Hey guess what? Stuff — a very precise word, as you know — has indeed changed. This is without question breaking news, no doubt worthy of chyron placement. Leaders know this. Teams know this. No one’s learning anything new here.

Well, within and among, and perhaps woven throughout — it’s really quite difficult to tell which preposition to use here — that stuff and those changes are myriad…gaps.

Knowledge gaps.

Learning gaps.

Product gaps.

Service gaps.

Experience gaps.

Brand gaps.

Tactical gaps.

Strategic gaps.

Today, however, we’ll just focus on one area.

You know, baby steps and all.

So let’s look at how leaders can help our teams learn and grow.

#1 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY UNDERSTANDING THE QUICKLY CHANGING WORK ENVIRONMENT

 

I mean this in a couple different ways. First, I mean this in perhaps the most literal sense.

The physical environs in which folks are working are quite literally changing.

They’re working from home. In pajama pants. With slippers.

This is made possible, in part, by the plethora of curbside options at our disposal. Whether it’s curbside delivery or curbside pickup, we’ve pretty much figured out how not to leave the house in most circumstances.

This extends to work, too. Those team meetings everyone suffered through from before? They’re happening via video conferencing.

The second way the work environment is changing is that folks are suddenly experiencing a different work culture

In other words, how they do the work is different. So the work environment — as in atmosphere, climate, cultural condition, etc. — has shifted. Now you need to do the work of cultivating a healthy, happy, high-performing culture in this context.

Understanding the environmental shift(s) is crucial because they’ll affect how people are able to learn, and therefore, how they’ll best learn.

 

leaders help teams learn quote

 

Understanding work environments is crucial because they'll affect how people are *able* to learn, and therefore, how they'll *best* learn. #leadership #companyculture #management #wfh #learning Click To Tweet

#2 PINPOINT YOUR PURPOSE

 

I’ll not belabor this, but it’s absolutely critical that you know why your business is in business.

Now, more than ever, organizations and teams need a rallying cry, and your purpose should be it.

It’s also critical because it’s your North Star. It guides your strategic decisions. If your strategic plans aren’t guiding you in that direction, you’re doing it wrong. If a particular strategy isn’t pushing you closer to accomplishing your reason for being, you shouldn’t be pursuing it. Period.

If a particular strategy isn't pushing you closer to accomplishing your reason for being, you shouldn't be pursuing it. #leadership #management #companyculture #purpose Click To Tweet

If you’re not sure about a particular strategy, either your strategy or your purpose isn’t clear enough.

#3 SOLIDIFY YOUR STRATEGIES

 

Once you know why you’re doing what you’re doing, but before you start randomly developing skill sets in your teams, you’re going to need to solidify your organization’s strategies and accompanying strategic objectives.

You see, without setting those and being crystal clear about them, you can’t really know toward what end you’re developing the individuals and teams within the organization.

On the other hand, having strategies both in place and clarified enables you not only to identify particular skill sets, but also to contextualize their application.

#4 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY NAILING DOWN PERFORMANCE OBJECTIVES

 

With strategies in place, leaders and teams know what needs to be done, right?

Well, that also helps us know not only what component processes and procedures are going to be required; but also what skills, behaviors, and abilities are necessary to accomplish those things.

That gives us a lot of the information we need to begin nailing down the specific performance objectives that will coincide with, support, and drive the broader organizational strategies.

#5 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY DETERMINING THE KNOWLEDGE GAPS

 

Remember those gaps we mentioned above?

Leaders help teams learn by determining where the specific knowledge and performance gaps are on a regular basis.

(Pro tip: This will only really happen effectively when coaching happens consistently and effectively, but more on this later on.)

It’s quite normal for there to be gaps between what folks currently know and what they may need to know in order to consistently demonstrate a high level of competency at a particular task related to the aforementioned strategies and objectives.

#6 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY ENSURING BOTH HAVE AN APPROPRIATE UNDERSTANDING OF TEAM ACCOUNTABILITY

 

Leaders and teams have to understand what accountability means and looks like if you have any hope of learning and development going well.

I know that might not seem quite right, but let me explain.

If teams understand accountability to mean “that thing where my manager runs down the list of things I did wrong this past week,” it’s unlikely they’re going to have much interest in being a part of that sort of weekly/monthly ritual.

However, as I’ve opined elsewhere, that’s not really how the healthiest, highest-performing teams conceptualize accountability.

The best leaders and teams understand that accountability is a shared thing between two or more people.

The best leaders and teams understand accountability is a shared thing between two or more people. #leadership #management #companyculture #futureofwork Click To Tweet

 

leaders help teams learn accountability is a shared thing

 

Once you’ve established what accountability is (and isn’t) then you can feel good about setting leaders loose with expectations around coaching. (Because if those managers don’t have accountability right in their minds, coaching can just be a power trip, largely a punitive thing, etc.)

