In a tech team where their results will impact a significantly large consumer base - the general public - there is a lot at stake. A good, healthy culture is essential for any team and part of that is how team members can learn, grow and support each other.
Because of this, the shared values, beliefs, behaviours and attitudes of a team are key to their success. They allow people to work effectively towards a common goal and directly affects how they treat each other whilst they do it.
So, why is it important to create a culture of continuous learning in your Public Sector Team?
What benefits does continuous learning bring to a team?
1. Increased skill setThe most obvious benefit is that the team’s skill set has increased. This could be a wider breadth of knowledge, a better understanding of a subject or a different way of approaching a task. All of this new found knowledge can drive more effective deliveries or drive innovation that wasn’t possible before.
2. Increased quality
If the team has an improved skill set, then they are much more likely to produce better quality solutions. Less time spent fixing bugs means more time on innovation and new features.
3. Job satisfaction
Technology moves fast and it is often difficult to keep up, even in the handful of technologies that a team will work with on a daily basis. A feeling of stagnation and being “left behind” can be demoralising and leads to people looking for work elsewhere. In the public sector, this can be even more of a problem as funding is often a barrier to digital transformation.
A team that is learning and growing together feeds off each other. They have a strong sense of purpose and achievement. The team bonds around their common cause and become more effective in achieving their goals, which ultimately leads to greater job satisfaction.
4. Employee retention
This follows directly from job satisfaction - if the team is learning, growing, happy and satisfied in their job then they are much less likely to leave.
Attracting new talent to your team is much easier if your team is knowledgeable, happy, motivated, inclusive and shares experience and ideas. New recruits bring their own skills and experience to the team and this only adds to the continuous learning culture.
What practices can be used to drive continuous learning?
1. Learning budgets
Learning in your own time, outside of work, is a great way to increase your knowledge. However, this is generally a solitary endeavour. Learning as part of a team is a much more effective, productive and supportive way to learn; everybody wins and the team can bond around the experience.
Learning as a team does mean time within work is needed to facilitate it, i.e. a learning budget. Having buy-in and support for continuous learning from senior stakeholders is essential. Ideally a learning budget will grant both time and money (to purchase resources like books or courses) but even just an allocated hour or two per week can be enough.
2. Coaching and mentoring
A structured programme of coaching is a great way to share knowledge within the team. More experienced staff will run coaching sessions on different subjects, either one-to-one or as a group. But it isn’t just one-way! The coach also learns from the experience too, from the questions, feedback and how best to present and communicate different topics.
“If you can't explain it simply, you don't understand it well enough.”
– Albert Einstein
Having someone to speak one-to-one about any part of your career or work life can be a great supportive tool, particularly for more junior members of the team. A mentor can share their experience and offer support on technical as well as non-technical matters.
3. Internal communities of practice
A community of practice (CoP) is a group of people who share a common set of problems or an interest in a particular topic. They come together on a regular basis to share their knowledge, ask for help or consolidate best practice.
Sessions can be run by anyone, no matter how senior or junior, as long as there's a willingness to learn from one another. The sessions might be a deep dive into one particular topic or they can be a series of 5-minute “lightning talks” to introduce new topics to whet the appetite!
4. Engaging with external communities
Why keep the learning within the team? Learning with and from external communities is the next logical step. Opening up the teams’ learning to even more people can increase the benefits even further. It can also have mutual benefits for the organisation, potentially creating networking opportunities.
Examples of external communities for technical teams include:
- Local, technical “user groups”, usually focussed around a particular programming language or tech stack such as .NET Oxford
- Communities dedicated to certain practices or ways of working such as the London Software Craftsmanship Community, Software Crafters North, Software Crafters Leeds and Software Crafters North East
- Larger, multi-day conferences such as Rust Nation
With the public sector having to be even tighter in its budgeting, bringing in creative ways to create a culture of continuous learning will be key to consistent growth for a team.
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