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Leveraging Cognitive Diversity through Peer Learning Groups

Leveraging Cognitive Diversity through Peer Learning Groups

Peer learning groups involve managers learning with and from each other as fellow learners without any implied authority to any individual. They share their knowledge and their unique perspectives to help generate innovative solutions to real management challenges.

Cognitive Diversity

Learning is social and while you can learn something from anyone, it turns out that you learn best from people who are not exactly like you. Peer learning groups, as envisioned by The Peer Learning Institute, include managers who have different styles of problem-solving and can offer unique perspectives because they think differently. They embrace and exploit what is called cognitive diversity.

According to Shani Harmon and Renee Cullinan, cognitive diversity is the range of ways in which people:

  1. Make sense of new information (How we take in, absorb and process information)
  2. Solve problems (How we design and go through the process of exploring evidence, generating options, making choices, and managing risk)
  3. Respond to an unfamiliar situation(How we source the confidence to move ahead in the face of ambiguity)

This type of diversity produces better business outcomes. It enhances innovation by 20%, reduces risks by 30%, and eases the implementation of decisions.

Cognitive Diversity Makes a Difference

According to Alison Reynolds and David Lewis in Teams Solve Problems Faster When They’re More Cognitively Diverse, a high degree of cognitive diversity can generate accelerated learning and performance in the face of new, uncertain, and complex situations. Peer learning groups provide the safe space for this to occur.

“If cognitive diversity is what we need to succeed in dealing with new, uncertain, and complex situations, we need to encourage people to reveal and deploy their different modes of thinking. We need to make it safe to try things multiple ways. This means leaders will have to get much better at building their team’s sense of psychological safety.”

Peer learning groups help embody one of the forecasts from the DDI Worldwide Global Leadership Forecast 2018: “When people …think differently about potential solutions, [and] experiment in order to build the highest value solutions, …they begin to overcome the challenges to innovation in an organization.”

Peer Learning Groups Allow Different Modes of Thinking

Peer learning groups, created by The Peer Learning Institute, are based on four foundational principles that recognize and value cognitive diversity:

  1. Psychological Safety. Members feel comfortable: acknowledging mistakes; asking for feedback; maintaining an open mind to opinions different than their own; actively listening; and accepting all ideas equally and without judgment.
  2. Equality. Regardless of their position or status, every group member has an equal opportunity to participate and communicate their ideas.
  3. Mutual Support. Each member feels supported and is open to working with other members to achieve the best possible result by sharing their knowledge, skills and ideas.
  4. A Growth Mindset. The group members adopt a learner’s mindset where learning is the transformative process of distilling their failures, mistakes, new information and new experiences into actionable lessons.

Each of these fundamental values encourages and supports cognitive diversity.

If you want your managers to be more creative and innovative, and deal more effectively with complexity, mobilize the natural cognitive diversity that exists in your organization and use peer learning groups to leverage these thinking differences for better performance and problem-solving. Two heads are better than one, but only if they think differently.

Deborah Laurel, Co-Founder and Chief Learning Officer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Peter Korynski, Co-Founder and Chief Program Officer                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        The Peer Learning Institute