Creating an Organizational Culture of Reflective Practice
For the past few days I've been writing about reflective practice, the process of reflecting on our professional experiences in order to glean lessons for improvement and ongoing professional development.
Yesterday I blogged about how to incorporate reflective practices into our lives as individuals. Today I want to talk about how organizations can support a culture of reflective practice. If you didn't check it out yesterday, I highly recommend reading Joy Amulya's What is Reflective Practice? (PDF) as a great starting point.
Creating an Organizational Culture of Reflective Practice
Before I launch into some of the strategies that organizations can adopt to support a reflective culture, it's probably a good idea to talk a little about the benefits.
Organizational Benefits of Reflective Practice
If most organizations are in the business of knowledge management and supporting knowledge workers (something I'd argue is increasingly the case), then reflective practice becomes a key business strategy. It encourages workers to reflect in meaningful ways on what is and isn't working in the organization. It also provides a natural structure for mentoring and peer feedback as employees work together to solve individual and collective problems and find solutions to nagging questions.
At the heart of reflective practice is a spirit of inquiry, of asking "Why is this happening" and "what can we do about it?" This art of questioning is critical to both individual and organizational improvement . Without it, we stagnate and fail to adapt to change.
Reflective practice is also a key talent management tool. It helps individuals identify opportunities for growth and skill-building. It also helps the organization determine gaps in knowledge and skill, as well as where there are pockets of innovation, creativity and high performance.
Strategies for Building the Culture of Reflective Practice
There are a variety of strategies organizations can employ to build a culture of reflective practice, starting with identifying and supporting those individuals within the organization who are already reflective practitioners and learning from them about what does and doesn't work. Look for the bloggers and those who are contributing to your organizational wiki. Find the people who routinely ask questions about work practices and those whom everyone seems to go to when they have questions. Talk to these people and find out what your organization could do to support them in doing more of these things. Ask them, too, about the barriers to reflective practice--what is your organization doing that it should STOP doing, that might be getting in the way of people truly learning from their experiences.
Create and Support the Structures of Reflective Practice
As I mentioned yesterday, I would argue that a fundamental tool of reflective practice is a blog. Consider creating an internal blog or connecting individual employee blogs so that workers can begin connecting and supporting each other's reflective processes. This is also a great strategy for creating mentoring relationships and nurturing peer connections as individual employees begin to learn from each other and gain new knowledge and insight. If you start to feel brave enough as an organization, consider opening your blogs to the world, where you can get even more meaningful feedback from other practitioners and from customers, as well. Transparency can have real payoffs for organizational learning--just ask Redfin.
An organizational wiki is another potential reflective tool. Use it to keep track of projects and initiatives or to document internal policies and procedures. Create a "Frequently Asked Questions" wiki or one that supports particular job categories. Encourage employees to use the discussion tabs in the wiki to interact with one another, to ask questions or comment on the topics in the wiki.
Create and Support the Habits of Reflection
Just as critical as reflective structures is the need to build in the habits of reflecting, something that is often missing in the action-oriented culture of most organizations:
- Michelle Murrain suggests that organizations should build into the close of a project a discussion of how the project went. What did and didn't work. What can you learn from the process for the next time? This could be posted in a blog or wiki, inviting additional commentary from staff and even from the customers involved in the project. Have people consider their roles and perspectives in the process, writing from their individual vantage point, and then see what trends and issues you can identify.
- LaDonna Coy commented on last week's post regarding how we set priorities that it might be a good idea for staff to keep track of how they spend their time in a week to see if there's a way to make more time for learning. I think that the activity of keeping track of your time and then reflecting in a larger way on what that means about how the organization is setting priorities, etc. could be really valuable. Doing this on a regular basis to see if activities are aligning with mission and strategic goals could be even better.
- In yesterday's post I mentioned that there are some events or issues that particularly lend themselves to reflective learning. These include dilemmas, struggles, uncertainties, and breakthroughs. I'd also add mistakes or problems to the list. As an organization, on a monthly basis try laying out an issue you're facing in one of these areas and then inviting reflection and feedback. For example, you may be facing the dilemma of what markets to go into or how to resolve a particular problem. Lay out the question and then invite people to blog individually about it from their perspectives.
Of course, this kind of reflection can also be built into meetings, conference calls, etc. too. The goal is to be making reflective practice a natural part of the organizational culture.
Welcome Inquiry, Dialogue and Stories
The "What is Reflective Practice" brief I mentioned suggests that reflective practice is a product of questioning, discussions and stories (all of which are well-suited to blogging, I might add).:
Reflective practice is fundamentally structured around inquiry. We tend to recognize the importance of allocating time for reflection when we see is as a means for gaining visibility on a problem or question we need to answer. To gain visibility, we examine experiences that are relevant to this problem or question. The most powerful "technologies" for examining experience are "stories" (narrative accounts of experience) and "dialogue" (building thinking about experience out loud).
Think of how you can create structures and rituals that invite questions, conversation and stories. Maybe you can:
- Have a monthly "big question" as Learning Circuits does. Have people respond to the question through blog posts, audio commentary, etc. You could also use VoiceThread.
- Invite staff to share stories of personal experiences with customers, projects and so forth. Have them posted on individual blogs where others can provide insight, feedback and commentary. Treat these as a sort of "learning clinic" where the focus is on learning from the experience, not beating people up for making a mistake or having a question.
- Put an audio recorder in front of staff and create a podcast of them discussing how a project went or a dilemma they confronted. Post this on your organizational blog or wiki to get feedback.
The goal is to create a culture of conversation and questioning--what practices can you incorporate to do this?
These are just a few of my thoughts on how we could create cultures of reflection within organizations. What ideas do you have? What have you seen done successfully?
Photos via jmsmytaste and Learning Circuits
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Thanks for providing us knowledge about the different strategies .....it helps us to develop a better culture in organization.
Posted by: brianna | September 05, 2008 at 05:19 AM
Thanks for putting your thoughts down. I have done work for an organization that deals with culture change as well that I thought you might be interested in - http://www.visionomics.com
Posted by: Srini | September 11, 2008 at 03:18 AM
Michele - thank you for this insightful post. Having been in an organization that tried to use blogs unsuccessfully, these ideas are concrete and structured.
Our CEO tried to do a blog mainly on the history of the organization - which was fine, it just wasn't relevant enough to our daily lives. And being the CEO, it was hard to comment on his words.
I like the idea of the "big" question as a way to engage people. Once a month for busy professionals is a good time commitment.
Posted by: rani gill | October 14, 2008 at 02:04 AM
Hi Rani--glad this was helpful. CEO blogs are definitely tricky. The most successful ones have been those where the CEO writes fairly regularly on the issues and challenges facing the organization, doing so in a way that is authentic and transparent. The CEO must be comfortable with this approach, though, something many CEOs definitely are not.
Posted by: Michele Martin | October 14, 2008 at 05:28 AM
This article was very interesting to me. All organizations should be aware of what is reflective practice. I was not aware of this practice until I read about it.
Posted by: Hope Selig | October 14, 2011 at 09:05 AM