“Success doesn’t come to you; you go to it.” T. Scott McLeod
Three Key Success Elements
There are three key elements necessary for the success of a peer learning group: the individual, the group and the organizational itself.
At the individual level, the managers who are part of the peer learning group must need to want to be there. At the group level, the peer learning group experience must be compliant with fundamental principles that ensure learning will occur. At the organizational level, upper management must be supportive of the peer learning group in both word and deed.
What does this mean in specific terms?
At the Individual Level: The Learning Mindset
A peer learning group needs to be comprised of managers who want to be there and want to participate. They need to be intrinsically motivated, have the desire to better themselves and develop their skills for the sake of being the best manager they can be. They also need to believe that they can learn new things and be curious about what they don’t know.
This learning mindset prepares them to participate fully in the peer learning group. It means that they are interested in learning how to manage a difficult challenge, recognize the importance of honing their management skills, and are ready and willing to do what it takes. They will be able to take on challenging work, persist in the face of setbacks and achieve at higher levels.
At the Group Level: Trust and Collaboration
For the members of a peer learning group to risk acknowledging the challenges they face and trying out new behaviors that may take time to perfect, there are four foundational principles that need to be met.
In a peer learning group that is psychologically safe, 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.
Every group member has an equal opportunity to participate and communicate their ideas. Regardless of their position or status, the members act as equal participants in the learning and sharing process. They welcome ideas with open minds and engage in a positive and constructive interaction without regard to hierarchy and seniority.
Collaborations requires a cooperative spirit and mutual support and respect. Each member feels supported and is open to sharing their knowledge, skills and ideas with other members to achieve the best possible results. It is the essence of teamwork, because it involves group members assisting one another and providing constructive nonjudgmental feedback.
Learning is the transformative process of distilling the group members’ failures, mistakes, new information and new experiences into actionable lessons. For this to happen, the group members adopt a learner’s mindset, remaining open to new ideas- which is the attitude of a growth mindset.
At the Organizational Level: Group Autonomy and Self-Governance
For peer learning groups to be successful, they need to have the full support of upper management. This is demonstrated in a number of different ways:
- To ensure buy-in from the participants, upper management introduces the Peer Learning Group ProgramÓ as a new professional development approach that the organization will be using and explains the benefits of the program for the managers and the organization.
- The supervising manager for each group member establishes expectations that the manager will actively participate, collaborate, share knowledge and experience, and apply the new techniques learned.
- Upper management authorizes time for the peer learning groups to meet and provides the necessary meeting locations.
- Upper management accepts that peer learning group discussions are confidential and provides the group members with sufficient autonomy to participate in the sessions without management involvement or interference.
- Upper management recognizes and accepts the fact that managers will make mistakes as they try new management techniques and supports their risk taking as part of their learning process.
- Upper management monitors and supports group member performance during practice and after the module is completed.
Successful Peer Learning Groups
The success of peer learning groups depends on: active, positive group member involvement; a safe, equitable and supportive group environment; and upper management sustaining sponsorship. When all three elements are present, the peer learning group experience will result in improved management mastery that leads to better employee performance, employee retention, employee morale and bottom line organizational results. It will also change the horizontal communication between managers and business units, and will reshape the culture towards broader collaboration and openness.
Deborah Laurel, Chief Learning Officer
The Peer Learning Institute