idea of having an open everyone-contribute encyclopedia seemed very edgy a few years ago. These days wiki sites are amongst the first in almost any Google search and many people rely on its information. Crowdsourcing takes this idea to how work gets done in a company and opens it for the undefined crowds. iStockphoto is an example: people upload their photos and they are sold through iStockphoto with the money being split. What used to be a specialists job (shooting great images) is now up to the crowd.

Open Source Car – the OScar project is a very interesting consequence of this open approach. The idea is to create a car based on the open source principles with the hope of designing breakthroughs in mobility. There are a few basic specs, but the rest is open to everyone with no patents or legal limitations. The current version is at 0.2 but we will see if this approach works.

Omidyar Network – eBay founder, Pierre Omidyar, set up a foundation that tries to enable individuals to improve the quality of life. They invest in people with ideas in areas such as microfinance, participatory media, open innovation, open source and transparency in government. They have an interesting set of projects they founded. What is interesting though is the decentralized nature of their venture. Not some hired researches that crank out great ideas, but funding of the most promising results of the network.

Coaching Ourselves – coming back to the learning issue in organizations. This approach works by getting a small group of learners together, meeting once a week for 90 min and discussing their experience and some relevant concept. No authority is present that teaches and no pre-readings, ppts, actions plans are used. Just one basic theme that is discussed in the group. The premise is that people learn best from their experience. Reflection and relevance are the two ingredients that fuel discussion and learning.

I also like the focus of these sessions. By using the five minds of managers from Henry Mintzberg (the reflective mindset; the analytic mindset; the worldly mindset; the collaborative mindset; the action mindset), the approach tries to keep a balance and not become one-sided. So not just people management, not just strategy, but a balance between the managerial mindsets.

I am just running pilots with this program in a management team. They love it so far. Finally, something non-fluffy and real. Other groups are interested and we want to extend it to non-managers. It is too early to tell, but from the reactions I see in learners and my own assumptions of how to learn best, this might be just the right idea at the right time. Being cost-effective, learning-effective and scalable this might be the better alternative that is currently missing.

Filed under: career, change, coaching, team