6 Strategies to Nurture Peer Learning Practices
Peer learning has become extremely popular in academic settings, but how does it work among the office? Well, pretty much the same way. Creating an environment where Administrative Assistant team members are comfortable to ask each other for help and in turn, help each other, is going to completely evolve your workplace in terms of morale and productivity. How can you do this? This works best when you have teams collaborating on the same project, or have a common goal in mind, but once it is part of your office culture, you will see it manifest in even daily tasks. Here are 6 Points of Wisdom (POW) that are essential to incorporate into your peer learning:
POW #1 Leverage common threads among participants. Peer learning works best when participants have a lot in common in their roles, functions or issues. What is important to everyone involved? Is there something at stake, a shared challenge, opportunity or goal? Multi-organization peer learning groups are likely to have shared focus areas, like a joint project or a community population they serve. For peer communities within an organization, focus on needs or challenges that span departments or center on organizational strategies.
As you identify the common thread that drives the need to connect and learn from one another, consider aligning groups around:
- Position or title.
- Level in the organization.
- Experience level.
- Function, duties, and/or responsibilities.
- Research projects, specific challenges, industry pressures or initiatives.
POW #2 Align around the peer learning community’s purpose. Stakeholders — sponsors, program staff, community partners, champions and participants — all have goals and expectations about what participation in a peer learning program will yield. Discover an intersection where a goal can fulfill multiple stakeholder objectives. Verify the value of the purpose with the different groups involved. Based on the needs, you can innovate and experiment with the best facilitation methods, frequency of interaction, online tools, success metrics and length to achieve those objectives.
However, a major pitfall occurs when the organizers or sponsors of the peer learning community are unaware of or disconnected from the participants’ current context. For instance, a sponsor might want the facilitator to say, “Tell us how you’re implementing your quality improvement plans,” when in reality, few people in the group have the resources to even get started on a quality plan. Peer learning facilitators help bridge this gap by returning to the common purpose, starting with the current reality, then growing capacity to move toward the desired future.
POW #3 Focus on what matters most. Check in with participants individually or in small groups to find out what is top of mind or keeping them up at night. To create a core of engaged, enthusiastic colleagues who help keep discussions dynamic, check in with members by email or phone; ask specific individuals to share their ideas or experiences in an upcoming discussion, or invite members to present or be a case study.
Prepare for your conversation to be as concise and engaging as possible, especially when speaking to busy staff whose participation might be limited by their availability to work outside their normal scope of work. Consider an informal advisory committee of active participants to identify their top issues, goals, challenges, opportunities, topics of interest, etc. Participants often appreciate being asked for their guidance. What’s going on in their world? What value could the peer learning group offer them? Share topics you are considering and ask participants to suggest specific angles or examples they’d like to explore.
POW #4 Build trust and camaraderie. Peer learning facilitators, listen for themes, capture key ideas and resources, maximize time, and create opportunities for participants to bond. Participants can concentrate on sharing and learning, knowing that one person is keeping the conversation on track and moving forward.
Ensure everyone feels safe and has a chance to participate. Psychological safety is an important component in willingness to learn, the sharing of ideas and admitting mistakes. Set aside time for participants to get to know one another before tackling heavy topics. Acknowledge and normalize the discomfort of being vulnerable and set confidentiality guidelines. During each new peer learning community’s first session, ask everyone to agree to the terms of confidentiality, thoughtful discourse and respect toward one another.
Next, be aware of status dynamics — participants might be unwilling to share their challenges if the assistant to their boss’s boss is in the same peer group, or if an unfamiliar person is in the room. Fireside Chats are now a popular session in which participants have an informal, engaging and in-depth question-and-answer session.
POW #5 Difference is a point of value. Diverse perspectives can help us transform our thinking. When participants’ perspectives differ, normalize their experience by sharing how groups often come from different perspectives, but can still work together on a common goal. We often ask participants to consider how they can apply parts of another’s experience to their own work, and how that perspective might also be true. Participant check-ins will help you understand and prepare for differing perspectives.
POW #6 Make data-driven improvements. Regularly collect quantitative and qualitative data from participants about their experience. Develop processes to capture data such as attendance trends, peer learning participant turnover, participant satisfaction with meeting facilities, and progress on team goals or objectives. Useful qualitative data includes participant feedback about what they valued, how the peer learning information has or will change how they do their jobs, and their ideas for upcoming sessions. This data will not only help program staff learn how and where to improve, it will demonstrate program value to stakeholders and participants.
By considering these points when designing and implementing a peer learning community, a program can flourish as participants collaborate and stakeholders realize their goals.
Meet Joanne Linden, CPS, CEAP, CWCA President and Master Trainer, who was an administrative professional herself, and her teaching style is grounded in authentic office experience. AdminUniverse™ can help you improve yourself, widen your skill set, and advance your career.