#7 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY WEAVING COACHING AND LEARNING TOGETHER

 

Make both an expectation, make both a consistently positive thing, and make both an organizational way of life.

This is critical because if leaders aren’t regularly working with and investing in their teams, it will be impossible for them to have any sort of understanding of where their folks actually are in regards to knowledge, performance, and so on.

It makes sense, right? How can you know how someone is performing without being around them? Talking with them? Observing them? Discussing their performance with them? Discussing your performance with them? (Yes, I said “your” — if this is puzzling, please peruse the previous paragraph.)

#8 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY DEVELOPING INDIVIDUAL AUTONOMY AND OWNERSHIP OF LEARNING

 

You want your teammates to own their learning and development.

That doesn’t mean you don’t provide tools, that doesn’t mean you don’t bring in outside help, and it doesn’t mean you don’t facilitate opportunities for them.

What it means is that you want to develop in them a sense of initiative.

#9 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY BEING FLEXIBLE

 

This one got pretty important pretty quickly didn’t it?

Individuals, teams, leaders, and organizations are now learning to embrace flexibility, and those who are adaptable are quickly finding that ability to be advantageous.

This applies to learning and development as well.

People learn differently; we’ve known this forever. We also know that there are so many different tools at our disposal now that can aid us in our quest to develop as people and professionals.

What we have to get significantly better at as leaders is our ability to adapt our respective organizations’ mindsets toward learning and development to the modern era’s ever-changing learning landscape.

#10 LEADERS HELP TEAMS LEARN BY LOOKING BEYOND THE TRADITIONAL

 

We’re well past “normal” at this point, aren’t we?

Surreal used to be when my youngest kiddo would randomly bust out a Fortnite dance in public places. (Ah, the memories.)

Before, if someone walked into a store with a mask over their face, you’d either duck and cover or run and tackle the could-be concealed crook, right?

But now? Well, we’re probably performing a quick mental calculus to determine whether the possible pilferer is (1) indeed an incognito outlaw or rather a covid-cautious citizen, (2) plus or minus six feet away, and (3) wearing an appropriate protective mask.

What I’m saying is that we don’t really have any idea what constitutes “the norm” anymore.

The same is true at work, and the same is true with how people learn.

People are learning on-the-go. They’re pulling out their phones so they can learn to do something themselves, they’re checking Instagram videos for content that’s relevant to them, and they’re searching Twitter or Instagram for topics they want to learn about.

Heck, Mark (Arnold) and I were just on a live video session with someone yesterday on best practices related to content creation, social media, brand strategy, launching platforms, and so on. Their organization is wanting to learn, grow, explore. That’s a place that gets it.

Think about this way. The universe has given you and your organization permission to reinvent things. People are actually expecting you to.

So go ahead. Think about learning differently.

WHAT’S NEXT? ACTION. HERE’S WHAT YOU CAN DO:

 

Look through the steps above, and apply them to your context. What do they look like for you?

  • How has the environment changed?
    Think through the specific changes and what they mean, from organizational, team, and individual perspectives. We facilitate an Thriving through Change session that’s great, as well as one on Leading Teams through Change. They’re designed to work together, with the latter designed for leaders.
  • What’s your organization’s purpose?
    Now more than ever, your team needs a rallying cry, and that should be it. We just helped another of our clients clarify theirs on a live video call last week, and they did a fantastic job.
  • What are the specific strategies you’re pursuing right now?
    Do you know what’s most important? Does your team? What are the clear strategies that all your mental energies are being directed toward right now?
  • Have you defined the performance objectives?
    What do folks need to be able to do in order for those strategic objectives to happen? Have you thought that through? You need to.
  • Where are the knowledge gaps?
    There are likely gaps between folks’ current performance level and the level at which they need to be able to demonstrate proficiency in specific competency areas. Identifying those is a crucial step.
  • Is there a universally understood and accepted definition of accountability?
    If there’s not, it’s a recipe for resentment.
  • What’s coaching look like?
    Is it part of everyday life? Do people look forward to it? If not, something’s wrong.
  • Who owns learning?
    If your answer is, “The Training Department,” you’re doing it wrong. Individual ownership, autonomy, and initiative is what we’re after.
  • How flexible are your learning options? (Are you providing learning options?)
    How are folks able to learn, grow, and develop?
  • What methods are you using?
    If the answer is “the intranet,” we’re in trouble.

WHAT WILL YOU DO?

 

First, list the specific changes, and think through what those changes COULD mean for YOU, YOUR TEAM, and YOUR ORGANIZATION.

Then, give me (Matt) a shout and let’s talk those through,

AND THEN, leave us a comment below. So think those through, and then let’s be leaders who help teams learn.

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