ISSUE 2 - Perspectives

How can leaders foster learning autonomy in their teams?

Supporting self-directed learning as a manager

I am a leader in a hyper-growth company. We’ve gone from 500 to 3000 employees in just about 3 years. It’s by far the fastest-changing environment I’ve ever been part of. Despite the pace, I see highly engaged people in most of my interactions. They seem to manage change through collaboration, over-communication, and continuous learning. Change dislocates a huge amount of opportunities for learning. The most interesting part is that learning is not only a means for surviving in this environment. It is in fact one of the things that drive people most.

Why learning autonomy matters

Why learning matters for workplace motivation

I am a leader in a hyper-growth company. We’ve gone from 500 to 3000 employees in just about 3 years. It’s by far the fastest-changing environment I’ve ever been part of. Despite the pace, I see highly engaged people in most of my interactions. They seem to manage change through collaboration, over-communication, and continuous learning. Change dislocates a huge amount of opportunities for learning. The most interesting part is that learning is not only a means for surviving in this environment. It is in fact one of the things that drive people most. 

That applies to my team as well. Around 1 year back, we decided to organize a team off-site and reflect on our first year of existence as a team. When I asked the team what motivates them to do their best, what I heard most was their belief in the company vision, the freedom they have at work, and the opportunity to grow.

At that time I didn’t know they were describing something so organic about some of our core motivators at work. They were talking about the core pillars Daniel Pink details in his book, Drive. My team displaced a lot of energy and action because they believed in the organization’s vision. That is what Daniel Pink calls purpose. My team was motivated by the freedom they had at work. That is autonomy. My team was driven by opportunities to grow. That is mastery. Autonomy, mastery, and purpose are some of the main drivers of employee motivation in the workplace. And at the intersection of all of these three, humans and organizations perform and value for the customer is created. 

autonomy-master-purpose

Why learning autonomy matters

But there is something else that also lies at the intersection of all these main motivators. It is our organic nature of learning autonomously.

autonomy-master-purpose-learning

We are more likely to learn autonomously when our personal purpose ties into our organization’s purpose.

personal-organizational-purpose

We take the initiative to learn subject matters that we like. 

mastery

We learn autonomously because we are inclined to take independent actions and decisions. 

autonomy

Why leaders should nurture learning autonomy

Seeing learning autonomy as an organic process and nurturing it as leaders comes with huge benefits. It helps us tap into core motivators that drive our teams. Eventually, it helps us facilitate individual and organizational performance and drive value creation for our customers.

If we know why learning autonomy is so important, as leaders, how much do we invest in researching and implementing methods for nurturing it in the workplace? Here is where I believe we, as leaders, need a mindset shift. 

Learning autonomy does not mean doing everything by ourselves

So far we’ve discussed that learning autonomy is a natural human process. People tend towards it organically. Knowing that we may be tempted to look at learning autonomy as something an individual owns entirely. But that is not accurate.

Learning autonomy is a collective effort. It’s an entire system that gravitates around the learner but is also formed of leaders, peers, mentors, learning communities, and so on. Think about the different things you have learned in your life. Did you make it entirely on your own? Or did you rather learn it from an online content creator, a peer, a friend, your family, a community, a leader, and so on? Most likely you were not alone in your journey. Learning autonomy does not mean being alone in your endeavor. It just implies that you are the driver. You should lead the effort of discovering your talents, prioritizing learning strategies, asking for help, checking in on your progress. But your leaders can be alongside you in your journey.

People have different degrees of learning autonomy

There is a whole range of factors influencing how self-directed we are in our growth process. It may be the social, family, or educational contexts that shaped how self-driven we are. It can be that we are just starting our learning journey and our apprenticeship doesn’t allow us to be as independent as we’d like to. It may be that our current work context does not provide purpose, clarity, financial security, and so on. As leaders, we have to meet each individual where they are. We need to see what works for them and what hinders their learning autonomy. It’s from that place where we start co-creating strategies.

