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3 Phases for Building a Culture of Learning

Joseph Matsey identifies 3 phases of building a culture of learning - I describe my takeaways from his talk at Abstractions

I attended Joseph Matsey's talk on building a culture of learning at Abstraction's last year. I really enjoyed the talk, and have been thinking about and implementing ideas from it over the past year. Here's a summary of my takeaway for the 3 different phases of culture building (with a bonus 4th phase, of "you have a culture")

Guerilla Learning

This is where a lot of places start - there isn't really any particular culture of learning, but some learning exercises and activities are supported

  • High resistance to taking time from shipping
  • Ad hoc learning
  • Onboarding by oral tradition
  • Few folks driving learning
  • Approach
    • Think opportunistically
    • Improve team members primary roles
    • Seek fast returns with low investment
    • Examples
      • Workshops
      • Meetups
      • Build a team library
      • New hire buddies
        • Try cross-team buddies
    • Dangers
      • Buy in never starts
      • Stay stuck in guerilla learning forever

Buy in Starts

This is a dangerous intermediate phase, where some culture building has happened, but it's not baked in or fully supported by management

  • New hires have some kind of organized learning
  • Team members want more, but aren't empowered
  • Approach
    • Leverage internal experts (workshops, talks)
    • Seed good role models (and shame everyone else)
    • Mentor mentors (mentorship is an orthogonal skillset to what you do at work)
    • Examples
      • Weekly talks, 4 15 minute talks
      • Project updates
      • Tech approaches
      • Senior leadership talks
      • Ops talks
    • Dangers
      • Key folks leaving
      • "Takes too much time" payout not obvious, track and figure out how to measure returns
      • Mentor burnout

Making it Stick

This is the final phase, that takes management buy in, re-programming existing employees and enculturating new hires

  • Boringly normal
    • From "workshops are amazing" to "oh god a workshop"
  • Approach
    • Momentum to sustain effort
    • Sustained learning
    • Make people forget the old way
    • Examples
      • Learning/teaching as a KIP
      • Apprenticeships
      • 3 part onboarding
        • Teach skills
        • Teach processes, history and context
        • Personal development
      • 20% time
    • Dangers
      • Payoffs hard to measure
      • No one is responsible
      • Losing the habit

Self Sustaining

At some critical mass point, it continues lurching forward. This point is when you have a durable culture of learning


Thank you Mat the W for the photo of Hammerschlag

Tags: leadership culture learning notes talks conferences

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