Thursday, 23 August 2012

Rebranding social learning through the art of collaboration

I've been talking a lot to people about the value of collaboration, as a vehicle for social learning and  creating solutions for complex issues. However, the practical application of 'true collaboration' is limited and remains a nebulous concept for many. Further, the notion that informal learning can occur through conversation, is perhaps seen as haphazard and disorganised, particularly in organisations that restrict the autonomy of its people and equate control with the illusion of order.

Jane Hart suggests that it may be wise to support social learning under the banner of Workplace Collaboration. I like this idea of 'rebranding' social learning, in a covert way, to embed learning in the workflow. In the end it's about performance on the job and what we call this informal learning path to achieve this is incidental.

Interestingly, a group of colleagues took this idea of using collaboration as a vehicle for informal learning and created a structured opportunity for people to come together, share ideas and engage in a dialogue. This established a forum for discussion and a relevant, specific context for learning.

A collaborative structure was introduced into a human services case management environment and was branded as 'Summarise / Analyse / Strategise' (SAS).  SAS rapidly became a colloquialism and the meaning inherent in 'Summarise / Analyse / Strategise' went a long way to marketing the new learning opportunity.

Another term introduced to rebrand and demystify collaboration was 'case conversations'. This label is now used more broadly to also include unstructured, spontaneous discussions about cases in a timely way that essentially provides an avenue for 'pulling' the learning 'just-in-time'.

The case conversations are gradually becoming a habitual work practice for many case managers and demonstrate Jay Cross's observation that conversations are the stem cells of learning, and social networks are the carriers of conversation.

This collaborative structure has been a considerable success both in terms of facilitating case management outcomes and supporting informal learning. Key ingredients of this process have included:
  • Access to subject matter experts and other experienced senior colleagues
  • Providing a formal framework to support the summarise/analyse/strategise process
  • Creating a non-threatening, respectful environment with a spirit of collaboration
  • Generating tangible learning and performance outcomes for case managers
  • Highlighting the value of sharing and narrating your work
  • Creating a sense of empowerment and a degree of autonomy
Another feature of the SAS approach has been the trickle-down influence on the work practices of case managers outside the formal structure. The organisation has also provided low budget enhancements to the physical workspace, with the acquisition of round-tables to support spontaneous case conversations.

This shift to a more connected, collaborative culture has energised the workspace, increased capability, enabled innovative solutions and enriched the experience of work for many case managers. Will it also flow on to improving engagement and retention in a high turnover industry? Perhaps! 

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