When leadership and learning come together

My experience as a leader and learning professional has helped me combine two worlds: human motivation and learning best practices. In my process of nurturing learning autonomy, my overarching question was how I could tap into these two worlds to create value for my team and my organization. How can I help people fulfill their potential? How can I ensure engagement in my team? How can I drive individual, team, and organizational performance?

In this article, I will provide a taxonomy for learning autonomy so that you and your team speak a common language when it comes to it. I will also share a collection of methods I have experimented within my team to foster learning autonomy. It’s a read particularly useful if you are a first-time leader and do not know how to start nurturing learning autonomy. It’s also aimed at experienced leaders who want to experiment with new ideas for embedding learning autonomy into their team’s ecosystem. Nonetheless, it can serve as inspiration for learning & development or human resources professionals who want to support leaders in their organization in their learning autonomy endeavors.

Use a common taxonomy for learning autonomy

It’s very hard to strategize around something we don’t understand. When we talk about learning autonomy or encourage our team to develop associated skills, what exactly are we asking them to know or do?

It’s important to start with a taxonomy to make sure all the team speaks a common language when they refer to learning autonomy. There are several definitions out there, but I find Malcom Shepherd Knowles’ particularly useful. It is comprehensive and it provides a simple framework people can go back to.

Malcolm Knowles described learning autonomy (also known as self-directed learning) as a process in which individuals:

  • take the initiative, with or without the help of others
  • to diagnose their learning needs,
  • to formulate learning goals,
  • to identify resources for learning,
  • to select and implement learning strategies,
  • and to evaluate learning outcomes.
knowles-learning-autonomy

We can use this definition or find one that better suits our vision around this subject. Alternatively, we can debate with our team about what learning autonomy means to us and what are the associated skills and attitudes. The focus is on having a common understanding of what learning autonomy is and why it brings value if practiced. From then onwards, we can start building our team’s learning autonomy ecosystem.

Lay-out pre-conditions for learning autonomy

Hire for autonomy and learning autonomy

We can scan for signals of autonomy in the hiring process. We can ask about situations when people have been proactive, managed challenges, and taken decisions independently. We can ask them where they get the latest news about their field. They could describe how they mastered their craft. We can go personal to find out about their hobbies or something new they have learned recently. 

Provide a baseline of financial safety

We need to ensure our team is comfortable with their compensation package and that doesn’t stand in the way of their motivation and learning appetite. Highly motivated and passionate individuals tend to put purpose over financial aspects. However, what we’re aiming for is fairness; providing a salary package that is aligned with their competency, career stage, peer, organization, and market benchmarks.

Start with Trust

Trust is the foundation for everything that we propose in this article. A non-negotiable in our relationship with our team members. We have trusted our team’s potential when we hired them. We do it by assuring them that failure is a natural part of any learning process. Also, we care about them personally and we build a trusting relationship that will make room for profound conversations on their personal vision, purpose, and goals. We don’t treat trust as a one-off, we invest in it continuously. We should both see trust as a two-way street. We should trust our team members and they should trust us. We see trust as a collective effort. Peer to peer trust is equally important.

Build a psychologically safe environment

Psychological safety is strongly tied to the level of trust in our team. We know acknowledging a competency gap comes with a dose of vulnerability. We also know that once we embark on a learning journey, failure is our companion. People are not great at dealing with vulnerability and failure. But leaders can make all the difference here. As leaders, we may not have enough influence over psychological safety as a whole in our organization. But we can build it in our teams. We need to acknowledge that failure is normal in any learning process. Also, we need to promote experimentation. We need to provide a system of support for our learners. We need to embed constructive feedback in the culture of our teams. A learning autonomy ecosystem is a psychologically safe ecosystem.

Be a learning autonomy role model

There’s no way that any strategies of nurturing learning autonomy will work if we are not self-directed learners ourselves. Our team looks up to us. We need to:

  1. Demonstrate everything that we want them to demonstrate;
  2. Identify our strengths and areas of improvement;
  3. Define our end vision and goals;
  4. Experiment with different ways of learning and reflect on our progress.
  5. Talk about our learning experiences and our learning autonomy good practices in our one-on-ones and in public forums.
  6. Pass-on our newly acquired skills and attitudes.
  7. Participate in learning events and sometimes learn the skills we want our team to master.

