By Tristia Hennessey, Lead Instructional Designer

In today’s business world there is an overwhelming amount of new tools, resources, and programs. All these tools and technology are intended to make us more efficient, effective, and ultimately help us in our day-to-day work. Every piece of software we use to aid in organization or production has at least 10 other features we aren’t aware of or understand well enough to incorporate into our workflow. Upskilling is almost like a separate job. To stay competitive and productive in constantly updating work environments, teams need dedicated time to upskill and follow new technology and business trends.

Sure, sending your teams off to conferences and courses can show your investment in their development, but upskilling is a daily activity that needs to happen in the course of work not outside of work. Conferences are a fantastic way to inspire new ideas and peak curiosity. However, we learn a lot less when we are drinking from the information firehose of today’s conferences, than we do by fostering open communication among our teams, creating a learning-friendly culture, spending dedicated weekly time learning, and creating learning opportunities within our workflows. So how do we achieve those things?

1. Fostering open communication and creating a learning-friendly culture

“Because that’s the way we have always done it” leaves little hope for a learning culture. In today’s ever-changing tech landscape, businesses need to adapt to grow, or get left in the dust. Adapting means communicating with your team and giving them the time and resources they need to improve your business.

Have a dedicated communication space for learning and sharing. Use Slack, Teams, Miro, Trello, whatever works for your project and maintain a dedicated space within to communicate and share ideas, tips, information among your teams. Having a digital space to share allows employees to step in and out of the learning environment as they have time between tasks.

Set an example by putting together some tidbits, sharing tutorials that you find helpful, or doing a screencast using Snagit or Camtasia showing step by step instructions to a task. Sometimes it’s as easy as linking to job aids or guides or asking questions about a project – “Can you think of any ways we can use some of the graphic elements in this style guide for this part of the project?” or “Everyone please list one thing you notice about these formatting styles that we may want to incorporate into our project style guide.” Be sure to spotlight the efforts of other departments to foster interest and cross-collaboration.

Plan to use some time during your regular team meetings to have team members do a mini presentation on the topic, or have dedicated discussion time for learning & development, where teams can share ideas, tips, and tricks – and then point to the resources around them for folks to check out during their scheduled learning time.

Try a rotating schedule and tasking people with finding something helpful to share with the group – maybe it’s productivity tips in Outlook for organizing email or creating email templates. Maybe it’s sharing a library of images or media they found online or got access to from a different department in the company. Sharing the responsibility of curating the learning content reinforces the idea that establishing a learning culture is something you can all do together, with relatively little time investment. Making it a regular and rotating deliverable with discussion opportunities distributes the workload and shows your team that they have the time too.

2. Spend dedicated time each week for learning

This one’s relatively straight forward. Schedule time on your calendar for learning and get your team to do the same on their own calendars. Remember, you set the example so if you want them to take it seriously, you have to make learning a priority. Whatever organization you are in, allow your team at least 1 or 2 hours per week dedicated to learning and development. Before you start thinking, “There’s no way we have bandwidth for that!” hear me out: In a 40-hour week, 2 hours is 5% of their time; if that makes the other 95% more productive, it’s more than worth it. It shows your employees that you care about their development and keeps them from looking for greener pastures.

3. Create opportunities for learning in workflows

This last one is a little trickier and depends a lot on your business, your team’s structure, as well as their responsibilities and functions within the organization.

You need to observe your team – your whole team, not just a few over- or under-performers. Be present in their work and know what they struggle with, or where they need improvement. If a team member is consistently writing unclear emails or being verbose when a few sentences are enough, then you (as their leader) can decide to either: A.) remove that responsibility from their list, or B.) give them an opportunity to improve their writing skills. A writing course over a few days or weeks may be a great experience for that team member that could save not just you, but your whole team hours of editing time.

Maybe there’s a team member that can’t seem to remember to check all the boxes before submitting a report and there’s always missed steps in their work. That team member would benefit from spending some time learning about how to organize their work and developing their own checklists or accountability systems.

Maybe there’s a team member who has expressed interest in certain duties that could shadow another employee through the process and write up a summary of their experience to reinforce what they have learned and bring about some new ideas. This might end up in your having to explain why X can’t be done, but all that will do is give them additional insight into the process.

Alternatively, they might come up with fantastic ideas and you win yet again, all by paying attention to your team and being on the lookout for development opportunities. This isn’t as quick and easy a solution as the first two – it requires being aware, involved and invested in your team. It is, however, far more valuable, and effective an approach for a leader who cares about growing their people, their productivity, and their impact on business success.

Fostering open communication among our teams, creating a learning-friendly culture, spending dedicated weekly time learning, and creating learning opportunities within our workflows are all ways you can ensure your employees are able to find their footing and make a positive impact within your organization.