If you’ve been in a video arcade in the last few years, you’ve probably run across the game Whack-a-Mole. It’s the one where there’s a table in front of you with a bunch of holes. Little plastic moles pop up at random and you must whack the moles with a soft mallet. It can be fun and frustrating at the same time. You never know when and where those pesky moles might pop up! (Figure 1)
Figure 1: Whack-a-Mole
Now, imagine it’s Monday morning. You start your work week with a plan and purpose. So far, so good, right? Then, an issue with the equipment pops up. Next, someone calls in sick. And there’s an email that needs your attention. And so on. Welcome to Whack-a-Mole!
In a way, workflow learning is like the game. Its purpose is to help workers fix, solve, and improve work issues that can pop up anywhere at any time. Workflow learning is fast and responsive—it is the “soft mallet” in the game, providing the just-in-time resources to “whack” those pesky work issues.
In a previous article, I discussed the practical nature of workflow learning and how it drives real-world solutions and knowledge sharing among workers. Workflow learning is how workers analyze, fix, solve, and improve on work issues and learning. It helps “whack the moles.”
Key elements of workflow learning
- Deal with real-work situations
- Think through the issues
- Analyze and formulate solutions to the issues
- Use expertise and technologies to find answers
As a result, workers:
- Make better decisions
- Take appropriate actions
- Grow into self-reliant learners
Workflow learning works best when workers are in the process of doing work. Workers organize themselves into “trusted networks” or “SitGroups” (Situation Groups). Members share common issues and interest areas. SitGroups follow a thinking process whose critical steps transform the quality of the results from a conversation into useful and tested solutions.
- 2-4 or more people
- No fixed start or end date
- Their aim is to fix, solve, and improve work issues
- Members may come from one or many departments
- They share experiences, tools, and knowledge
- Problems discussed are typically not routine issues
The group consistently and persistently does trial and error, problem solving, and troubleshooting. The groups’ iterative process follows as the Triple Learning Loop. SitGroups tackle work issues. Here are 10 areas of opportunity to implement workflow learning using SitGroups.
10 Whack-a-Mole SitGroup opportunities
1. Dealing with uncertainty and continuously changing work situations
There are work situations where the answer is unknown, the problem is rare, or it is the first time workers experience them. Workflow learning helps by encouraging workers to organize a SitGroup for this purpose.
2. High knowledge change and obsolescence
Your company may have policies, products, services, or processes that are constantly subject to change. A SitGroup helps by working closely to share knowledge and resources so that the members can respond quickly to changing information.
3. Launching a product
In launching a new product, a lot of things can go wrong. There are possible issues that may come up due to reasons unknown earlier or your company has not tested enough in other areas. A SitGroup is best to organize, prepare, and anticipate product launches.
4. Changing policies, procedures, and processes
Change in policies may have huge impacts on organizations. A change in pricing or supplier standards has ripple effects. They are issues that need specific exceptions, workarounds, or sample adjustments. A SitGroup can provide response time or action to mitigate impacts in the organization.
5. Repeated error and high-risk areas
There are areas in operations, sales, support, or admin that may show repeated errors or where problems persist. The risk is high and impacts efficiency and profitability. A SitGroup can address the issues and work through the analysis, solutions, and pattern discovery process.
6. Deep learning for complex and difficult tasks
Deep learning is an immersive way to get workers to have intimate knowledge of a process or solution. Part of the SitGroup issues cover the “what if” scenarios. This training can be in tandem with “diagnostic” and “problem-solving” conversations. This allows further, deeper learning of the process or solution.
7. Harnessing rapid growth of expertise knowledge and experience
Expertise and experience are an organization’s intellectual assets. Ongoing SitGroup activities help in collecting the experiences and expertise by a discussion of real-life work issues. Capturing the conversations, notes, specific problems, and solutions is essential. By working through a real problem, the collection of experiences and expertise is a reliable way of testing and validating expertise. A SitGroup follows a thinking process that adds structure to the richness of experiences and expertise being shared.
8. Rapid introduction of disruptive technologies
Processes, such as implementing robotics in an assembly line, are opportunities where workflow learning happens. Through SitGroups, workers can jointly assess situations and learn from each other while solving problems.
Compliance issues are not only solved by training programs. Oftentimes the compliance issues are operational in nature. They are happening at work. Workflow learning through SitGroups allows compliance learning activities by reviewing the incident and safety implications.
Anticipating and preparing for crisis situations are opportunities for workflow learning. When the large Indonesian tsunami devastated cities and killed thousands of people, NGO leaders and staff scrambled to find solutions from lessons learned. According to one top leader of an NGO, they were fixing and solving issues while learning on the job. SitGroups facilitated ongoing conversations to exchange ideas and decide the viable options.
Much like the game of “Whack-a-Mole,” work issues pop up anywhere at any time. This can disrupt even the best-prepared workers. However, using SitGroups to “pop up” and address these issues creates an environment of mutual learning and testing of real-world results. In addition, there is the opportunity to capture and share the learnings from the SitGroups with the workforce. So, instead of heading for the video arcade, start implementing and supporting workflow learning in your organization.
Ackoff, R. L. (1987). The Art of Problem Solving: Accompanied by Ackoff’s Fables. Wiley.
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