Experiment with methods for nurturing autonomy at every step of the learning process

Now that we are aware of some pre-conditions for building a team of self-directed learners, let’s return to Knowles’ definition of autonomous learning and see how, as leaders, we can nurture autonomous learning in every step of the process.

Step 1. Take the initiative, with or without the help of others

knowles-take-the-initiative

If our team members most often take the initiative for perfecting themselves, that is great! We are leaders of a team of people with a high degree of personal mastery. We should continue to nurture it. But what if that’s not the case? If people do not take the initiative, where do we start building?

Understand personal mastery

We’ve already talked about mastery. People have a natural urge for getting better at one, several, if not all things they do in life. But personal conditions as well or not being in a role that puts their talents or vision in motion may sometimes prevent them from pursuing personal mastery.

According to Peter Senge, personal mastery is the discipline of personal growth and learning. Though it is grounded in competency and skills, personal mastery goes beyond that. Personal mastery means approaching our life as creative work. It means living life from a creative rather than a reactive viewpoint. 

To aim towards approaching life creatively, we should approach personal mastery as a discipline, a series of practices and principles. Among them, our purpose, our vision, and our goals are the main building blocks.

Personal mastery is fueled by our personal vision. Peter Senge observes that most often we don’t have a real vision, we mainly guide our actions and decisions based on goals. That doesn’t mean goals are not important. It just means that if they are not tied to our personal vision, we may end up spending our energy on things that are not that important to us. 

Personal vision has an incredibly powerful source. This source is our sense of purpose, the talents we are meant to put to use. It’s what we sometimes refer to as ‘our calling’. If purpose is what we are naturally drawn towards, a general heading, our vision is a specific destination we give to that purpose. 

Let’s take some examples. When asked about their purpose, someone may say that they want to help people fulfill their potential. That’s a great purpose to have! If that person wants to turn their purpose into something more concrete that generates action, they need to define their vision. That may be for example opening a coaching school. The vision is fueled by their purpose, but it narrows it down into something very concrete to go after. 

Now let’s say that someone’s purpose is to provide accessible, quality education to children. Think about the different visions that can derive from such a purpose. That person may want to become a school counselor. Or open a school, a kindergarten, or an NGO. Or maybe they want to become a decision-maker in the public educational system. Their purpose is abstract, their vision is concrete.

According to Senge, nothing happens without a vision, but at the same time, a vision without an underlying sense of purpose is just a good idea. And purpose without vision has no sense of appropriate scale.

personal-mastery

Mastery is our process of continually focusing and refocusing on what we truly want, on our vision.

Help people define the personal vision

As a leader, if you encourage your employees to define their personal vision, you might be amazed by the amount of energy they can put into developing themselves to achieve it. If their current role and responsibilities are aligned with that end vision, the ‘collateral benefits’ are dedication, continuous improvement in their craft, performance, and business value. 

Encourage people to observe what they like, what drives them, what they tend to do effortlessly. Starting from this exercise of awareness, they can then work towards defining their vision. This process can be a lengthy one and some people may not be ready for it yet. But don’t give up on the process, have it on the back of your mind as you watch your team discovering their talents and purpose first.

In my case, most people I have encountered are in the process of defining their vision. Their past experiences have helped them know where their talents are best put to use. They even started defining an end vision that is powerful enough to displace energy towards personal growth. In this case, you can help your employees refine their vision. Then you can help them manage the gap between their current state and their end vision.

Help people manage the gap between the current state and the end vision

Defining a personal vision can be a complex process, but managing the gap between their current state and the end vision is equally complex.

Remember our example of someone envisioning opening up a coaching school. When looking at their current capabilities, the person might see a big gap towards their vision. Maybe they have just started their first projects as a coach. Or maybe they are still shaping their beliefs, processes, and methodologies. 

We are all familiar with this gap. We will experience it over and over again whenever we decide to pursue a newly defined personal vision. Bypassing it is not an option, but how we handle it is crucial. Let’s see how the moment of acknowledging this gap might look like.

