Meetings as a Tool for Learning
We gather for meetings to make decisions, solve problems, build relationships, brainstorm, and many other valuable purposes. In these meetings, we often generate ideas and insights that can fuel the organization’s change and growth. Because we have no system for identifying and recording these learnings, they are forgotten. As a result, meetings present the ideal opportunity to develop your team’s learning capabilities.
What are Learnings?
In short, learnings are key insights or big ideas that are important to your team and worth remembering in 2 weeks, 2 months and 2 years. They are the “Aha!” moments, the deep customer insights, and the revelations that shape your understanding and thinking.
Strategies to Generate Learnings.
Below are examples of how to transform typical meeting conversation into key insights and develop a culture of learning:
Dive deep into problem solving.
Problems are often more complex than we initially think. One tried-and-true approach to unpacking a problem is the 5 Whys. This simple exercise helps to explore and uncover the root cause of a problem. Interestingly enough, it is the questioning approach many young kids take with their parents when trying to learn about the world.
Example Problem: Most of our meetings are a waste of time and viewed as a distraction from getting work done.
Why? People are invited to meetings that aren’t relevant or necessary for them.
Why? Meeting leaders tend to invite everyone who has a connection to the meeting topic.
Why? Meeting leaders don’t want to “insult” anyone by not inviting them.
Why? We have a culture of importance around attending meetings - if you’re not invited, it’s because you’re not important.
Why? Leadership has not been intentional about our culture around meetings as we’ve grown. (root cause)
Set learning objectives.
There are times during a meeting when the appropriate next step is to gather information. It could be that the group is divided on how to proceed or that a decision is high risk. Rather than move forward with what the group thinks is best, step back and identify what you need to learn to be confident in moving forward.
In the Lean Startup method, for instance, ongoing learning is fundamental to product and organizational development. Spending time on anything you think is important but haven’t validated is considered a form of waste. Gather data and feedback to (in)validate your hypotheses. Start by clarifying your assumptions and hypotheses, then run an experiment, interview and observe customers, or review data to surface a true learning.
Eric Ries, founder of Lean Startup explains in his book of the same title,
“Each bit of knowledge… suggest[s] new experiments to run, which move[s] our metrics closer and closer to our goal.”
Keeping track of all the little bits of information enables you to connect dots and make sense of what you’ve gathered. These little bits of information then become meaningful learnings that inform your next steps.
Leverage learning from others.
We all spend time learning - talking to friends, reading articles, listening to podcasts, even watching YouTube. Given the overwhelming amount of content, it’s impossible for anyone to stay on top of it all. The good news is, collectively, a team can build greater knowledge by sharing key takeaways with each other. Rather than forwarding an article or recommending a book, we can relay the insight or meaningful ideas from that content. This helps us make meaning of information and therefore retain it.
According to WNYC’s Note to Self Podcast in their Infomagical campaign,
“only half of the information we take in gets used or stored meaningfully.”
This is all the more reason to distill our content intake into takeaways and share just the big idea with others.
Get in the habit of building in time for learning sharing in meetings by starting with a check-in focused on learnings. In the first few minutes, ask people to share relevant learnings from articles they’ve read or conversations they’ve had, or “Aha!” moments they’ve experienced recently. It will be a nice change from regular (or no) check-ins and what you learn might surprise you!
Recognize when learning is happening.
It’s easy to run past learnings during a conversation. It helps when leaders model that identifying learnings is time well spent. According to the Harvard Business review article: Is Yours a Learning Organization? by David Garvin, Amy Edmondson, and Francesca Gino,
“If leaders signal the importance of spending time on problem identification, knowledge transfer, and reflective post-audits, these activities are likely to flourish.”
Acknowledge when learnings are shared with phrases like, “These are great insights! Let’s capture them for our knowledge base and keep revisiting them as we continue this project.”
Capture and Revisit The Learnings, Too.
Identifying and sharing learnings is a great start. Next, to really leverage the power of learnings, they need to be captured and revisited. This will:
build the team’s collective knowledge,
encourage reflection and foster team learning culture,
drive strategic actions,
keep the conversation relevant, and
Chose a central location to house your team’s learnings - a Google doc, Evernote page, or platform like Meeteor - so everyone on the team can access them. When capturing your meeting learnings, clarify the context in which your learning was generated and include any implications of what was learned.
How does your organization promote a culture of learning and capture meeting learnings? What are the obstacles to doing so?