How to cultivate learning agility in yourself and your organisation

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This is part two of a two-part article. You can find part one here.

If you have read part one, you know by now that learning agility is very much part of what helps us drive things forward at Fast Track. However, you may also be wondering how you could bring the same practices into your organisation and how you can develop this skill as an individual.

Here I will provide some practical advice, answering the questions:

  • How can I encourage learning agility in my organisation?
  • What can I do to develop learning agility as an individual?
  • How do I start?

How can I encourage learning agility in my organisation?

I spoke with members of our team at Fast Track about simple ways we think organisations can encourage learning agility and help their teams connect, get to know each other and establish relationships:

1. Start with Onboarding
When new members join Fast Track, we try to open as many doors as possible to help the new person integrate and establish meaningful relationships. To support this aim, we make sure to involve members from across the organisation. We often assign multiple onboarding buddies to a new member rather than one, and we give open access to our knowledge- base from day one. Sébastien (Software Engineer) commented on how shared knowledge shaped his first weeks at Fast Track, “Getting access to the knowledge- base early on during onboarding was hugely beneficial for me and confirmed that knowledge sharing makes part of your job, and is something you do on a day-to-day basis."

2. Lead by example
If you are a leader, you have the responsibility to help drive the change you want to see. If one goal is learning agility, do your best to embody learning agility. Start off by learning more about what it is, then show the way by practicing what you preach.

3. Arrange company-wide workshops and show and tells
We run regular company-wide workshops where members from different teams get a chance to brainstorm, collaborate and create together. We also arrange “show and tell” sessions as part of our sprint reviews. Every second week, we invite the entire organisation to the session to see and celebrate work and learnings accomplished during the sprint. These act as a great regular connection point, and align us with what’s been achieved, what's in focus and what’s coming.

4. Make space in everyone’s calendars to meet and chat
The most impactful action you can take to help your team connect is to make space for social time in their workday. For teams working from multiple locations, scheduling optional drop- in sessions to hook up with their manager or anyone else in the team has proven to be a useful and appreciated concept. Scheduling a weekly drop- in coffee hour for casual conversations is another action we’ve taken to create space for connection and interaction across teams. These sessions serve as a great connection point, whilst giving everyone a social boost and a break from work.

5. If you’re using Slack: experiment!
One of the very first steps we took towards informal, non-work related information and knowledge sharing was creating space in Slack (our main means of communication) for employees to share whatever they want. I can testify that it is as “random” as it is entertaining! A more recent experiment we’re running is making use of the team- building app Donut to help teams and individuals connect virtually. So far so good!

6. Empower your employees to arrange social initiatives
If you are in a decision-making position and find it challenging to allocate time to think about, arrange and participate in social initiatives, make it a priority to empower others in the organisation to arrange and run them. Our most appreciated social events this year were co-created and arranged by our employees such as our virtual scavenger hunt (“FT Grand Prix”) and our most recent after- work poker tournament (“Out of Hand!”).

7. Encourage, don’t force
As an employee, you’re not required to share knowledge, join our Donut rounds, or show up for a poker game after work. We think these initiatives are great opportunities to create more personal connections and engagement but we don’t force them on anyone. You can choose what you want to do and what you don’t want to do. It’s safe to say yes. It’s safe to say no.

What can I do to develop learning agility as an individual?

Your level of learning agility can be developed, but not without effort. Similar to when you train to improve your physical fitness, you need to give your learning agility muscles a good workout, and you can expect gradual growth the more you practice.

A good start is to make a habit of exposing yourself to what’s new and different. You can start saying yes to situations that will bring you new experiences and broaden your perspective, make small changes to your daily routine and spend time with people whose ideas and opinions are different to yours.

Another approach to exploring novelty is to deliberately change your surroundings. When you change your environment you have to adjust your behaviour, and thus discover and learn new things. A simple example is to work from home one day, rather than the office, or to simply work from a different spot in your workplace, wherever it happens to be.

A challenging but impactful way you can practice your learning agility is to shake things up when you notice that you are spending too much time in your comfort zone. Reflect upon what’s beyond this zone of comfort. What opportunities do you find outside of it? What can you do to experience them?

How do I start?

Learning something new is hard because it often means you need to start something new, which habitual beings like us find challenging. That’s human nature. It’s ‘normal’. If you find it hard to start and learn something new - ask for help to get past those first hurdles.

If you’re anything like me - someone who loves the process of learning so much that I sometimes lose track of the desired outcome - ask for help to not let the process of gaining knowledge get in the way of your results. We all need support sometimes. Asking for help is also creating an opportunity for someone else to share their knowledge and talents with you. Another win-win is of course the possibility to socially connect and develop relationships.

If you’ve made it to the end of this article and discovered something new: congrats! You’ve successfully practiced your learning agility! Plus, if you read through this article without becoming distracted, you’ve also given yourself a mental workout by activating your executive function and attention skills (other skills that help you learn, unlearn and relearn).

Before you go, I’d like to invite you to cool down and close your learning loop with some final brain stretching, delivered to you in the shape of reflection questions.

  • What do you know now that you were not aware of before?
  • Did your understanding of learning agility improve as a result of the article you’ve just read?
  • What is the most important learning you take with you?

Finally, if you would like more information, or need a little more convincing that you can improve your learning agility, I highly recommend you give this TED Talk a go.

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