At first, closing this gap may seem unrealistic. 

current-gap

It may cause anxiety, sadness, or hopelessness. This reaction is normal and it is what we call emotional tension. But at the same time, this gap can generate tons of creative energy. This energy is what we call creative tension

creative-emotional-tension

The most common problem is that often we don’t perceive this gap as a source of creative tension (energy). Instead, we see it as an insurmountable problem. That, of course, can generate emotional tension. And tolerating emotional tension can be particularly challenging. If we don’t have coping mechanisms, instead of getting the energy needed to fulfill our vision, this gap often erodes our goals and vision. 

Let’s go back to our example. Someone’s vision is to open a coaching school. Once they visualize the current gap and their end vision, they can ‘freeze’ and not take any action towards learning, building a network, practicing. Or they may erode their vision and redefine it into one that is not as powerful and aligned to their purpose.

vision-eroding

So how can we cope with emotional tension? The answer to that is being committed to the truth. According to Senge, commitment to the truth is a relentless willingness to understand the internal patterns that sabotage us when dealing with emotional tension (structural conflicts). It is a process in which we continually challenge our theories of why things are the way they are. 

The first step with structural conflicts is recognizing them and their resulting behaviors. One of the signals that we are dealing with a structural conflict is when we are blaming someone else for our problems. Commitment to the truth is about accepting that we might be captive into some patterns that are preventing us from managing emotional tension well. And by now we know that if we don’t have a mechanism for dealing with emotional tension, this prevents us from using our creative tension towards our vision. 

As leaders, we can be alongside our team when they acknowledge the gap towards their vision.  We can encourage them to keep their vision from eroding. If they don’t have coping mechanisms, we can help them implement a framework for coping with emotional tension:

  • Map your personal vision.
  • Analyze the gap between your current state and your end vision.
  • Acknowledge your reactions towards this gap. 
    • You might get energized by this gap and be ready to take action (creative tension). 
    • You might experience anxiety, stress, or hopelessness because the gap seems too big (emotional tension).
  • Act
    • If you are experiencing creative energy, use it to start acting, learning, planning, building.
    • If you are experiencing emotional tension:
      • first things, first, don’t let your vision erode, though this might be your first instinct.
      • identify your unconstructive thinking/acting patterns (structural conflict) that prevent you from dealing well with emotional tension.
      • observe the patterns for a period of time. Do it with curiosity, rather than judgment. You are no longer in the unknown. This is already a huge step.
      • use your observations to act. Experiment with different ways of changing your patterns. Building healthier patterns will help you pave the way towards your personal vision.
emotional-tension-coping-framework

Personal vision is an extremely powerful generative force. Support your team in defining their own vision. This is going to be a source for action and a north star for defining personal development goals. Keep in mind that this is a very personal and profound process and it requires your employees’ assurance that you hold their best interest. Know when your employees are ready for this conversation. As with everything, this should be an organic process. 

If your team is not ready/willing to define their vision, support them in observing their strengths, talents, purpose. Ideally, at the end of this step, your employees will know their purpose and direction. Starting from there, they should have enough energy to initiate different learning processes, with or without the help of others.

Step 2. Diagnose learning needs

knowles-diagnose-learning-needs

Once people have defined their personal vision, they go on by analyzing where they are now and map the gap between the current state and the end vision.

There are several things a leader can do to support employees in this step of their process and to encourage them to do so autonomously.

Feedback as a continuous self-analyzing tool

One of the first things is a non-negotiable of any healthy team: nurturing continuous, constructive feedback. Patrick Lencioni describes lack of feedback (fear of conflict) as one of the most common 5 dysfunctions of a team

the-5-dysfunctions-of-a-team

Feedback is not only a core pillar of performant teams. It is also one of the most effective ways of individual growth. Getting feedback from others is a great source for diagnosing our learning needs.

Encourage self-reflection

Self-reflection is an individual’s way of providing feedback to themselves. In your one-to-one sessions, encourage the employees to talk about strengths and improvement areas. Encourage them to observe how they feel when performing different activities. What gives them a sense of purpose? When do they lose track of time? Constantly remind them of their end vision and ask them which skills and attitudes would have the most impact in achieving it.

