For most of us the current Global Pandemic has been disruptive to every aspect of life and business. In a previous blog we wrote about the importance of social learning and experiences, as well as the critical importance of including those in your learning and employee experience strategies. As the impacts of disrupted work and social isolation continue, organizations need to be intentional about finding innovative ways to promote personal and organizational health in the process of trying implement significant strategic pivots. In this endeavor, well-structured experiences in the learning curriculum have 4 critical elements that in addition to their proven impact on increased adoption of learning, also help combat the mental health issues associated with social isolation and boredom.
1. Creating psychologically safe contexts
2. Providing meaningful fun through challenge
3. Provide meaningful connection through common experience
4. Building conviction and confidence to adapt
Before we explore these elements, a quick note on what we mean by “learning experiences” because “experiential learning” has increasingly become an umbrella term to describe a variety of teaching methods. These benefits are primarily attributable to structured and immersive experiences, they both have a game play and thematic element to them. Other types of experiential learning, like action learning projects, have great value in a learning strategy if executed well (which is not always the case).
Creating psychologically safe contexts to foster overall psychological safety
Psychological safety in a working or team environment is not just the absence of threat but the belief that I can contribute and participate without fear of negative consequence, humiliation, or future retribution. Psychological safety is a core element of high performing teams but is so elusive because it is based on the perceptions and interactions of all involved. Effective experiential learning should transport participants outside of the normal environments, structures and working patterns with colleagues and into a completely difference environment that creates fun interactions where everyone has the opportunity to contribute, and the only consequence is learning together by doing. Similar to the role a flight simulator plays for a pilot where you have all the elements of flying the plane, but your mind is free to focus on doing and learning because no one gets hurt if you mess up.
By incorporating experiences like this into your virtual working and learning rhythms you not only get the learning across, but you increase the level of psychological confidence to speak up and collaborate. This is based on the experience participants have by doing it effectively in the psychologically safe context of the experience. This element is critical to changing group behavior and the overall culture.
Providing meaningful fun through challenge
Fun at work has been linked to a number of key business outcomes including lower absenteeism, lower turnover, higher levels of creativity, higher levels of productivity and higher levels of customer advocacy. Fun also cuts through the “content / video conference” numbness that most of us experience daily and causes the learner to more actively engage in the first step in any team or learning activity.
Well-structured experiential learning creates this type of experience through a compelling story linked to game-based challenges. Serious fun predictably follows when the challenge is novel, game-based, competitive in a way that everyone can participate and facilitated with energy. We have facilitated these types of activities across cultures around the globe even the most conservative and reluctant participant finds themselves drawn into the fun. Seeing those team members break their normal patterns only adds to the fun in the experience. Bringing fun like this into the work or learning experience can seem risky but it has been our universal experience from the most conservative boardroom to the toughest looking factory floor that everyone wants to have fun...and fun can be serious business.
Meaningful connection through common experience
For thousands of years human beings have been building and sustaining connection to each other through common experiences. In modern business these have taken the form of sharing meals, attending concerts and events together, or the all-night effort in the conference room to finish a challenging project together. Research and our own human experience would suggest that in addition to the two elements already mentioned, connection is deepened when there is the appropriate level of challenge and corresponding sense of accomplishment. Learning from each other heightens the sense of connection we all feel.
Whether being used to strengthen connection among existing teams or build connection with colleagues that you would rarely interact with, being intentional about creating the right experience is an important part of building the connectivity required to maintain or improve your culture.
Building conviction and confidence to grow and adapt
The need to adapt what we do and how we do it has been taken to unprecedented levels in recent days. The great reset to our economy and working norms brought on by this pandemic is far from complete. Nurturing the right mindset within your leaders and teams is a constant challenge. Experiences are a powerful tool in nurturing mindset as they take all the complex elements of adapting down into a 2-hour virtual activity and allows the human brain to make those connections that otherwise get lost in the complexity of the real world. Great experiences deepen the sense of conviction that ‘I need to adapt’ and provides an analogous set of behaviors and line of sight giving me the confidence that ‘I can adapt’.
Employees appreciate when organizations are mindful of and prioritize their work experience and mental health. It is not surprising that this important conversation has been under the microscope for almost all of 2020 and into 2021. If you want to ensure that you create and maintain psychologically safe contexts, provide meaningful fun and connection through challenges and common experience, and build conviction and confidence for your people to successfully adapt; experiential learning activities are the (virtual) answer you have been looking for.