Forums Inside Your Company?
Are you thinking about launching forums inside your company? Here’s what you should know. For starters, when I use the term forums, I do so primarily for brevity. I could also use peer advisory groups, mastermind groups, etc. The larger point is that forums are designed to serve their individual members while teams are assembled to create and/or deliver a shared work product or service that one person can’t accomplish alone. Forums can be cross-functional or operate functionally across the landscape of your organization.
In sports, teams have practices and an off-season where their members can nurture their fatigued minds and bodies and hone their skills. Assuming they put in the work and get their rest, they will be physically and mentally prepared to be even more vital contributors to the team once the new season begins. Unfortunately, we don’t have that luxury in business. Every day is game day. So what’s a company to do?
Imagine If You Could Operationalize Learning
Try as we might, we employ everything from micro-learning and employee development days to sponsoring books clubs and sending employees to conferences. Unfortunately, the results of these efforts are disappointing at best. Why? It’s not necessarily because the content is flawed or the L&D approach needs fixing. There is some fantastic work going on in this space. It’s deeper than that.
Learning & Development only performs in companies with a mechanism for operationalizing its content and practices. Cross-functional forums working alongside teams can provide such a mechanism to help employees learn more deeply and give one another the confidence, courage, and encouragement to apply what they learn. Moreover, they learn more about each other’s roles and responsibilities, inspiring a deeper understanding of how they can collaborate more effectively.
The collateral learning benefits that come with working together in a cross-functional forum are just as significant. The concept of collateral learning comes from renowned educational scholar John Dewey – a term that describes what we learn from how we learn. Healthy group learning involves empathy, psychological safety, and emotional intelligence. Its nature helps employees be present, listen intently, ask precise questions, be more open to differences, and be conversationally more skilled as they become less likely to jump to conclusions, make assumptions, or rush to judgment. They then take these skills and the content they have learned back to their teams.
Beyond Learning & Development
*Currently, I am working with a client growing quickly, mainly through acquisition. The company has operational leaders spread across four regions in the US. The CEO, who has been a forum member for many years, decided to create virtual forums for the 7-8 operational leaders in each of the four regions in his company. These leaders have similar responsibilities and lead operations in remote parts of the country, so it’s easy for them to feel isolated and disconnected. So if these leaders don’t want to go to their boss with every challenge or question they may have, they don’t have many options. To address that situation, I facilitate forums for these leaders for three important reasons:
- So they can get to know one another, lean on each other, and learn from one another during our monthly virtual meetings and on the days in between.
- To share best practices about living overall company values to create a more consistent company culture.
- To collaborate on corporate business initiatives where they have the same responsibility and help each other meet location-specific challenges, where forum members can draw on the experience and perspective of people who know what it’s like to be in their shoes.
The forums are working beautifully for the following reasons:
- The members are clear about their why – their purpose for existing as a forum.
- Confidentiality is sacrosanct – what’s discussed during the meeting stays there.
- We use the best platform for facilitating virtual forums – Circl.es. It’s designed for deep conversation and is so visually different from Teams or Zoom that it delivers a fresh, more welcoming experience for the participants.
- Together, we have built a trust that has inspired incredible vulnerability and generosity.
- Their monthly engagements help each member perform at a higher level, which is evident in their operational results.
*To maintain confidentiality, I have changed some of the client-specific details.
As a CEO, whether you want to operationalize learning or build productive relationships among leaders across your business landscape, forums that inspire intentional dialogue and relationship building may be the most underutilized yet among the most necessary tools available to you today. What’s more, my guess is that you have a strategic initiative or two where you could use a heightened level of engagement and alignment across your organization. Remember, what happens horizontally in your company gives its vertical structure strength. So it may be an excellent time to take forums in your company for a test drive.
Written by Leo Bottary.
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