Employee learning happens at the lunch table, too
  • leadership
  • Blog post

Employee learning happens at the lunch table, too

Everyone knows the adage, “The team that plays together, stays together.” It’s used to justify all kinds of team-building games and activities.

But how about if we propose a new one: “The team that breaks together, learns together”? OK, it doesn’t rhyme, so it’s not all that memorable. But, according to recent research, it does express a profound truth about peer-to-peer learning.

The research consists of two separate studies — one from Japan and one from MIT — both of which examined the effects on learning and productivity when co-workers were obliged to take their breaks together.

In the Japanese study, an underperforming group of employees in a call center was required to go on break together. After a short time, the employees improved their performance by 13%. In the MIT study, researchers also worked with a call center, revising the break schedule so that all the employees took their breaks at the same time. In this case, the improvement in performance was substantial enough that the company involved expected to raise overall sales by $15 million once this scheduling innovation was implemented organization-wide.

The dynamic
What happened here?

The researchers found that the key was what they called “collective activity” — in other words, positive social interactions among co-workers. When people have an opportunity to talk with their friends, learning happens. They trade ideas, ask each other questions, explain things to one another, problem-solve together. These interactions significantly bolstered the effect of the more formal training that the sales employees needed to be successful.

You don’t necessarily have to require people to take breaks together. Any group, department or team can benefit from increased positive social interaction that you can encourage in a variety of ways.

And the beneficial effect isn’t limited to call centers or salespeople. The research demonstrates that co-worker interactions and peer-to-peer learning dramatically affect performance on a variety of tasks — individual as well as team — making them useful for many kinds of training.

A learning accelerator
As our sister blog, Rapid Learning Insights, points out, there’s a broader implication here, too: that peer-to-peer interactions are a powerful accelerator of learning.

So if you want to get better performance out of your people, create more opportunities for them to put their heads together – both as part of formal training programs and in more informal settings.

Training is, after all, a social act. When employees regularly communicate, they create learning opportunities and social bonds that aid transfer and lead to behavior change.

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