Considerations for Leaders in Sustaining Organizational Learning within a Flex Work Model
By Madison Hanscom, PhD
Learning organizations are those that acquire information, share it, process it, and use it for continual improvement. All teams must develop mechanisms and buy-in for supporting this knowledge-sharing cycle, though it is particularly important that companies utilizing a flex work model do this well in order to succeed. Without a strong collective knowledge bank, it is likely your company will spend a lot of time taking one step forward and two steps back.
When working in a virtual or remote team, knowledge will be dispersed. It is no longer an option to stop by someone’s office to ask a question, catch someone in the act of using an old protocol and correct their action, or observe an individual doing a task you’re unfamiliar with. Knowledge management and organizational learning have become more important than ever to bridge these divides and sustain smooth operations now (and into the future).
If you are a leader operating in a flex work environment, consider the following when building or sustaining a learning organization:
• Move everything to an electronic/virtual format: If you are operating within a company that is already remote, it is likely that there are no remaining “hard copy” systems of knowledge sharing available. However, if your company works in a hybrid flex model that involves resident employees and teleworkers, it will be important to make all information sharing and access virtual. The idea is every employee should have equal and easy access to organizational knowledge without needing to come into the office.
• Have the right tools in place: If you are working in a blended model or remote model, it is likely you already are using communication tools to keep people connected. Use these tools for sharing information that is critical for internal operations and also customer needs. Any knowledge (e..g, project management details, implementation methodology, technical details) should not just be stored on someone’s desktop — it should be accessible for all team members.
• Build a memory system: Building from the last point, using communication tools is critical, but email will not be enough. There needs to also be a centralized area to store information, lessons learned, and improvements based on these lessons. Do not let your team spend time and resources searching for information that is already known within the company.
• Positive reinforcement: Verbally reward and reinforce behavior that supports the organizational learning process. Did someone take time from their schedule to willingly show a new employee how to contribute to the collective knowledge system? Did someone run into an issue, share it with the team, and propose a new solution? Did someone consult the memory system when they got stuck? Reinforce all forms of behavior that supports organizational learning.
• Foster trust and psychological safety: Sharing lessons learned, near misses, and other important information can feel risky at times. A team member might fear they will be viewed as incompetent or nit-picky. Employees should feel comfortable expressing ideas about work, and the amount of knowledge sharing will be related to the trust and psychological safety they feel. Leaders should take care to build trusting relationships and an environment where speaking up is not associated with any negative consequences.
• Ensure there is a shared understanding of tasks: If there are blind spots in what people are doing across the team, you won’t know what you don’t know. When there is a shared understanding of what tasks are being handled across the team and what information exists in the shared memory system, this strengthens the collective intelligence and the ability to more effectively use and access information.
• Integrate lessons learned into regular (e.g., weekly) meetings: Frequent touch points help to keep organizational learning at the top of employees’ minds. Consider putting “learning” on the weekly team meeting agenda. Not only does this help to keep remote workers feeling connected, it allows information sharing to happen and embed. Encourage team members to jot down the learning moments they experienced throughout the week so they can share with the group and document in the system.
• Debrief often: After any project (or after any large milestone within a larger project), be sure to have a meeting that is solely focused on debriefing the lessons learned and improvements for next time.
• Incorporate what is learned: It is not enough to just discuss what has been learned, there should be ongoing efforts to implement improvements based on lessons.
• Give ongoing attention to the psychological climate: A company might have the perfect system in place to be a learning organization, but if the psychological climate surrounding knowledge sharing is not supportive or does not place value on learning — it will not succeed. Team members and leaders alike must be willing to actively participate in the ongoing process.
• Be a role model: Once agreed-upon standards are in place for organizational learning, it is up to leadership to role model these behaviors. Frequently engage in knowledge sharing and take time to pause and reflect on what has been learned in meetings or other conversations.
At Propulo Consulting, we partner with you to improve the world of work. Our team has the expertise to help you implement a sensible Flex Work strategy without pain. We work with you to ensure your company culture and processes develop accordingly during or after a Flex Work transition so you can continue to deliver results for your organization and customers. Please visit our website for the latest insights and research into flexible work.