One of the holy grails in workplace learning and development is creating a safe space for learning. A space where the people in the group feel safe (psychologically and emotionally) to learn and grow through social and collaborative learning. A space where people ask questions, share knowledge and experience, listen, can challenge assumptions and explore wicked problems. Without fear of ridicule or redemption.
Creating a safe space often involves facilitating a group generated ‘agreement’ for how they will behave. How they will support themselves and each other to get the most out of their shared learning experience. Chatham House Rules is a well-known approach where the group agrees that ‘what is said in the room, stays in the room’. We trust that everyone in the group will respect the ground rules – because we are working with adult learners. Based on that perceived trust people have the opportunity to generate a deeper, more meaningful learning experience.
However, there is a gritty side to workplace learning. Workplace learning involves people and organisations. It’s in the workplace where the day to day reality of the organisations culture, politics, agendas, ambitions, world views, unconscious biases, defenses and controls are played out. It’s a messy and dynamic environment.
There can be people in positions of influence and control (both formal and informal) who might be quietly singing from a different hymn book, they have a different agenda to the organisation.
An Australian term for the process of internal erosion for a foundation. It is often used in reference to groups such as political parties or organisations where information from group insiders is ‘leaked’ or used to undermine the goals of the group. The Macquarie Dictionary says the verb ‘to white-ant’ means ‘to subvert or undermine from within’ (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_anting)
To achieve their agenda means they may be white-anting. White-anting can be hard to detect because of its subversive nature.
The team leader who tells the new person on their team, ‘don’t worry about what they taught you in the induction training program you’ve just done, we’ll teach you how to do things in the real world’
The manager who uses second and third hand information that was ‘leaked’ by a training participant (that is the manager wasn’t in the room = hearsay) against another staff member, ‘I’ve been told by someone in the group about what you’ve been saying and I’m thinking about making a complaint’
What to do?
There is no magic silver bullet. But you can manage the risk:
Create (update) a risk register
Engage managers and team leaders as key stakeholders
Communicate with everyone who is affected/has a vested interest in the learning program
Reinforce the importance of the senior leaders actively leading and supporting the workplace learning program (that they decided to implement)
Did I mention you can’t over-communicate? :)
Workplace learning is not all rainbow unicorn kittens.
In workplace learning we work with human beings. We’ll never eliminate the risk of people white-anting and potentially misappropriating second hand information to serve their particular agenda. But at least you will have reduced the risk and put controls in place to manage it.