Today’s Business Challenges Need Collaborative Inquiry

by Feb 7, 2022

Market places are rapidly changing, so one imperative of business leaders is to create learning organizations that can respond to the rapid pace of change by harnessing the collective perspectives and wisdom of team members.

Organizational learning takes place when you unlock collaborative, real-time, peer-to-peer learning that uses the context of your organization and real organizational challenges.

Effective peer-to-peer learning through collaborative inquiry enables organizational leaders to ask questions, share experiences and hold each other accountable for taking action. This process is Socratic; asking the right questions is at the heart of creating change by challenging existing ways of doing business. 

But skillful questioning needs to be matched with careful listening. To understand this, think back to your last couple of conversations you had where you presented a challenge or problem and wondered if the other person was listening to what you were saying or just telling you what they think.

Collaborative Learning: Five Keys To Organizational Learning

The process of organizational, collaborative learning reduces hierarchy and creates the conditions for everyone to openly share their questions, reframing their thinking about underlying problems in order to propose solutions. This degree of sharing perspectives ultimately leads to concurrent learning and leadership.

2. Applicable Solutions

This type of learning is focused on taking action on real and ongoing issues facing the organization. What is learned through the questioning process is applied directly to the challenge at hand. Everyone becomes invested in the process, and in doing so, has partial ownership of the solution, which increases commitment.

3. Collective Intelligence

The rapid pace of change in our current business climate has reduced the notion that one person has the right answer. But learning depends on sharing information and gaining perspective from others who have different programmatic knowledge and experiences about the issue. Through peer-to-peer and collaborative learning, leaders increase the range of opportunities to solve common problems. Everyone develops a sense of collective intelligence rather than being compelled to act as a single person.

4. Double-Loop Learning

When done correctly, participants engage in double-loop learning. Instead of hearing, “You tell me your problem and I’ll give you an answer,” which is the hallmark of single-loop learning, peer-to-peer, collaborative inquiry explores perspectives and uncovers our own assumptions, conventional thinking and beliefs. In doing so, leaders start to reframe issues from what they instinctively think a problem and its solutions are to considering a more complete set of causes and effects.

5. Fostered Empathy

Peer-to-peer, collaborative learning builds organizational partnerships as leaders discuss their goals, ask and answer questions and share perspectives openly in nonthreatening, nonjudgmental ways. These shared perspectives are a way of increasing organizational IQ and leaders become more aware of areas of strategic alignment.

This fosters empathy, which in the last 20 months is one of the top three leadership skills we have needed. Empathy includes listening to others, raising your own issues and accepting input. As empathy increases, so does learning, cohesion and commitment. People increasingly value each other’s viewpoints and start seeing themselves as interconnected.

Peer-To-Peer, Collaborative Inquiry: How

You may be asking by now, “How can I do all of this?” This is a process I have used with many different organizations successfully. In my recent experience facilitating a collaborative learning session, I had seven members of a senior leaders team from an organization; I started by asking each of the leaders to identify a workplace challenge they considered complex, impacted others and was important enough that it was taking up a lot of their mental energy. Everyone wrote their problem in the Zoom chat box so they could all be seen.

The group chose one of the issues and then went around the room asking clarifying questions. After the questions were asked, the leader whose challenge was being discussed answered the question in no more than 30 seconds. The answers were short and to the point. Both the questions and answers were aimed at gaining clarity by:

Framing the problem to understand what has happened and what is happening at the moment. 

• What is the current impact of the issue on organizational goals or relationships?

• What has happened so far?

• How do you prioritize the work?

• Who is involved?

•What is not working?

Creating forward-thinking clarity about possibilities. 

• What is success?

• What is exciting about this?

• If this worked out, what would it look like?

Creating milestones in order to create momentum. 

• What critical milestones will you track?

• To be successful in six months, what would be happening in three months?

• What are three important actions to be done this month to gain traction?

• How will you know you’re making progress?

Building confidence and support to create a sense of unity. 

• When would you like to meet again to update us on your project?

• What will you be proud of after you start your new behavior?

• How can we support your efforts?

After answering these questions, everyone was given an opportunity to recommend solutions, which increased participant investment. Finally, the leader provided a notional plan of action and a timeline for these actions. The comments at the end of the session emphasized that they felt like more of a team than ever before, that their perspective of their individual roles had been challenged and how they really had to listen to understand everyone’s viewpoints.

Closing

Collaborative learning can empower existing teams and cross-functional groups at all levels by increasing perspectives on issues and building trust. At your next staff meeting, try some creative thinking and questioning, and in lieu of having people report on individual issues, attempt to collectively solve at least one issue with the method I’ve outlined.

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Dr. Andrew Rahaman is the co-founder of bluSPARC™ a learning and development company with coaching at its core. Drawing on extensive experience in curriculum design for executive education, Andrew is a trusted advisor and coach in talent management, leader development, and executive coaching both domestically and internationally. He works with clients to develop leadership capacity, high-performance teams, and provides tools and processes that enable organizations to meet their strategic initiatives and maximize growth opportunities. Andrew holds a doctorate from The George Washington University and is a contributor to Forbes Business Council. Andrew can be contacted at contact@blusparc.com.

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