Learning with colleagues

An action guide to action learning

Erik de Haan
Palgrave Macmillan, Basingstoke, 2004

The era of learning with colleagues

A book about learning with colleagues is entirely in keeping with the spirit of our times. Both the content and role of ‘work’ have changed radically in the West in recent decades. Where we work can no longer be predicted on the basis of family background and education. How we work changes almost from month to month, if only due to new developments in the field of information and communications technology.

What we expect from work is no longer clear either: for most of us, it is not just about earning a living. Work now serves other purposes, for example satisfying our more personal needs such as recognition, influence, self-expression and self-fulfilment. As a result, we now expect more and more from work and, by the same token, work has come to ‘expect’ more of us. Our working lives are gradually becoming more exciting and more interesting. It is becoming increasingly difficult to take refuge behind unique expertise or customised approaches – instead, we now have to find a tailored solution for every job or client, to show more of our personal side in our work and to make that personal side ‘effective’. ‘Work’ is becoming more like ‘school’, in two respects:

  1. In the contemporary sense of school: a place of training, centre of education, learning environment, independent study centre. A place we go to seeking self-development and self-fulfilment.
  2. In the original, Greek sense of scholè: leisure, rest, pleasure and, paradoxically enough, idleness and ease. A place we go to find ourselves, to reflect and to spend time doing things that really matter to us.

Not surprisingly, many people find that the boundaries between the work and private spheres are becoming blurred, and increasing numbers of us feel we are more our ‘true selves’ at work than we are at home.
In line with the spirit of the times, we want to learn at work and are keen to embark upon training courses and personal development activities directly connected with our work. We feel a greater need to talk to colleagues about our personal development, and even to work with them towards that development.

That is the basis of learning with colleagues, which does not mean training periods, skills training or on-the-job training. Learning with colleagues goes much further than that and involves:

  • entering into a deeper relationship with your colleagues in order to learn from them;
  • being vulnerable and openly discussing your strengths and weaknesses;
  • finding the limits of your expertise and exploring the territory beyond those limits together with your colleagues; and
  • seeing this process of searching and exploration as an integral part of your work.

If you don’t do this, how are you to stay ‘professional’ and what are you going to learn from as a professional? Textbooks, which are outdated almost as soon as they reach the shelves? Clients and customers, who themselves aren’t sure what questions they want to ask you?

In my view, peer consultation is an activity that fits in with both meanings of school; the learning environment and the place of leisure. Of the numerous ways in which you can develop yourself as an individual, peer consultation has the advantage that you organise consultation sessions with and for colleagues, they can be held close to your own place of work and, in many ways, they offer the much-needed peace and concentration. This book therefore starts with an introduction to peer consultation as a way of learning with colleagues. Later on, Part IV introduces other forms of learning which establish a closer link with your own work and place greater responsibility for learning on your own shoulders.

This book has also been published in Dutch.

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