Future of Work

How To Build Collaborative Learning Cultures

Tracey Ezard

Often when we think of the word learning, we have flashbacks of desks in rows or professional development that is so boring it is a lesson in learning to sleep with our eyes open. Similarly, collaboration as a cultural concept was and is still seen by many as a license for endless meetings to ‘tick’ the consultation box. People nod their agreement to ideas conceived by the person running the meeting and doing all the talking, mainly to get the session finished and get on with their own work.

Get these two words working together in culture however, and what we create is a powerhouse of energy and momentum. I call it the Buzz.

What’s The Buzz?

It’s the energy in a culture built on collaboration, trust and learning. It’s an exciting place to work, with a buzzing learning zone. The sense of purpose is palpable, as is the willingness to find new ways of transforming the work. Sitting at the very core is the impact the Buzz has on the clients. They experience positive outcomes, assisted by a team focused on making a difference for them. Team members who learn and grow together, gaining momentum and collective impact.

Teams with the buzz cannot do this work without learning with and from each other. Similarly, collaborative work done in this space is not merely cooperation. It is co-creation. It draws from a ‘design for better’ mindset.

In essence: Great collaboration is learning out loud.

The 4 Keys to Building a Collaborative Learning Culture:

Be a Leader that is Learning, Not One Who Has Learnt.

First off, this work starts with us as leaders. Do you show the people you work with that you too are a learner? What discussions do you have to tease out your thinking when you’ve become aware of a new perspective, initiative or research that has made you question what you know? Exploring this with your team and wondering with curiosity about what it might mean for the work sends strong messages that ‘not knowing’ is an OK place to sit. It is also a powerful way of creating a space for creativity and innovation. Being curious with each other, having wonderings rather than ‘I know the answer’ signals a willingness to listen and learn from others. Complex contexts require the best thinking – which very well not be ours.

Move to a Collective Growth Mindset

A learning growth mindset in our team members is a fantastic start, and when we evolve onward to a collective growth mindset, our collective team purpose becomes the critical driver. We see ourselves as change agents together. The use of the pronoun ‘we’ becomes more prevalent. Discussing what the behaviours of collective learning and collaboration look like to everyone in the team gives permission for individuals to share what they need from others to work together well and get the Buzz. 

Create a Compelling Environment for Learning Together

Do people in your teams feel compelled to collaborate and learn together?  Psychological safety is key to collaboration and learning. If individuals do not feel safe to question, be curious, disagree and give feedback to the leader and to each other, contribution is stifled and innovation and creativity is crushed. I’ve been in rooms where it feels like icicles are forming from the roof; relationships are so frosty. The tone for this is often set by the leader. Welcoming people by name, seeking their opinions, and having empathy and curiosity all help to create a warm and compelling environment for the deep work to be undertaken. Creating a compelling environment for sharing mistakes and learning creates growth rather than fear.

Have the Connecting Conversations – Dialogue not Monologue

Quality learning conversations are never one-way downloads. Deep collaboration and co-creation push us to have rich inquiry in our discussions. Seeking to find out the assumptions we are making and posing curious questions enable us to dive more deeply into our topic of interest. A simple change of habit can be to shift from ‘agenda items’ to ‘inquiry questions’ to guide the discussion flow of a meeting. 

And if meetings are all one-way monologue – send an email instead!


Written by Tracey Ezard.
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Tracey Ezard
Tracey Ezard is a keynote speaker, author and leadership and team educator. Her leadership framework of Ferocious Warmth helps leaders find the balance between the head and the heart, results and relationships, strategy and culture.


Tracey Ezard is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. Connect with her through LinkedIn. For more information, visit the author’s website.