Give feedback

It goes without saying that feedback is one of the most powerful tools a leader can use to help their teams evolve. 

Give instant feedback

Sometimes there is no need to wait for a recurrent one-to-one to provide feedback to your team. If they are holding a public speaking event, be there for them and jot down some points on what they have done well and what they need to improve. After the session, send them the notes or have a 15-minute feedback session. As tempting as it may be, don’t provide solutions yet, let them find their own learning solutions first.

Give feedback in one-to-one sessions

Use the one-to-one sessions as a space for meaningful conversations and feedback. Let them first tell you about what they have observed about themselves. Then discuss the points of feedback you have additionally observed. Make it a two-way street. Ask for feedback yourself and act upon it. Remember, you are a role model.

Encourage peer feedback

Institutionalise processes in which peers can give each other feedback. 

  • Use Review sessions. Some teams have a Review process in place that allows peers to give each other feedback on their work deliverables. 
  • Use Retrospective sessions. At the end of a project or after a specific period of time, all the team members can get together in a Retrospective to discuss things that can improve upon as individuals and as a team. Then they choose a few critical areas of improvement and make an action plan. 
  • Maximize collaboration. Leaders can organize team projects where people collaborate. This is a good opportunity for people to observe one another’s strengths and improvement areas.
  • Use company tools and processes. Some companies use technology to allow team members to request feedback at any time from any peer they have worked with. Encourage your team to use such functionalities in their collaborations.
  • Maximize the performance review process. Feedback from peers can also be included during reviews. Team members can give each other feedback regarding what they can start, stop, or continue doing. 
  • Delegate feedback giving activities. If you have a senior public speaker in your team, appoint them to observe someone else delivering a public presentation. Then ask them to pass on the feedback to their peers. 

As a leader, you can put in place processes and routines to support different activities where peers are encouraged to directly participate in each other’s growth. Note Lencioni’s 5 dysfunctions of a team. To support peer feedback, you first have to foster a basis of trust between team members.

Encourage stakeholder feedback

Feedback from stakeholders or collaborators outside of the team is also a great way for employees to discover their own patterns. Encourage employees to request feedback after each project. Ask stakeholders to join and provide feedback in a monthly Review session in which team members present their progress on projects.

Use a skills matrix

Show the team what are the mandatory and optional skills and attitudes required to perform their job effectively. Use a scale like the Dreyfuss Model to define different competency levels. Use a mix of self-assessment and leadership assessment to show the employees where they are now with each skill. Then ask the employee where they want to be with their competencies in 6 months or 1 year from now. At the end, you will come up with a complete map of where both individuals and the entire team is from a competency level point of view. It will help them clarify where they are now and what competencies they should grow first. Your team is most likely to take the lead in their personal growth if they benchmark their current competency to the expected or desired one.

Clarify roles and responsibilities

Show people where they are in their career stage. Clearly define roles and expectations. We generally assess our team’s performance against predefined roles and responsibilities. However, in supporting autonomy, we should allow space for people to explore projects and skills outside their current role and team. Sometimes working towards their end vision may mean that some of the building blocks towards the vision are outside of the current role or team structure.

Clarify how performance is assessed

The way performance is assessed should never be a surprise for your team. Make it very clear how performance will be assessed, how their efforts will be recognized. Clarify that assessing performance will be a continuous process throughout the year. Recurrent check-ins will assure your team that they will have enough time to gather insights about how they are doing and course correct.

At the end of this phase, your team should have a good diagnosis of their learning needs. They should have:

  • A map of their current skills and attitudes;
  • Clarity over the expectations of the role and how their performance will be evaluated;
  • A wide range of feedback coming from multiple people.

All of that should help them see patterns of strengths and areas of improvement. It should eventually help them see what is the gap between their current reality, and their end vision. Finally, this diagnosis should serve as a source of creative energy and action for personal growth.

Step 3. Formulate learning goals

knowles-formulate-learning-goals

Now that the individuals know where they are and what are the personal growth priorities that help them achieve their personal vision, they are ready to formulate learning goals. How can leaders support their team in this phase?

