I have a five-year old nephew. His name is Hugo and he is a-ma-zing. The other day I picked him up from school for some special uncle-nephew time. It was a Friday and he was staying with me for the night. I told him we could do anything he wanted, and I expected him to shout “Let’s go swimming!” “Let’s have ice cream!” “Let’s go to the zoo!” I’m used to kids shouting out ideas and building on that energy. To my surprise, Hugo said “I need to think about it. Can I tell you when we get home?” I was taken aback.
On the 10-minute walk home, while Hugo pondered the million choices ahead of him, my mind wandered back to the office. For those of you who don’t know me, I am HR Director of Globocorp, the wearable tech company. My job is to help all our employees grow and flourish making the company the best in this business. We run an internal academy of learning with lots of interesting courses to help our employees move through their own career paths. Two weeks earlier, Kendi, my head of learning, sent me a video with a note: “Watch this and we’ll talk on our weekly catch up next week when we will discuss Globocorp’s academy for next year.”
Hugo’s response and Kendi’s gentle nudge, opened my eyes. I’m a musician, an extrovert and I love thinking and working out loud. I forget not everybody around me does. Kendi’s nudge … Hugo’s pauses … The universe was teaching me something.
Where does learning happen?
Great learning happens at the liminal zone between comfort and discomfort, so our job is to take people to the edge of their comfort zone and help them explore new territory. This the space that business simulations, like Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, occupy.
We use simulations, play and scenarios to explore some of the key challenges faced by functional specialists working in HR, legal and communication. We make it real by getting participants to walk in my shoes for a bit. Or Carmen’s or Lloyd’s. We also develop scenarios based on real-life events that happen in companies big and small. This makes our sessions realistic, improving the learning potential.
Besides, it’s more fun this way. And, as some of you know, I earned my PhD proving the link between having fun and improving learning outcomes. (If you’re interested, this article is a good place to start).
Give them the silent treatment
Hugo reminded me that it requires more than game-playing to help people develop new skills. To help embed the learning, we must mix active play with theory and self-reflection.
I think too much teaching caters for extroverts. Teachers and facilitators think they are doing a good thing by building in Q&As or group discussions or syndicate work. While these are often a welcome break from “talk and chalk”, we must recognise that some people prefer thinking time and a chance to reflect quietly, process what they have learned, and reflect it back later. So I’m working with Carmen to ensure our programme design allows people to get the most from their time with us.
An excellent starting point to understand the power of introverts is Susan Cain’s work Quiet Revolution. I find her free resources very useful.
Even introverts need to play
When we got home, Hugo told me that on Saturday he wanted to go swimming and then for ice cream… and… could we set aside some time for him to finish his drawings? Of course he got what he wanted and we had a great day.
Back to work the next Monday, Kendi and I decided to roll out an “Inclusive meeting protocol” and agreed we would try to reshape my weekly standing meetings in which I ask people to shout out solutions. I realise now this accidentally gives more air time to extroverts. Now we post the questions a day before so those wanting time to reflect are comfortable too.
And when it comes to playing Corporate Snakes and Career Ladders, we have introduced some quiet time so that participants who prefer to reflect are comfortable. We also have an online voting system, so extroverts aren’t over-rewarded for yelping the answer first and loudest.
We’re still learning and trying new ideas. If you work in people and organisational learning, we’d love to hear ideas on how to cater for introverts. In the meantime, be sure to check out our public events where you can have a taste of our game and maybe even meet me.