13 Ways to Increase Learning & Development in the Workplace

13 Ways to Increase Learning & Development in the Workplace

When it comes to increasing learning in the workplace many businesses immediately look at the cost and how it’s going to impact productivity. The return on investment seems to be the continuous question on every business owners lips.

But this should no longer be the question.

With data revealing that businesses with a strong learning and development program see a 218% increase in income per employee, the real question isn’t how you’re going to see a benefit, the question is this – How are you going to adopt development schemes that actually make a difference?

Continued learning matters to today’s workforce. 84% of today’s millennial employees want access to development and learning in their career. And it’s not just the demanding millennials that see this as an important attribute. In a national survey spanning across three generations, 70% of the respondents said that job-related training opportunities influenced their decision to remain at the company.

The facts are clear, and if you’re wondering how on earth you can adopt more learning and development within your company, I’ve revealed the 13 simple things you can begin to implement to help your team learn more in the workplace. And just to make it even better, eight of these ideas won’t cost you a penny!

a graphic showing data about engaged team

1) Storytime

You may think that education in the workplace has to be extremely formal and laborious. But this outdated mindset of learning is not how many of us absorb information and often doesn’t stimulate our minds to think differently.

A simple, yet extremely effective way to encourage further learning and personal development, is to start storytime between colleagues.

Each lunchtime, one person does a talk about one of their passions in life. This could be anything from cookery, travel to rock climbing.

The idea of this is not only to make people more aware of those around them but as a human species, we learn the most when we’re being told a story. It enlightens us, informs us and opens us up to think differently. The very essence of what learning is really about.

A woman is presenting in front of a wall of sticky notes in front of her co-workers.

2) Co-Create a program

You may already be pushing your team to try and learn more – but let me guess, they claim they’re too busy to set aside a few hours a week to do some learning?

This is the norm in many businesses, as the truth is, many of the learning and development programs that are created for our teams don’t include them. Instead, we too often take on an approach whereby leaders or managers determine a learning pathway or program without ever getting any input from the people who are taking part in them.

As a leader you may be unconsciously pushing your own agenda of what learning and development looks like onto your team.  However this approach when stimulate engagement around learning, and won’t increase any skills. 

If you want to truly help your team create meaningful learning programs you need to co-create them together.

You could start this by working together on a monthly calendar of proposed events for the team, or particular topics or themes for the month that your team are currently passionate about learning more.

Creating a calendar of structured events and workshops will also provide them with something to look forward to and prepare for.

3) Culture trips

Getting away from the office can prove highly beneficial in helping us to break out of bad habits and routines that stifle learning.

Instead, when we escape our daily confines and engage in something different, we can not only learn more from others but take part in experiences that shape our way of thinking.

As many businesses arrange fun company culture days, it is also important to organise days away that may help us with our work or roles.

This could include visiting manufacturers of the product you sell, or visiting a client who is using your system or service. Learning more about the company and the industry can provide informal learning experiences that enhance people’s understanding of their role, and enlighten them to provide feedback and new initiatives that the business has not thought of before.

Woman is sat in a meeting with her laptop.

4) Invite specialists

If your business is insular in its approach to learning it will not innovate or grow.

This often happens for a number of reasons. Whether it’s to manage costs or boost the brand awareness of those within the organisation. But this structure can work alone in the learning and development of teams because it constricts thought processes.

By inviting specialists to do workshops and talks you can improve your team’s knowledge on particular areas, and even boost their confidence and other essential soft skills.

Outside facilitators also come into the workplace as a neutral third-party, which often means the lessons they provide sink a little deeper than if it was someone internally conducting a session.

It’s a similar addage as that of gaining praise from an outside source. For example, when your mother gives you praise, you feel like she has to because she’s your mother. The same goes for those in senior roles in businesses, they can attempt to teach and even praise you on your progression, but this can often feel half-hearted.

Whereas the education and development from an outside source, can boost confidence in ability because it is not linked with any affection or relationship.

5) Explore the company

How much do your team really know about the ins and outs of the business?

From the supply chain to customer service, there may be many parts of your business that your team are unfamiliar with or aren’t even aware of. You would be surprised how likely this is, especially if you are a larger business with multiple departments.