Use the skills matrix for prioritisation

Use a skills matrix to help your team prioritize skills and attitudes that will have the most impact on their work and on their end vision. If they choose to focus on developing too many areas at the same time, they may end up diluting their energy in too many directions, with little outcomes in any of them.

Provide a model for setting goals

Setting goals that are not motivating, clear, or measurable enough can dilute the efforts of our team. Provide some models for setting efficient goals. You can use SMART or OKR. Help them become aware of these different models, and let them choose. 

Tie objectives to business objectives

Make quarterly and annual business objectives visible to employees. Help people improve on skills that can be applied in projects that contribute to the fulfillment of organizational objectives.

Tie objectives to personal vision

Always support the team in circling back to their personal vision and encourage them to see if their learning objectives are aligned to their end vision.

Institutionalize personal development goals

Some teams make it a practice to have at least one personal development goal the employee works towards in every performance review cycle. During the performance review discussions, leaders and their teams talk about the progress on the personal development goals and the impact that the learning effort had on projects and the organization.

Step 4. Identify resources for learning

knowles-identify-resources-for-learning

Once they set their learning objectives, your team will start identifying the different learning resources they have at hand. Individuals with a high level of personal mastery are very creative in finding their own resources. As a leader, you can also provide a few leads if needed. Clarify if the company provides access to different learning platforms and resources. Clarify if budget for external learning is available. Invite people outside the team with various expertise to present themselves in monthly forums. They may become mentors for your team. 

You don’t want to be prescriptive. But you can be ready to point to different resources if needed.

Step 5. Select and implement learning strategies

knowles-learning-strategies

Your team should now have a personal vision and the gap towards it identified. They should have a prioritized list of learning goals and a list of potential resources to tap into. Now we get into doing all the things we have planned for. In this marathon, there is a lot that leaders can do to make sure the team keeps the momentum to progress.

Experiment with different learning methods

This will help you accommodate individual learning needs your team members may have. Let them tell you how they prefer to evolve in a specific competency area. It may be individual study, peer to peer learning, project-based learning, mentoring, group learning, or a mix of them. Let’s have a look at this array of different methods.

Work out loud

Teams with a high degree of learning autonomy and personal mastery also live by the principle of transparency. Their processes, their designs, their work in progress is always available to anyone in the team. The working folders and files are always structured and easy to find. If the senior people in the team are involved in a complex activity like a design workshop, the invite is sent to any other team members so that they can observe the process and learn from it. Working out loud can also be institutionalized through regular update meetings like weekly or daily status calls in which team members talk about their progress and eventual roadblocks and ask for help from their peers.

Read out loud

Create book notes, infographics, animations

If some team members prefer to read, a leader can encourage them to take notes or sketch the key points of the book, article, or research paper. Then people can share their notes with any team member who’d like to read a summary, apply the concepts in their work, or decide if they want to read the book themselves. It’s almost like an internal Blinkist.

Organize a book club

If the team decides to read the same book, they can have recurrent sessions in which they discuss the main takeaways of the books and identify strategies they can implement to improve their work.

Learn out loud

Teams with a high degree of personal mastery never miss a chance to learn collectively. 

Organize harvesting sessions

After someone attends a training, a certification program, or an event, harvesting sessions can help all the team get access to the main learning points peers come back with. That can generate reflection, debates, actions for improvements. It can also help team members decide for themselves if they want to also attend a training, certification, or event. 

Organize debates

Debates are another way of learning out loud. People always stumble upon an interesting article, framework, a new trend in the industry. Debate sessions around such topics are another learning ritual that can help teams develop critical thinking, exchange ideas, and learn something new that could potentially help them in their work.

Establish learning communities

Depending on the communication tools you use internally, establish a space where you can form a community on a specific topic. That can serve as a space where employees share articles, videos, reflection topics, or training. This is where they can also ask for feedback on projects that they are working on.

Maximize the value of mentoring

Autonomous learners usually have their own resources for identifying and approaching mentors in specific areas they are interested in developing. If your team needs support, be aware of the different mentoring opportunities you can direct them towards.

Be a mentor for your team

If you are an expert in different subject areas your team wants to grow, use your one-to-one sessions to mentor team members.

