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Better Communication Through Interactive Learning In Business

Posted on November 24, 2015

The standard educational model in America is based on one-way communication; a teacher draws upon their deep subject knowledge and broadcasts it to students. The students listen and, when called on, repeat it back to the teacher to earn a passing grade.

It is a process that has been repeated for generations in the American school system and is replicated in the modern economy. Both private and public organization rely heavily on hierarchical management, where company-appointed managers dictate the actions of subordinates, to keep order and drive the company forward.

But is there a better way? An interesting new approach, as chronicled by Christopher Myers in the Harvard Business Review, is the idea of “co-active learning” where education and communication is less a teacher-driven monologue and more a two-way dialogue between teacher and student.

As many excellent teachers and professors will attest, they learn as much from their students as students presumably learn from them. This is in line with the saying, “Together the teacher and the student create the lesson.”

Driven By Results

This new approach to management is not just feel-good fluff either, it is supported by solid results. According to Myers’ research, MBA consulting teams consistently receive higher client ratings when individuals are allowed to share their past experiences and areas of expertise with each other (in contrast to the model of one expert sharing with novices).

In their defense, organizations are not at a loss for recognizing the value of learning and training employees. They often invest heavily in educational material such as training manuals, handbooks, and online knowledge sharing resources like Wiki pages. Managers favor these methods as they are easier to manage and control.

The problem is that these materials are all based on unidirectional communication and
it’s perhaps part of the reason some analysts estimate Fortune 500 companies lose a combined $31.5 billion annually from employees failing to share knowledge effectively.

Fostering an Idea Sharing Environment

It’s often not immediately clear to managers how to create a more interactive, effective “co-active learning” environment. But Myers points out it involves removing obstacles from the sharing of knowledge within an organization and encouraging structures that “allow these interactions to take place organically.”

One method of fostering this environment is in the creation of common spaces among employees to share ideas and experiences. This was the method Steve Jobs used when he was at Pixar. According to his biography, the original Pixar building was planned to be a standard Hollywood studio with a number of separate buildings. Employees objected on the grounds the buildings would create disconnection and make them feel isolated and Jobs agreed.

In order to foster collaboration and increase chance encounters among employees, Jobs put employee mailboxes, meeting rooms, the cafeteria, and, most effectively, the bathrooms in the center of the complex. Everyone was, in this fashion, forced to run into everybody during the course of the day and these seemingly “random encounters” drove innovation at Pixar. It was a design concept later used at Google headquarters and in the design for the new Apple building before Jobs’ untimely passing.

Myers also encourages the creation of an open-door environment which facilitates the seeking and sharing of information through the use of incentives. Managers at Siemens had great success creating a system of points to act as a reward for sharing knowledge. In a similar manner, Vocoli employee suggestion software uses social-media “likes,” message boards to encourage discussion, and a rewards system to encourage innovation.

As our nation transitions from an industrial economy to a knowledge-based one, the companies that create a system which supports the sharing of ideas, and recognizes employees who contribute, can realize tremendous gains.

If your organization is ready to implement a better way to cultivate new ideas, then it is time to contact the Vocoli team at 888.919.5300.

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