peer to peer learning

The Value of Peer-2-Peer Learning for your Organization

coaching ourselves Culture Renewal Henry Mintzberg lifelong learning management development Peer 2 Peer Peer to Peer Peer to Peer Learning by Jeffrey Beeson

Lifelong learning

Knowledge is accumulating at an ever increasing pace in today's world. As a result, fostering lifelong learning is regarded as essential for a company's on-going success. Individuals continue to learn throughout the course of their working lives. Companies support their employees' learning journey by offering a broad spectrum of courses and trainings as part of their management development programs.

Normally such formal courses and trainings are based on an established template and carried out again and again. Often external experts with specific know-how present this knowledge to the participants. This may provide the most effective way to promote learning centered around hard facts - such as understanding the latest technical innovations. In this learning modus operandi the critical resource is the content expert, not the employee.

This expert mode of teaching also continues to be the primary way to teach key workplace "soft skills" such as leading teams, dealing with conflict, delegating effectively, giving powerful feedback, leading teams etc. Towards this end, prestigious universities and leadership institutes offer extensive leadership and management development courses. These courses are typically limited to certain levels within the hierarchy of an organization because of their cost.

How could this type of learning opportunity be made available to a much larger group of employees in a more cost effective way?

Employees as an overlooked resource

Existing knowledge, work and life experience of employees are often overlooked when providing training opportunities. In fact most learning  occurs by observing and interacting with the people around us. Many leadership and "soft-skill" trainings integrate this resource into their programs as a self-evident component. However, this kind of existing employee knowledge, work and life experience is often overlooked when courses or training opportunities are developed.

How could this existing resource be further leveraged to provide employees with more frequent learning experiences which are not only more impactful but also more cost effective at the same time?

Enter Coaching Ourselves

Phil Le Nir - a former electric engineer at a software firm in Montreal, Canada - was struggling with the dilemma of providing management development opportunities for his staff. He had identified the appropriate course offerings at McGill University but could not afford to offer this coursework to his employees. He approached professor Henry Mintzberg at McGill and asked whether there might be another way to provide a quality management development program for his staff. The seed for Coaching Ourselves was planted during this conversation. This approach has been so successful that Phil left his job to become president and managing director of Coaching Ourselves.

Henry and Phil (and many other important collaborators along the way), developed a process during which employees could learn from their peers. They created a series of modules with state-of-the-art content on various management themes similar to McGill's MBA coursework.  Over 80 modules on different management topics have been developed to date as the foundation of the Coaching Ourselves process. These modules provide both the content and process guidelines for a Coaching Ourselves learning experience. 

Recognizing the power of providing small group learning experiences at all levels of a company's organization, Ensemble Enabler became a certified Partner of Henry Mintzberg's Coaching Ourselves approach.



How does Coaching Ourselves work?

The Coaching Ourselves peer-to-peer learning experience is characterized by the following elements:

1. Each session is limited to a timeframe of 90 minutes

  • The use of 90 minutes is designed to accomodate an optimal adult attention span, and
  • provides a timeslot which can be reasonably scheduled into a busy work day.
2. Learning groups consist of 4 to 6 peers
  • This small group size is critical to create a quality learning environment

3. One person is assigned the role of group host

  • The group host makes certain that the content is discussed within the 90 minute period and
  • that each participant actively participates in the group discussion

The modules consist of a mix of content input and group exercises.  Each activity is designed to be covered in a specific timeframe.  As a result, the group host knows how much time to devote to a specific activity and/or conversation during each phase of the entire module.

Most learning occurs as the participants grapple with the content and relate it to the reality and challenges of their everyday work experience.

An approach to encourage lifelong learning in organizations

Companies that support management development in new and different ways will gain a competitive advantage in today's market place.  Henry Mintzberg's Coaching Ourselves is an unusual approach to encourage lifelong learning in the workplace. Not only does Coaching Ourselves provide companies with management development tools which are cost effective, it also fosters an organizational culture which values continuous learning.

Each Coaching Ourselves modul covers insightful management topics which can be offered to a much larger employee population than is normally possible with courses and trainings.  But that is not all.  When a company embarks on a full Coaching Ourselves program - ie. meeting with your peer-to-peer learning group at least once a month - a different impact begins to become evident.  These kinds of regular learning experiences become part of the fabric of the way people work in the company.  As the relationships in the peer-to-peer learning groups are strengthened and deepened, colleagues are perceived and accepted on new levels. 

Well established peer groups could also enable a company to develop a new strategy to communicate key company information - for instance a new strategy, the latest product/service or a key change initiative.  Building on the Coaching Ourselves process, Ensemble Enabler can support companies to conceive and write custom-tailored modules to be used by the peer-to-peer discussion groups for a broad spectrum of business-related challenges.

The Coaching Ourselves approach is trully in alignment with Ensemble Enabler's deep conviction that the most valuable resource available to any company is its employees. Their existing knowledge and experience are waiting to be set free through peer-to-peer learning.

About Author: Jeffrey Beeson

Jeffrey Beeson

Jeffrey Beeson is both the founder and CAE (Chief Alignment Enabler) of Ensemble Enabler. He brings his wealth of experience in strategy consulting and leadership development to bring systemic approaches and solutions to bear on an organization's most complex challenges.