Encourage peer mentoring

Peer mentoring is an excellent way of spreading out team knowledge and helping more senior people understand their own processes and methods. It’s also a great way to help your team bond.

Search for mentors in-house

When the expertise your team needs is outside of your group, tap into your network inside the company to find mentors. If your company has a lean communication culture, your team should find it easy to reach out to mentors themselves. If that is not the case, you can open up the door for them.

Search for mentors outside the company

When there is no in-house expertise in your company to support your team, you or your team members can identify outside mentors. 

Establish a routine

Involve the team in building learning routines. Ask your team about their preferred cadence for recurring learning sessions. Make sure there is a good balance between work time and learning time. Ask when is a good day for the routine. Delegate the routine maintenance to team members.

Institutionalize learning time

People with a high degree of personal mastery learn continuously. They also have their own learning habits and they know best about a time of the day/week when they learn most productively. But if needed, you can institutionalize learning as a regular practice. It can be something like a monthly learning Friday when all stakeholders know that meetings should be avoided as the team is focused on their personal development activities.

Be a habit creation coach

Keep in mind that any new practice or learning ritual you introduce means that the team has to develop a new habit. That takes a lot of energy and reinforcement. Remember you don’t need to do everything yourself. Delegation is actually something that helps people grow. Encourage people in the team to schedule and facilitate learning sessions. Don’t be afraid to remove practices that no longer bring value to the team’s learning ecosystem. This requires continuous adaptation.

Be on the lookout for redundancy in your team’s work

If your team is spending too much time on tedious activities, help them remove the waste. Make processes more efficient. Secure budget for external support to externalize work. Think of automating whatever can be automated. Less waste means your team will be focused on higher-order-thinking activities and will eventually have more room for learning.

Step 6: Evaluate learning outcomes

knowles-evaluate-learning-outcomes

Autonomous learners continuously assess their progress and how their learning outcomes tie into their end vision. As a leader, there are some strategies you can use to support people in evaluating their progress.

Evaluate progress during one-to-one sessions

Leader-employee one-to-one sessions are a great space for discussing progress on learning objectives. Encourage people to self-reflect in these sessions and provide additional feedback.

Encourage peer and stakeholder feedback

Peer and stakeholder feedback can also help employees know how well they have managed to implement their improvement strategies. 

Recognize improvement

Personal mastery is a marathon, be alongside your employees along the way. Recognize their evolution and results. Give them stretch assignments and projects. This will help them see that you trust their newly acquired expertise. It will also provide real-life opportunities to apply their new skills.

Recognize employees for their results during their performance review. Show them that the energy they have spent on personal development activities has visible results in individual and organizational outcomes. Show them that they are closer to their personal vision. 

Let go

As a leader, you have done a lot to nurture learning autonomy in your team. But remember, autonomy is about giving up control. As your team becomes self-sufficient, don’t be afraid to let go. Intervene only when critical. Odds are you have now paved the way towards a highly autonomous, performant team. Use your time to focus on strategic activities for the team and work towards your own personal vision.

Conclusions

As leaders, we are at the intersection of employee engagement and business value. By nurturing learning autonomy, we can tap into our team’s core motivations. As an effect, people will be more engaged. They will use personal mastery in fulfilling personal and organizational visions.

Learning autonomy is a process driven by the individual, but supported by leaders, peers, mentors, communities. In building and maintaining an ecosystem where people own their growth, we should do our part as leaders. We should establish a common taxonomy around learning autonomy. We should support our teams in implementing different methods, routines, processes that can foster learning autonomy. Finally, we should know when to let go.

Though counterintuitive, fostering learning autonomy is not a purely individual effort. With a common taxonomy, the right team culture, lots of experimentation, and effective leadership, teams can make learning autonomy their status quo. 

Whether it is research and development, company management, or any other aspect of the business, the active force is ‘people’. And people have their own will, their own mind, and their own way of thinking. If the employees themselves are not sufficiently motivated to challenge the goals of growth and technological development, there will simply be no growth, no gain in productivity, and no technological development. (Kazuo Inamori)