In an article for the Harvard Business Review, John Hagel III and John Seely Brown posit that many leaders consider that organizational learning involves existing knowledge. This is understandable, since this the focus of formal education, training and leadership development programs. They use the “sage on the stage” model, where experts share their expertise without acknowledging that there might be useful expertise in the room. These experts share “best practices” that they assert will work in most organizational contexts and situations.
Hagel and Brown take a different view of organizational learning. They suggest that, rather than sharing existing knowledge, the most valuable form of learning today is the creation of new knowledge. Organizations can no longer rely on the explicit knowledge in procedural manuals. When new and unexpected situations crop up, managers need to improvise effective responses. Learning occurs as they quickly develop and test new strategies to improve their performance results. This gives them new knowledge about what works and what doesn’t work in specific situations.
Most new knowledge is tacit (unspoken but based on first- hand experience) and evolves as the managers confront new situations. According to Hagel and Brown, the learning necessary to create new tacit knowledge is best done in small work groups. Why? Because small work or peer groups help the members “form deep, trust-based relationships with each other so that they can feel comfortable trying new things … and reflecting collaboratively on what worked and what didn’t work.”
Interestingly enough, this is an exact description of structure and intent of The Peer Learning Group Program©. Peer learning groups are limited to 6 managers, who have the same levels of responsibility but come from different parts of the organization. The groups are small enough so that every member can speak and be heard by the other members.
All group members attend an introductory module (in the Core Set) designed to build trusting relationships so they will feel comfortable sharing their knowledge and experience. The Peer Learning Group Model© provides a framework for the managers in the peer learning group to: discuss a specific job challenge, articulate and pool their thoughts, gain new perspectives and information, practice using new strategies in their worksite to meet the challenge, and then reflect on what worked and what didn’t work.
Peer learning groups are an excellent way for managers to create new knowledge.