The challenge of building a learning culture

In January 2016, during our monthly Lean Coffee, the Agile Business Analysts / Iteration Managers here at SEEK were discussing knowledge sharing and learning. Historically there had been a few sessions where individuals had been sharing tips and tricks, but nothing with a regular cadence.

Not enough time to learn.

The overall feeling was that knowledge shares were really valuable, but time pressure from day to day work always gets in the way.

Experiment 1 — The BA Dojo

We wanted the team to feel empowered, give them the courage and permission to take time out of their busy day to day work, to learn. Feeling the desire to try something different, we decided to experiment running a BA Dojo, a place where we could get together to: learn, share ideas, help each other out or even just read a book.

Dojo — A Japanese word meaning ‘place of the way’, usually refers to a place for training.

We ran with a lean coffee format, this gave everyone the option to suggest topics, vote and create the agenda in the session.

What we Learned

The feedback was generally good, attendance around 6 or 7 people per session (About 30% of the BA /IM’s ).

There were 2 common pieces of feedback:

How do we get more people to attend?

A desire to know the agenda and topics beforehand, so people could decide whether to attend or not and make effective use of their time. We experimented with a Trello board of topics, but this lead to an interesting paradox.

I want to know the agenda before hand… but you want me to suggest topics too … present something of my own…commit beforehand…. but I don’t have time….

Ok, so the quote above isn’t exactly real, but nicely captures the difficulties we were facing.

Experiment 2 — Agile Dojo

To help address our other common feedback theme, we decided to expand the audience, opening it up to anyone. We also changed the format, trying Open Space Technology and booking multiple rooms, to have simultaneous sessions.

What we Learned

There were some great topics, run by some new attendees. The sessions were now accessible to more people, but, we still only had about 6 or 7 people per session (Only about 10% of the Agile community at SEEK). The overhead in trying to motivate multiple people ahead of time to prepare and run topics was becoming ever more time consuming. The multiple room idea wasn’t working, not enough topics.

Experiment 3 — Focusing on one thing at a time

With attendance still pretty low and a clear desire for attendees to know topics upfront, we decided to focus each session on 1 topic and have the session at the same time: 2nd Wednesday of the month — as lunch and learn.

What we learned

First up, in the new format, was a session on Design Thinking. We had the best attendance numbers, so far, of 11. Promoting the session topic up front seemed to make a bit of a difference.

Since then we have had sessions on:

Agile Coaching

Designing, Planning and Running great workshops using visualisation and Mental rehearsal.

Great Visual Management for Business Agility.

Mastering Scrum.

I’d like to say attendances have been gradually getting bigger, but in reality, they have been up and down.

What’s Next

Hopefully, the new year will inspire others to get involved, share their knowledge and build the learning culture further.

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