As more and more organisations come to recognise the importance of social learning and knowledge sharing within their workforce, there is a growing reliance on employees supporting one another in their development. In this article we explore why this shift means it’s more important than ever that employees have the skills and confidence to share their knowledge with their peers.

All Employees Are Teachers

They may not know it, but your employees are all teachers. Perhaps not in the formal definition of the word, but throughout their career, all of your employees at some point will teach something to someone else.

It is also true that having a workforce full of employees who are competent and confident in sharing their skills and knowledge with others, is a powerful component in establishing a learning culture within a business. While it may not appear to be a key business objective, finding ways to increase the level of intra-office training could have a ripple effect and the positive news is that this is a process that happens fairly organically. It is an inherent human trait to want to share information with others. The challenge many organisations face is how to leverage this natural instinct for the benefit of your employees and the business? Trying to formalise it could lead to a backlash, as people feel they are being ‘forced’ to train their colleagues.

It may therefore be best to continue to aim for an environment where this process does indeed happen organically; one where employees are willing to ask for support from colleagues, and where said colleagues offer help enthusiastically.

However, the fact that teaching is something everyone will do at some point, doesn’t mean that everyone will have the same skill level, and this may be where it would be appropriate for the organisation to step in. As much as some people may want to share their knowledge with those around them, it cannot be denied that some people are less adept at actually doing so; many people will have experienced the situation where they have asked for help from a colleague, and left the discussion feeling more confused than when they started. Even the most widespread culture of learning will be of minimal benefit if the inhabitants are unable to share their knowledge effectively. The role of the organisation in this instance is therefore to support employees in developing these ‘training skills’. By doing so this ensures that when an employee does elect to help a co-worker, both parties will benefit.

For many companies this is not necessarily something they may have considered. This may be because they already have an established L&D team, who they rely on for training their staff, and hence, overlook the intra-office interactions taking place. Or it may be that a certain level of teaching competence is already assumed in adults of a working age. Regardless, actively investing in ensuring your employees are comfortably and effectively able to support one another when facing work-related challenges is essential. Yet few companies actually do it.

To teach you need more than technical skill

There is a misconception that if people have a skill in a certain area, that they will then be able to impart that wisdom onto others. But the fact is that there is much more to being able to teach or train people, than just knowing how to do a specific task. It is for this reason that businesses elect to implement L&D functions, because there is a lot of underlying theory required to teach someone successfully, and it requires a level of specialism that is acquired over time. That being said, there are individuals who are naturally good at teaching others, but even if this is the case, such individuals will still often benefit from additional training to hone these skills.

There are several distinct elements required to help others learn effectively, and these include the level of knowledge about a specific topic, the presentation of the knowledge, and the ability to coach others during the learning process. Most organisations are packed full of people who have extensive expertise in the first element, but it is normally the presentation of that information and the ability to coach that then lets them down.

Presentation of information is naturally very important; if it is too complex or even too simple, people will not engage fully. If it is presented in a dull format, again, people will disengage; and if there is too much information to assimilate at one time, learners will struggle to take it all in. These are basic principles underlying the practice of L&D professionals, and while many of us recognise these to be true, we don’t necessarily have the skill or knowledge to alter our presentation to adhere to these constraints. Providing training to your workforce that equips them with this essential information, will therefore instantly improve the delivery of information they then share with others, positively impacting the overall learning experience within the organisation. This could take the form of a basic communication course, or could be specifically targeting training ability.

With regards to coaching capability, this may be something that requires more in-depth development, but it is another key component of enabling effective learning across the business. Coaching in this context is not about helping people to achieve their long term goals, or uncover their personal blockers, as is the case in formal coaching sessions. Instead it is about working with an individual in such a way that they feel confident enough to take the information you have provided, and use it to investigate further. Nobody really wants to just be told things; as humans we like to discover things for ourselves, and that is where the coaching element comes in.

It’s important to remember that the aim, when looking to support your employees to teach one another more effectively, isn’t to turn them into professional trainers, and negate the need for the L&D team. There will still be a need for formal training to be available, delivered by professionals with extensive experience in the field. But what you are looking to achieve is an environment where people not only feel empowered to ask questions of their colleagues, but are also confident in answering them, knowing that as a result the person asking will feel more informed and able to tackle the challenge before them. As mentioned above, everyone in your workplace will at some stage, have to teach someone something, and it should therefore be an organisation’s aspiration to make sure that everyone can be equipped with the skills to do so. If employees are able to share their knowledge with others with confidence and in a way that really helps the other person learn, then it will help the natural progression of your organisation’s learning culture.

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