Make Your Work Easier and More Effective: 5 Tips for Working and Learning with Partners
Authors: Michelle Medley-Daniel
Think about your to-do list. Before you get overwhelmed or distracted, take a deep breath. Are you working on something that could benefit from the perspectives of others? Maybe you are running into a problem that requires advice or new tools? Could someone with a fresh perspective help you re-frame your situation? Maybe insights from peers could help you think creatively about an opportunity. Or, do you have a general sense of a new priority, but don’t yet know enough to ask for specific advice? These scenarios all present the opportunity for working and learning with others.
As community wildfire adaptation practitioners, our work demands that we hone our co-work and co-learning skills. The issues we are advancing are too important, and too complex, to solve by crossing tasks off individual to-do lists. So how might you approach learning and working with your peers? Here are five tips from FAC Net to help guide your next joint project:
1. Define your terms
FAC Net has several in-person and virtual ways of engaging — from workshops to peer assistance to webinars. Each of these is the right tool for different circumstances. But to determine which tool is the right one, you have to start by understanding what exactly each tool is. Defining co-learning tools, including describing some guidelines for their best use, has helped FAC Net communicate more clearly about expectations, outcomes and process. For example, the term “learning exchange” began catching on among members. Soon, people were referring to a phone call for advice, and a multi-day in-depth gathering, by the same term: a learning exchange. On the surface this might seem unimportant, but when working with others, a shared understanding of what your interactions will entail is critical to a good outcome. In the instance of learning exchanges, we now define that tool as a reciprocal, active, adaptive and participatory gathering that is organized around co-developed learning questions. You can quickly imagine how the expectations surrounding a learning exchange and a phone call vary.
2. Be clear about your commitments and boundaries.
Particularly in a network context — where reciprocity is our currency — it can be hard to say no. However, it is much more helpful to our joint cause if we can keep people from burning out by creating a culture that accepts and respects boundaries. Additionally, many of the co-learning methods we use require the full commitment and engagement of all participants. Since many of these methods are not hierarchical (there is no leader who has the primary responsibility for the quality and delivery of the content) all participants must agree to share responsibility. Given the demands of some co-learning methods, it’s essential to know when to say no.
3. Experiment with ways of working together in service of shared objectives.
This idea addresses the negative consequences of over-defining ways of working together. While a shared understanding of how you’re going to work together is important (as addressed in the first tip), too much rigidity can lead to stagnation. As ways of working become more defined and formalized, people may stop experimenting. Always save some room for new ideas and change; just make sure that everyone who will be participating understands when testing new ways of working is part of the plan.
4. Be creative and generous in documenting and sharing your learning.
One of the biggest challenges in a learning network is figuring out how to document and share what is being learned. When you have methods of co-learning and co-work that involve only a subset of your cohort, but knowledge and information from that group might benefit others, it is important to share that beyond the primary participants. Nothing can replace the kind of learning that being on-site with other people provides, but videos, how-tos and even your discussion questions can still provide value to others.
5. Learn about learning.
No matter what kind of co-work or co-learning you want to undertake, learn about learning. Whether you are working on a discrete project with one other person, participating in a Community of Practice, offering advice to a peer, or hosting a prescribed fire training exchange, understanding how people learn can help you design a more effective process. While there are many learning theories, I’ve found it helpful to consider the differences between pedagogy and andragogy.
Long time readers may recall this post where I outlined the importance of balancing results, process and relationships as we work on community wildfire resilience. The same holds true for any collaborative pursuit. Whether it be to share or co-create knowledge, transfer practices, teach or learn a skill, or give and receive advice, working with others effectively requires a shared purpose and clarity on your goals, ways of engaging that facilitate those ends, and care for the relationships among participants.