Building a Collaborative Learning Culture

Hands holding lightbuld

Imagine moderating a workshop, and instead of the typical humdrum routine, the participants display an energetic buzz of collaboration. 

Groups are huddled together, exchanging ideas, and learning from each other’s experiences. This vibrant atmosphere is the result of a collaborative learning culture.


Imagine a bustling hive of innovation where your organization flourishes, fueled by employees eager to share their knowledge and expertise with one another. 

With either example, you can feel the energy, and that’s what the power of a collaborative learning culture can bring.

But how do we get there from here? 

To take this dynamic from the classroom into your organization, we must first address the why’s and barriers of collaborative learning. 

Then to truly make this a collaborative effort, place in the comments below your techniques for bringing collaborative learning to life. 

But first: What do we mean by collaborative learning? 

Collaborative learning is like a potluck dinner where everyone brings a unique dish reflecting their lives and culture. Here, each person contributes their knowledge, skills, and experiences while learning from the offerings of others. The result is a shared feast of ideas and insights that everyone can savor, leading to a richer and more satisfying learning experience. 

Why should businesses pay attention to building a collaborative learning culture? 

Not to overstate the obvious, but the importance of a collaborative learning culture in organizations is critical. By fostering an environment where employees openly share knowledge, exchange ideas, and learn from one another, organizations can harness their workforce’s collective wisdom and expertise. 

With organizations struggling to keep up in a difficult economic landscape, harnessing the power of collaboration could be the differentiating factor. Considering that research (Laal and Ghodsi, 2012) has shown that nurturing a collaborative learning culture helps employees develop essential skills, such as critical thinking, decision-making, and creative problem-solving. Plus builds employee-engagement leading to higher retention rates. All of which are vital in today’s rapidly changing business landscape.

Who doesn’t want that? 

Barriers to building a collaborative learning culture

In this post, “Psychological Safety: 7 Strategies for Creating a Supportive Learning Environment,” we discussed how the learning process in the workplace is loaded with personal risk, even in safe situations. The tips listed in the post can help set you up for success when trying to cross difficult barriers when bringing people and their thoughts together. 

Aside from providing a safe environment to accept collaboration, additional barriers must be breached. Here are some common challenges that we must brace for in pursuit of a collaborative learning culture:

  1. Resistance to change: Team members may be hesitant to adopt new ways of working or fear that collaboration will disrupt established routines.
  2. Lack of trust: Trust is crucial for effective collaboration, but building it can be challenging, especially in organizations with a history of internal competition or siloed departments.
  3. Time constraints: Collaboration, in general, can be time-consuming. Team members may perceive it as an additional burden on their existing workload.
  4. Inadequate leadership support: Without strong support and guidance from leadership, team members may not feel encouraged or empowered to engage in collaborative learning.
  5. Cultural and language barriers: Differences in language, cultural norms, and work styles can make collaboration more challenging, particularly in diverse or global teams.
  6. Hierarchical structures: Traditional, top-down organizational structures can inhibit open communication and collaboration among team members at different levels.
  7. Inadequate recognition and rewards: Employees may be less inclined to collaborate and share knowledge when individual achievements are prioritized over team accomplishments.

As you can see – this is not a list for the faint-hearted. Nor is it a list that can be tackled by L&D alone. In fact, these items aren’t owned by L&D at all – but are intrinsic to the overall organizational culture. 

However, by acknowledging these barriers, L&D can begin helping organizations create a more conducive environment for collaboration and knowledge-sharing.

How can L&D help nurture a culture of collaborative learning? 

It all starts with behavior modeling. Yes, it might seem cliche but BE.THE.CHANGE!

When L&D actively exhibits collaborative behaviors, we help set an observable standard for the rest of the organization. By modeling collaboration, we can begin to break down departmental silos and harness the collective intelligence of the workforce. 

Perhaps it’s best that we (L&D) DON’T own the process because there is nothing more powerful than shining a light on better ways to work to permeate every level of the organization.

We already do many things, such as promote lines of open communication and working across departments – but perhaps we need to either “do more” or “make more apparent” some of the most common actions we take.

An area that L&D can actively (and loudly) promote and behavior model is in the area of diversity and inclusion. It has been shown that DE&I efforts have a significant positive impact on collaboration. Are we doing all we can to ensure different voices are heard? Both in the class and within teams? 

An interesting study by Rock and Grant (2016) demonstrated that diverse teams are more likely to reevaluate facts, remain objective, and scrutinize alternatives more thoroughly. These teams can better identify potential biases, consider different viewpoints, and collaborate more effectively. 

We need more of that energy in classrooms and organizations.

It begins by asking ourselves do –

  • the classes we host,
  • the guest speakers we provide, and
  • the product(s) we create, 

Fully represent the diversity of our participants and other stakeholders? Are we effectively leveraging diverse perspectives to better understand needs and expectations?

(In this post, I go into the six features of a culture of collaboration.) 

When people feel included then, collaboration is more welcomed. In both learning and working. Isn’t that what we all want? 

To Wrap This Up

By embracing a culture of collaborative learning through open communication, diversity, and inclusion and addressing potential barriers, you are back at the potluck table. Creating a feast of ideas, experiences, and knowledge sharing that everyone can enjoy. 

By getting in front of barriers and being more proactive in bringing diversity into discussions, your organization’s collective intelligence will flourish like never before.

Stay curious!

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