A group of would be friends


August 21, 2011 by jonmillymiles

I was on Twitter the other day and managed to get myself involved in a discussion with Jane Hart, the Founder of the Centre for Learning & Performance Technologies (C4LPT), about social media in the workplace.

The question was asked “r most “learning” initiatives doomed due 2 either org constraints or employee non-interest?”

I asked for clarification “non-interest or not being engaged by the programme” as in my organization various programmes have come and gone purely because they did not reach out and grab people. They failed to actively engage with staff and provide them with reason for their existence. The staff turned off and the initiative died.

Jane clarified that she meant “non-interest in their job, as without that programme engagement is irrelevant” and to all extents and purposes I agree with that. Die hard ostriches will only choose to get involved with something that offers them something for nothing. But could a programme change this? Could active engagement by a learning programme add job enrichment and therefore make someone love their job more?

Well I have seen this happen. Jane asked me to tell her about it. This is that story…

Within our organization our teaching staff are divided down into teams teaching similar subjects. I’m not sure if it is because all of these teams are scattered to the four winds throughout our building of some 300 rooms, but they are very insular: there is little meaningful communication between them. This affects the organizations work, as far as I can see, in so much as best practice is rarely spread and initiatives and events are seen as being “owned” by teams and other staff therefore disengage from them. People work within 20 metres of someone who they may never speak to in 5 years.

Sad isn’t it. The effect that this has on staff moral can be crippling, with little staff motivation and a general feeling of disconnection within the place. I would go to the extent of saying that some staff literally just turn up for their pay check. For a normal office job that may seem acceptable, but in a teaching environment that lack of enthusiasm is crippling as it can carry over in to your work.

We have been running a programme of evidence based training for several months now headed by our training development guru (not me!!). We call it “Supported Experiments” because we give our staff the opportunity to take a risk with a lesson: to try a new style of delivery and to document and share their findings. Over time we have built up some telling data the most surprising piece is that barely a single “experiment” as gone awry. They have all added something to our lessons.

After the initial brief we received 40 requests to take part in the training for the programme. At the evaluation point (6 months later) this number had dropped to about 8. Reasons cited for withdrawing ranged from overwork through to not being able to see the advantages through to a few people saying “I thought that I was only having one day of training… not three”!!!

Those that stayed shared information, findings and ideas, both in the training sessions and online in forums, emails and through our Moodle based VLE. In fact, it was my job to upload testimonial videos of our students as to how much they enjoyed their lessons and other media and evidence generated by our staff.

What I began to notice is that those that stayed and shared began to grow closer together. Gradually they began to leave their offices and walk and talk to each other. People who had previously been isolated by geography were breaking down the barriers themselves and beginning to forge new frontiers… to the office just down the corridor!!! They became more lively, confident and began to speak with enthusiasm and hope.

One of the people who stayed in the programme loved their job immensely: they really wanted to teach and wanted to be the best at it they could, however, other issues conspired against them and they wanted to leave the organization. They were on the brink of handing in their resignation. But by taking part in this programme they found themselves working with a group of individuals that they could relate to and connect with.

The group really came into their own when they had to travel to our headquarters to take part in a Learning Fair, showing off their work to others and talking with senior management to promote the initiative. They won over the crowd and showed what could be accomplished in a few short months with a few dedicated people. My friend’s status on Facebook read “This is why I love my job”.

But, the night before they went out for a meal… I’ve seen the pictures and by all accounts it was a fantastic night and this is when it struck me:

This programme had achieved much more than improving our teaching practices. By sharing information we had tapped into the human “need” to be social and created a sense of community founded upon mutual respect.

I cannot overstate the value in what I have said above. Sharing breeds mutual respect and understanding. A sense of belonging and identity. With children we encourage them to share toys and sweets while infants will naturally share food. Even cats, the most independent animals on the planet, will quite happily drop half a dead mouse at your feet!!

So, what are my plans. Well, I want to facilitate sharing.

I’m now investigating Social Media as a way to overcome the geographical constraints of a couple of walls and a flight of stairs!!! From a serious point of view Social Media is the only viable way to have over 200 staff sharing coherently. Now, I know that there are going to be security issues with me getting the platform approved, so in the meantime I am going to do my best using Moodle. I am looking to provide forums, wiki’s, shared file space and even a rudimentary “wall” for staff to post to.

In order to gain engagement from the staff I am going to get our charities and professional training people to actively use it. One of our training officers is about to start publishing a news letter for the building so I am going to provide them with help uploading it and making it available online. Publicity and demonstration of purpose will have to be high on the agenda along with content, interaction and engagement by staff at all levels.

I feel that by doing this we can go some way to replicating what happened with that small team. While we may not break down all the barriers, we can at least begin to introduce sharing and gain some, if not all the benefits that it generates.


4 thoughts on “A group of would be friends

  1. Navinder Vilkhou says:

    Some of what you have written has scary resonances with where I work.

    Insularity is a killer. There are 10 separate services and the staff aren’t very good at talking about what they do. Also, funnily enough, is e-mail at work. I do refer to e-mail communication betwen services and managers.

    It used to be a defence mechanism – if you’ve got it in writing it’ll protect you when the S*it hits the fan – as it quite often does (I actually bought a mini-fan from Argos – but that’s a different story). Now, I’m of the opinion that its quicker and friendlier to go and speak to people to get – or keep – the communication channel open.

    All good communication should start from above – all managers should set an example. Not sure what moodle is or whether it would be appropriate for where we work. But we are talking about an organisation where it takes WEEKS (I kid you not) to get a printer network set up. God help you if it goes down, ‘cos you’re screwed.
    take care.

    • Navinder, thank you for your comments, its nice to know that we are not the only dysfunctional “family” out there.

      I don’t believe that good communications begins at the top, although it does help. I believe that good communications begins with one person actively choosing to open up and empowering others to share. This can be done just by asking simple questions like “What do you think?” and “How did you do that?” Slowly it catches on and others start to open up and talk… it goes viral.

      As for the technological side, Moodle is a Virtual Learning Environment that is widely used in schools and universities around the world. But there are alternative systems that can be used such as BuddyPress, Yammer and even Facebook, if you are allowed.

      Ultimately the method does not matter, it is the practice of sharing, and with it listening, which forms meaningful working relationships.

      I hope this gives you further food for thought. Jon.

  2. Nic Laycock says:

    Hi Jonathan

    Your post and the discussion inspired me – I do a bit of work with Jane Hart so this is a toipic of common interest! I have blogged as a result of your post

    • Nic, I have read your blog and I think it is fantastic. It has made me think about my role within the organization a lot. My remit is one of introducing technology to our teaching, although this is likely to expand to one of teacher development encompassing coaching, evidence based teaching and the technological side. However, I cannot help but feel that all of this will enable a culture shift to the more social, human working environment that you speak of.

      Thank you for one of the most thought provoking reads that I have had.

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