At Slack, we define social learning as any learning opportunity, in any format, where the goal is to learn from one another. Employees are sometimes struggling with the same thing in isolation. How can we create a collaborative environment to enable them to help each other? Building a community of knowledge sharing is a powerful way to facilitate peer-to-peer learning.

We have designed our learning & development programs to incorporate specific techniques for employees to build community and learn from one another. Our social learning programs at Slack involve a 3-stage process. In this post, I’ll discuss the first stage, our approach to community building.

Want to find out more Slack’s 3-stage approach to designing social learning programs? Download our eBook, The Power of Peers: A Framework to Promote Social Learning at Work.

Building trust and relationships through in-person sessions

As a first step, in order to collaborate, we need to get to know each other and build trust through in-person sessions. Our company is global with 2000+ employees across multiple offices and we’re growing rapidly. Our in-person sessions help employees develop strong relationships and empathy for one another, which are key building blocks to effective peer-to-peer learning. In fact, because the bulk of our interactions are digital in the modern workplace, people increasingly crave face-to-face and personal interactions. Once you lay the foundations for trust, you can then continue to nurture these relationships through other modalities like virtual video conferencing and social media channels. 

Stage 1: Community building

Building a strong community is a key foundation for collaborative problem-solving and learning from one another. Throughout the training program, we weave in building trust and relationships both offline and online. 

Social learning is built on a culture of sharing and collaboration, but you have to create a safe environment for sharing. Giving and receiving feedback is an integral part of effective peer-to-peer learning. All of our trainings start with teaching and modeling this essential skill. People have to be able to give feedback to their peers effectively as well as be open to hearing other ideas or suggestions on how to do their job. 

To create a culture of sharing, we build strong relationships and trust in our in-person workshops. We always start with shared agreements to help moderate the space and run through a quick series of fun intro questions that get people moving around the room and meeting as many new people as possible. Our goal is to get everyone’s voices heard in the room and help people start to open up and realize they are facing similar challenges.

It’s not group therapy: Avoiding the common pitfalls of a sharing culture

While sharing plays an important role in social learning, it can’t be sharing just for the sake of sharing. There should always be a thoughtfully crafted purpose for sharing. You don’t want it to feel like group therapy. Every offline and online space for sharing has to have a facilitator and moderator. 

Our L&D team crafts our prompts carefully and provides parameters to keep the discussion on track and to create healthy boundaries of vulnerability. If we don’t do it well, collaborative peer-to-peer learning can feel too invasive and will no longer serve its purpose. We can’t put participants in a “threat state” because then they aren’t open to learning or able to be reflective. People won’t come back. Our role as L&D professionals is to create an environment where learners can build self-awareness, challenge themselves to achieve goals, learn from failure, have fun, and meet their coworkers while doing it! 

Read about the other two stages in Slack’s 3-stage approach to social learning in our eBook, The Power of Peers: A Framework to Promote Social Learning at Work.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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