November 26, 2020 | watsimp

Is it time for “learning sprints” to become mainstream?

Some years ago, my team’s engagement survey feedback showed that they felt that as a leader I was not providing enough opportunities for learning and development. As a result, their engagement and their belief of a long- term future in the company was low. Keen to address this on priority, I did what most people leaders do- I had career discussions with everyone, created development plans, asked for and got budget for team development and set the ball rolling. I was sure that I had done everything possible to address the learning issue. I was wrong! Our mid-year survey showed again that there was not much improvement on learning! It was at this time that I experimented with “learning sprints”. The results were far beyond my expectations!

How does a learning sprint work?

The biggest challenge with learning and development at the workplace, is that we all want to develop. But we are unable to follow through– either because of time constraints, lack of discipline or lack of support and accountability. It is the biggest reason why so many of us are motivated to sign up for online programs and drop out around the 25% completion mark!

With a “learning sprint” we set a time frame of 3 months. Each team member identified one area they wanted to work on- some chose hard skills (related to their job) and some others picked soft skills (like assertiveness, written communication etc). People chose just one thing they wanted to work on.

Each team member’s development priority was shared within the team- in full transparency.

We divided the team into pairs. The purpose of the pair was to hold each other accountable and provide support when we were getting too busy or lazy to follow through. Each pair set their own rhythm for discussions and catch up. We met once a month as a full team to discuss our learning progress – in a 1 hour team meeting. We openly discussed what was working and what we were struggling with. Some of us sheepishly admitted that we had not done much and that we would try harder!

At the end of the 3 months, feedback from the team showed that we had made considerable progress! Transparency, support and mutual accountability helped the team progress in their development. This in itself was a huge win! The biggest surprising side effect was team camaraderie! Completely unexpected and what an awesome outcome!

With the success of our first learning sprint, we made this our rhythm and started to run 3 sprints a year of 3 months each with a month between sprints. With this we saw a visible big spike in the development of the team.

What we learnt from the “Learning Sprints”

  • Learning “one thing at a time” helped us focus and build mastery
  • Having a “learning buddy” kept us accountable
  • Transparency within the team, gave us the support system and understanding (especially when we struggled)
  • The 3 month “learning sprint” time turned out to be just right- It was long enough to go deep and short enough to keep our attention!

We all try to rely our individual discipline and motivation to learn. Working in a “learning sprint” model made me realize that the support of people around us makes this a lot easier!

In the words of Brian Herbert – “The capacity to learn is a gift; the ability to learn is a skill; the willingness to learn is a choice”. Learning Sprints support us in making this choice!

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