With the start of a new year often comes an opportunity to look back or to look forward with the intent to do things differently. We (may) make resolutions—to read, travel, or exercise more. Perhaps we should bring this same intentionality to our work?
If you are part of any team or group, then you know that decision-making and problem solving are a joint effort. And, we know that for organizations to be successful, individuals must have opportunities to share data, as well as their knowledge and experiences with others.
Yet, when we think of “learning” it is often considered the domain of individuals. For example, as a program manager at a foundation, I focus on learning about my grantees or the issues I’m targeting with my investment strategies. As a nonprofit or corporate leader, I focus on learning about the people I’m serving or the quality and effectiveness of my products or services.
Over the years, we’ve come to know that the key to organizational learning is shared knowledge. Thus, the question becomes, how do we translate individual learning into team or group learning?
A new resource for the field, Facilitating Intentional Group Learning, provides detailed information about 21 activities that can help groups more effectively engage in idea generation, problem solving, and decision-making.
This guide has been informed by existing literature and our consulting practice. We also incorporated feedback from more than a dozen colleagues and partners.
We chose activities that go beyond the most common conversational techniques; although some will be familiar to those in the fields of organizational development and evaluation. From a 20-minute mental model drawing to a 3-hour collective story harvest, each activity is designed to be highly engaging and able to be used by anyone, in any role.
As we developed the guide, we tested the activities with a variety of organizations across issues and sectors.
Recently, I was able to use 2 of the activities as part of our developmental evaluation of Summit Public Schools’ Summit Learning program. Over the previous 3 months we gathered information through surveys, interviews, and meeting observations. We had a lot of learnings to share!
Rather than start by pulling together a perfectly crafted memo or report findings and implications, we decided to design an opportunity to co-create meaning from the analysis among a cross-section of Summit staff and partners. In collaboration with Summit, we developed a 3-hour meeting agenda that utilized 2 of the activities described in the guide.
The goals of the activities were to:
- Develop a shared understanding about schools’ experiences implementing Summit Learning to date
- Begin to identify implications for how Summit supports schools now and in the future
The first learning activity was a Data Gallery, where we displayed the results from our work around the room. Some slides showed graphs and bar charts to depict quantitative information. Others showed themes and anonymous quotes from our interviews with staff. Participants were asked to use sticky dots to identify information they thought was critical to schools’ experiences implementing Summit Learning. They wrote questions on sticky notes and posted them on the relevant slides. The slides were organized into 4 thematic stations and small groups rotated through each station every 15 minutes.
After the Data Gallery, small groups gathered for a conversation using the What? So What? Now What? activity. We chose this activity to ground the conversation about what to do next in a shared sense of what was happening within the initiative. The small group format allowed for the group (a mix of people from marketing, research and development, program staff, and operations) to voice their perspectives before jumping into a large group discussion of implications.
At the conclusion of the meeting, Summit prioritized 3 specific next steps for strengthening its supports to schools. They have assigned staff to lead each effort, and FSG will help execute on some of those in the coming months.
The activities in this guide have numerous applications. We hope to hear how you use them to spur new thinking, understand alternative perspectives, and engage in more intentional, deliberate group learning in 2017 and beyond.