In Australia a funny thing is happening. Researchers are watching dolphins teach each other. It all started one day when a dolphin was observed with a conch shell in its mouth. The dolphin shook the shell and ate a fish as it fell out.
What happened next was fascinating. Other dolphins came to watch. The lead dolphin demonstrated the technique, patiently teaching different members of the pod how to fish with the conch. Some dolphins were a little slower to catch on, and were in turn taught by those who had grasped the concept more quickly.
WAIT, WHAT DO YOU MEAN? Let’s repeat that – the top performing dolphins would voluntarily step in and teach the slower dolphins how to catch fish. This effort soon resulted in all of the dolphins being able to catch and eat fish efficiently, saving them both time and energy.
This may be a heartwarming story, but it extends further than we think. Dolphins offer us insight on par with the best management consultants.
It’s quite simple really – we need to be teaching organizations to instill a culture of creating, learning and transferring knowledge. Companies that foster a teaching environment have an advantage, as employees become more adaptable and responsive to changing market conditions.
The Foundation: 4 Ways to Build a Teaching Culture
- Build Leaders: Develop your team into leaders by getting them to teach others, whether it’s through a lunch and learn, or leading a case study analysis. Too often we find leaders wishing that their teams would tackle the tough stuff independently.
- Different is good: Create a culture of openness to unconventional thinking and new ideas – leaders need to show their teams that differences are embraced.
- Create a process: Set aside time each day/week to discuss success stories and challenges. Encourage the team to analyze what worked or what didn’t, with the emphasis being on learning.
- Don’t own the podium: If you’re the leader it can be tempting to dominate the teaching. It’s vitally important, however, for everyone to contribute. With that in mind, make sure that multiple people have an opportunity to teach. You don’t want one person owning the podium.
I’ve watched the teaching/learning model impact us. The lessons are being taught by more and more team members and we’re getting better as a result.
The source of the teaching material comes from everywhere:
We learn from the market, our clients and candidates, as well as each other. In fact, we learned something from a potential internal employee the other day. She analyzed us as an organization and made a strategic recommendation. That recommendation is going into production immediately.
Perhaps the greatest impact of the teaching culture has been the emergence of a new level of interest in what makes us better business partners and consultants. This curiosity has manifested as a willingness to ask questions and conduct research to help us understand how industry, market and competitive forces act to shape the finance and accounting function. It’s helped us evolve from recruiter to business partner, as we help our candidates be better employees and our clients hire more effectively.
Get committed to becoming an organization that teaches. You can start small and then scale it from there. Once you see the momentum building and clear signs that others are taking on the mission, you can wrap something more formal around it. Our head of research is driving forward with Clarity U, our-in house training program. Our dolphins/recruiters learn (and teach each other) about business strategy, negotiation, relationship management and hiring psychology. This teaching culture has strengthened our team, and I think it’s an important part of why we’ve been successful.
Now, if we could all just learn how to fish with a conch shell.