Firms face enormous pressure to remain competitive. One way this can be addressed is by creating a program for peer to peer learning in the workplace.

Businesses face enormous pressure to remain competitive. According to the Conference Board's C-Suite Challenge 2018 report, creating "a culture of innovation that encourages cooperation across functions and business units and promotes risk-taking" was ranked as the No. 1 strategy for improving business performance by CEOs and CHROs.

But how can organizations build a culture of innovation with limited operational budgets and manpower, among other constraints? One option is by utilizing peer-to-peer learning in the workplace.

Benefits of Peer-to-Peer Learning

Broadly speaking, peer-to-peer (P2P) learning in the workplace occurs when workforce skills are developed with assistance from fellow employees. This differs from traditional learning methods where a formally recognized subject matter expert (SME) is responsible for teaching employees. With this method, there is less reliance on solution, knowledge and skill development being driven from the top down. Some P2P learning examples include: employee-led workshops, study groups, team projects, P2P learning partnerships and employee-led feedback sessions.

Peer-to-peer learning in the workplace can have numerous benefits if the training is structured properly. For one, employees may be less intimidated by the need to learn a new skill if it can be learned in collaboration with a peer. The "message" being delivered in this case might be better received than it would if it came from an outside consultant or supervisor.

Competent, well-trained employees don't always require an expert or management approval to find solutions. Peer-to-peer learning in the workplace can be used to promote more autonomy, as well as increased collaboration and communication among team members, which may lead to innovative solutions. This kind of freedom is an important trend for employers to take note of, according to the ADP Research Institute® (ADP RI) report, "Evolution of Work 2.0: The Me Vs. We Mindset."

Peer-to-peer learning in the workplace can also enable employees to take greater ownership of their own professional development. These are all critical elements in the battle to retain employees — as ADP RI notes in its Workforce Vitality Report, the national turnover rate remains over 60 percent.

Pitfalls

As with any organizational initiative, creating a successful program that supports peer-to-peer learning in the workplace can have its challenges. To be effective, peer-to-peer learning in the workplace requires trust and mutual respect between colleagues. Learners will need to be able to communicate effectively and challenge one another. This is especially true if the employees will be asked to participate in peer assessments.

Another potential pitfall is due to a lack of organizational flexibility. Traditional learning and development programs tend to be more widely embraced by organizational leaders, regardless of their actual effectiveness. Giving up control of certain elements of employee training by shifting to a P2P-focused learning program may be difficult for managers.

Points to Consider

If an organization wants to implement a program for peer-to-peer learning in the workplace, it will need to consider a number of factors:

  • Executive support: P2P learning programs can be relatively cost-effective compared to other training and development programs. However, they still need to fit into the organization's overall strategy. Convincing senior leadership of its value by utilizing quantitative and qualitative evidence will go a long way toward a successful program launch.

  • Outcomes: What are the intended results of P2P learning within your organization? Intended outcomes might include opportunities to generate employee-initiated solutions to organizational issues or better train new hires.

  • Assessment: Your organization's methods for rating the effectiveness of peer-to-peer learning in the workplace should be carefully considered. In the course of working, employees tend to behave in ways that assessment methods consider important. This can result in the exclusion or marginalization of other P2P activities that can add value. In addition, all parties — including supervisors, employees and senior leadership — should be clear about what the assessments mean to ensure that everyone is working toward the same outcomes.

  • Oversight: Simply put, how are the programs created by your firm for peer-to-peer learning being managed — through the employees, supervisors, senior leaders or a combination thereof?

Peer-to-peer learning in the workplace can enhance employee autonomy, collaboration and professional development while encouraging innovative thinking. If business leaders can encourage a culture of cooperation and continual learning through P2P programs, they will be well on the way to reaping the benefits of a more educated workforce.

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