Leveraging Team Learning at Conferences

Traditionally teams from organizations attend a conference with a divide-and-conquer game plan, as they split up and attend as many different sessions as they can. The challenge with that strategy is that it’s very unlikely any real change will occur when the one team member who experienced the learning returns to work. Will they share what they’ve learned from a session? Or simply pass on a PowerPoint deck?

What if you flipped that model and designed conferences that offered learning aimed at improving team collaboration and changes back in the workplace?

Learning Together

Doing business—especially buying and selling—has become more of a team sport. Overall, we are becoming flatter organizations. The concept of team collaboration is growing, particularly in progressive organizations. Yet conferences are lagging in meeting the needs of team learning. Planners know it exists, but are not designing for it.

The Science of Team Learning

Learning how to work more effectively as a team benefits the individual, the team and ultimately the organization for which they work. And, as evidenced in healthcare settings, teamwork among the members of a hospital can result in better patient care.

In a recent keynote at a major annual healthcare convention, keynoter Margaret Heffernan, PhD, entrepreneur, prolific author and a popular TED Talk presenter, spoke of the importance of investing in the connections among team members to both increase productivity and reduce risk.

She pointed to a fascinating study of collective intelligence conducted by Thomas Malone, an MIT professor and director of Sloan School of Management’s Center for Collective Intelligence. The study found that the teams tasked with creative problem solving that had more social capital—that is the ability to give everyone equal time to talk and to be empathetic—made them better than others. One other finding of note: the best groups included more women, perhaps because that made them more diverse, or because women tend to score more highly on tests for empathy.

Fostering Learning Cultures

Research has found that only 10% of organizations have managed to create a learning culture, with just 20% of employees demonstrating effective learning behaviors at work. Josh Bersin, an expert in enterprise learning and talent management, examined the issue of learning culture and found that companies that effectively nurture their workforce’s desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period of time.

Because not every organization understands how important the commitment to team collaboration is, conference organizers have an opportunity to “manage up.” By offering sessions that model it, your participants can bring back skills to the workplace that underscore its effectiveness.

Debunking Organizational Learning Myths

The long-term belief for conference organizers has been to offer multiple tracks for different functions and roles, because traditional wisdom—and marketing segmentation—show that more people will attend from an organization if you offer more variety.

However, when tracks and sessions are organized around a thorny problem to solve, coupled with learning collaboratively, conference organizers will better deliver business outcomes by encouraging team participation.

In part two of this post, we’ll look at how you can design for team learning and share some examples of conference organizers who are doing just that.

Have you thought about designing sessions for your participants to collaborate as a team? What attributes might those sessions possess?

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