I just experienced the most interesting professional learning event I’ve ever attended. It took less than an hour and I didn’t have to leave my office.
What made it great was that I had a chance to meet some savvy communicators from around North America (virtually via webcam). And after introductions and a brief discussion of the format, we all had a chance to work on a a real-world challenge one of the attendees is facing on her job.
Without breaking our “what is said in Circle stays in Circle” rule, I can share that the member – after answering some questions — heard a variety ideas and suggestions from the group. At the end, she played back the suggestions she said she would use starting the following Monday. ”I will be interested in continuing this discussion with you folks after that,” she said.
So what was so great about this quick demo of peer learning? How was it different from the countless other seminars, workshops, conferences and webinars that I have attended, and dare I say, Communitelligence has produced? Here are some of my observations:
- We were focused on a real world challenge. The engagement level cranks up a notch when the topic is not just a concept or a new best practice, but a real challenge presented by a peer. Rather than leaning back in student-lecture mode, passively listening and occasionally taking notes, we were listening carefully because we this was a fellow Circle member sharing something meaningful and we knew she wanted our best ideas to help her. That a powerful motivator to stay focused during this virtual meeting.
- There’s power in sharing your issues. The member presenting their issue had a chance, maybe for the first time ever, to verbalize a serious problem they were facing to a low-risk sounding board. This simple chance to share allows the presenter to think more deeply about the issue , express ideas they are thinking of, and even divulge some hopes and fears. At one point the presenter told us, “I don’t want to bias you with some baggage I picked up at a previous job. I want to keep this a white sheet issue for this group.”
- There is not just one topic under discussion. Most training events are finely focused on just a single topic, like change management or employee engagement. In the Circle, by virtue of the challenge presented to the group, you might talk about governance, leadership intransigence and social media in under 10 minutes. This diversity and spontaneity of topics raised is key as communicators need to be knowledgeable and conversant on all communication processes, channels and technologies.
- The ideas surfaced make your strategy stronger. By synthesizing what a diverse group of peers say they would try under your circumstances, you have a much clearer picture of what strategy to implement. And when you go to sell it to y our superiors, you have much more confidence and credibility because it wasn’t just your idea baked solo.
- You have your finger on the pulse. Hearing from other members on what’s going on in their businesses and industries gives you a rare, behind-the-scenes glimpse of the real challenges and changes happening in our profession. That’s incredibly valuable in a VUCA world where so many things are slip sliding away and being replaced with strange and often upsetting changes.
- We get to practice critical skills that will help our organizations and careers. Since everyone is on point to help one another, we all get to practice our listening, strategic thinking and leadership skills that will help us be better and more trusted strategic advisers in our organizations. Hearing about an issue for the first time one minute, and formulating possible approaches to it the next, to a group of peers, is to walk a tightrope with a secure net below. This is career development at its best.
- We have a new network of professional BFFs (Best Friends Forever). Each Circle lasts three months but, after meeting and “working” with a cohort of peers, we now have an expanded network of smart professionals we can call on when new challenges (and opportunities) arise.
- You leave the meeting with a sense that you’re part of something new and exciting. Whether you call it immersive training, the flipped classroom or peer-to-peer learning, there’s a strong feeling that this is where professional knowledge sharing and development is headed. I’m doubly excited because it demonstrates our long-standing Communitelligence slogan: All of us are smarter than one of us.