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February 25, 2016

Creating a Culture of Teaching

February 25, 2016

Bookworm illustration by Sara McGuyer

There's something quite thrilling about having mastery of your domain, being in the zone, and zipping through your work. It feels good to be the expert.

Expertise often comes with the expectation of training others within your organization. But teaching others is about much more than smarts. It requires patience and noticing when and where people struggle with what you're explaining.

That task you do on your own might take an hour. Explaining the process and training someone along the way is a different story, adding time and taking energy. This is the cost of teaching. 

Yet the art of teaching brings its own gifts.

Questions posed by a learner can illuminate gaps or problems in how you explain things and help you see better ways to teach and communicate in general.

When others need to be shown step-by-step how something works, it can shut down autopilot tendencies. This methodical breakdown can give fresh eyes to your process, leading to unexpected tweaks or innovations.

Transferring your skills can help others grow. What's more rewarding than that?

One of the greatest honors is to teach, then be surpassed. Then, it's your turn to learn. You can see this as a threat, or an opportunity to try something new yourself and shine in other areas.

Knowledge sharing is generative. You may not increase your capacity for your organization instantly, but over time, you'll benefit from productivity gains.

The value of all of these things makes the time and energy cost seem a small price to pay.

To create a culture of learning and growth, you need to set the conditions. You may need to design knowledge sharing experiences and practices to jump start your organization. Learning requires physical and mental space, and resources (time, money, supplies).

Ideas for Creating a Culture of Teaching

Invite curiosity by encouraging questions. Pair newer employees with veterans. Reward learning with praise or big ups. 

Make professional development a priority. Set the expectation of knowledge sharing. Let people choose what they explore, and you'll get even greater buy-in.

Create space for it by creating a mini-library in your office or host recurring show and tell or knowledge shares.

Be free with praise when people are really good at something. People don't always recognize their own gifts, and therefore might not realize they should be transferring their knowledge to others. In this case, you've taught the person something about herself, and you get to learn a new skill or process too. Win-win.

What can you teach someone today?

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