Learning & Development

Fostering a Collaborative Learning Environment in Today’s Competitive Workplace

Healthy competition in the workplace can increase productivity and encourage innovative thinking. However, a critical aspect of sustaining an optimal work environment is to focus on creating collaborative learning opportunities that employees actually seek out and enjoy.

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The need to build a culture of learning can be overlooked or relegated to annual training that is disconnected and doesn’t inspire. Studies show that a majority of employees are underwhelmed by the learning opportunities provided by their companies. In fact, only 40% of employees in the United States use positive terms to describe their company’s learning culture, over a third of employees call their company’s offerings “enthusiastic but off the mark,” and 23% rate the offering as something that “ticks the box” but isn’t impactful. 

In today’s digital economy where new skills are continually emerging, it’s more important than ever for employees to keep up, adapt, and be relevant in their roles. In order to encourage this growth and avoid the potential costs of replacing employees with outdated skills, companies must be better at providing a pro-learning culture and encourage experiences that their employees actually want. When collaborative learning becomes a staple of the workplace, it not only fosters enthusiasm and confidence but also can become the foundation for a company’s greatest innovation and success.

Hire the Right People

Creating a workplace that encourages continued education and growth is a group mind-set—and not just that of management but of every single contributor. Companies should actively seek to hire candidates who demonstrate an interest in continued learning and a lifelong commitment to self-improvement.

By looking for résumés with additional certifications, online course completion, micro-degrees, or even social media experience, employers may be able to spot individuals who have a love for learning and will spread it in the workplace. Employees who can show they understand today’s landscape and the required skills while still searching for new avenues for self-growth will lead by example and encourage their teams to do the same.

Another key aspect is hiring individuals with diverse backgrounds, unique perspectives, and varied interests. This can foster skill-sharing and mutual learning within teams, meaning employees can learn from one another rather than have to seek outside educational resources.

Offer Collaborative Trainings

When building out training programs and offering new learning opportunities to employees, start with collaborative learning experiences where individuals can share ideas and feel a sense of community and support.

You can build programs where external trainers work with teams as a whole, offering interactive, hands-on opportunities for departments or whole offices to problem-solve issues together. However, when you’ve done great hiring, you can also foster team learning by creating internal training programs in which employees teach one another.

Small practices like having each team member volunteer to lead one session on a strong skill or new digital tool, whether it’s as simple as social media networking or as complex as coding, can be impactful and allow teams to bond. Giving everyone the opportunity to teach something he or she is passionate about will encourage employees to have confidence in their own skills and see their team members, across every level, as important resources.

Beyond formal training, companies should offer opportunities for the entire team to come together—HR, Marketing, Customer Service, Engineering, and beyond—to brainstorm the next big idea. Every employee brings unique insights to the table, and joining them together in an open, democratic forum to collaborate together, set goals, and build off one another’s ideas can lead to your company’s next big success.

Every year at Quizlet, we host multiple weeklong hackathons at which everyone at every level of every department is invited to participate. The all-staff hackathon has not only resulted in some of our best new product innovations but also has helped build lasting relationships across departments while normalizing creativity and openness.

As you can see, collaborative environments also help to encourage soft skills, which are some of the most important and yet often underappreciated areas for development. Communication, collaboration, and negotiation are just as critical as technical skills. Sharing ideas and building new things together as an organization is based on teamwork, and teamwork is always rooted in collaboration.

Ask for Open, Honest Feedback

Retaining great talent is key to a successful business, but outside of pay and benefits, sometimes leaders forget about more intrinsic opportunities that keep employees happy and engaged as key contributors. One of the best ways to create an open, collaborative work environment and offer employees the tools they need for success is to ask them how and what they want to learn about. Find out what works best for your employees, and focus on offering options to personalize their learning.

The environment of open feedback and the invitation to share their knowledge and curiosities will encourage employees to take advantage of the resources offered to them and share back as well. When employees become more enthusiastic about their own growth, the workplace comes alive with great ideas from motivated people who will bring those ideas to life.

Matthew GlotzbachMatthew Glotzbach is the CEO of Quizlet. He joined Quizlet from 12 years at Google, where he was most recently VP Product Management at YouTube. Prior to YouTube, he was on the founding team of Google Apps and lead product for Google Apps for Edu. Matt studied mechanical engineering at Cornell and grew up in Fort Wayne, Indiana.