You and Your Team Series
A learner’s development is dependent on a willingness to make mistakes, challenge ideas, and speak up about concerns — as John and his colleagues did in their group. Unlike some learning methods — like tests or exams, or high-pressure demonstrations of skills — peer-to-peer learning creates a space where the learner can feel safe taking these risks without a sense that their boss is evaluating their performance while they are learning. You’re more likely to have candid conversations about areas you need to develop with a peer than with someone who has power over your career and income. In peer-to-peer learning, the dynamics of hierarchy disappear. And unlike other methods — like classroom lectures or online compliance training — peer-to-peer learning provides a structured opportunity to have these discussions to begin with.
A secondary benefit of peer-to-peer learning is that the format itself helps employees develop management and leadership skills. Group reflection conversations help employees master the difficult skills of giving and accepting honest, constructive feedback. Because feedback flows in both directions, participants in peer-to-peer learning tend to put more time and energy into making sure the feedback they provide is meaningful. They think from the perspective of their peer, consider where each is coming from, and try to get specific about what will be most helpful and constructive. This doesn’t happen as often when a boss delivers one-way feedback to employees. Similarly, peer learning gives employees experience in leadership, handling different points of view, and developing skills such as empathy.
Setting Up a Peer Learning Program
Formal peer-to-peer learning programs can take many forms. As a manager, you can hold your program online or in person. Your program could pair participants in one-to-one sessions, create cohorts working together on real work problems over a few months, or involve weekly sessions in which individuals share the latest knowledge they’ve gained with their peers with plenty of time for discussion and reflection.
To make any peer-to-peer learning program successful for your team, we recommend a few best practices:
Appoint a facilitator. Although the structure of peer learning is horizontal rather than hierarchical, it’s important to have a neutral party who is not the team’s manager facilitate the program to keep in on track. This person — ideally a skilled facilitator — should organize sessions, keep everyone on topic, keep conversations moving forward, and maintain a positive atmosphere for participants to learn, experiment, and ask questions.
Build a safe environment. Peer learning only works when participants feel safe enough to share their thoughts, experiences, and questions. They need to be open and vulnerable enough to accept constructive input, and also have the courage to give honest feedback rather than telling people what they want to hear.
To build a safe environment, set ground rules. Some suggestions: confidentiality must be honored; feedback should be perceived as a generous gesture that should always be met with gratitude; participants should practice empathy, putting themselves in others’ shoes; and participants should never be mocked or embarrassed for expressing themselves in front of their peers.
Focus on real-world situations. Whenever possible, these sessions should focus on genuine problems to solve. People are more likely to participate, learn, and remember new skills if they are learned in the course of addressing a real-life challenge.
Encourage networking. It helps to set up online social networks around learning, organize networking events for people to discuss their area of expertise, and establish learning groups that meet regularly to discuss ideas. Some organizations build company-wide campaigns in an effort to get everyone involved.
With a well-built peer-to-peer learning program in place as a complement to more traditional learning programs, your team will build lasting skills and relationships that will allow them to bring the skills they learn in those programs into their daily work.9LikeSave