One way to increase internal learning and development is to provide sessions and tours of different parts of the company.

This not only makes people more aware of the role they play in the company, but can also lead to new ideas and innovation as more of your team become exposed to the workings of the business.

6) Job swap

I have visited many businesses where colleagues sitting next to each other don’t even know what either one does in the company.

Many people start a role, without understanding how their role fits into the big picture, let alone understanding how everyone’s role plays a part.

When this happens both communication and engagement begin to take a dive.

However, job swapping for a day or even a week, can make a massive impact on learning and development, and enhance the teams understanding of each person’s roles and responsibilities within the company.

Providing an opportunity such as this can broaden awareness, increase understanding of role expectation, drive innovative thinking, and allow people to discover other avenues that they could move into.

Partnering people up who are in opposite departments and allowing them the opportunity to shadow each other brings huge gains for everyone involved.

7) Entrepreneur activities

Commercial awareness can support any business, but this isn’t something that can be taught.

Business school doesn’t truly prepare you for business failure, or success. It’s the practical elements that make you think and realise where you’ve gone wrong and what you need to consider.

Many large organisations have taken on entrepreneurial competitions to drive their teams in learning and development because it works.

It allows people to throw themselves into trying out that dream business, and along the way increases their commercial awareness.

Whether you wish to do it Dragon Den style, or simply leave them to their own devices, set a challenge for them to pitch and then create a business that needs to work. You may be surprised at how many of them take part and how quickly it enhances their thought processes.

A great example of this is Google’s X Lab, where people are expected to spend time working on new business ideas.

From this Google have launched GMail, YouTube and even Google Street Maps.

Time spent ideas is never time wasted.

A man is taking notes on a notepad with some charts and a laptop.

8) Co-working projects

We learn as much from each other as we do from a book, so bringing people together to work on a project and manage it from start to finish can not only boost communication and teamwork skills but also dramatically improve confidence and business knowledge.

However, in order for this to work, you truly have to let go of any micromanaging tendencies and put complete trust and responsibility on their shoulders. If you cannot do this, the project will not be successful as they will not feel like they have true ownership.

Leave them to the project and set a deadline for when you would like it to be completed.

The project could be anything, from a client project, a new product or service launch, to a suggestion they have about the company culture.

Let them take ownership of something they’re passionate about and just see the creativity and innovation boom.

9) Use free resources

Even if you’re a start-up or small business then learning and development budgets may be non-existent.

Despite this being the case, a lack of funds should never discourage a lack of learning.

Instead, there are now many free resources available that you can provide to your team to help them increase both hard skills and soft skills.

Websites such as FutureLearn, Udemy, and The Open University, now provide many free courses that people can dip in and out of when they have the chance.
One tip if you’re going to do this, is not to be restrictive on what your team decide to learn.

Again, we tend to push people towards programs that WE want them to learn, but give them the freedom to choose to learn about anything. Even if it is the Forensic Science course!

Creativity occurs most naturally when we experience new things, therefore give them the space to learn new things, and you’ll be amazed at the ideas which will be stimulated.

Breaded man is drawing on a whiteboard.

10) Give them a budget

One of the biggest areas that restricts consistent learning and development in the workplace is budgets.

People find courses or conferences they would like to attend and then spend weeks or even months trying to get it signed off by their managers.

This is an archaic process which just delays everything.

Instead of nurturing a permission led culture provide your team with a budget and set expectations of what it can be spent on.

This not only helps to speed up the process and reduce admin and time on everyone’s part; but gives them the ownership and responsibility of their own learning.

11) Let them take ownership

I know this may sound like I’m just iterating my last point, but the fact is too many of our businesses are following an outdated blueprint that doesn’t encourage autonomy and doesn’t make people feel happy at work.

We should not be deciding on people’s learning and development pathways, this should be down to them.

By creating a dictated pathway you will see a huge lack of engagement in your team. This is for many reasons. You may not have considered how they like to learn, or where they see their learning taking them in their roles, and what types of courses may support them in their roles – because news flash, you’re not the one working in that role, and you’re not them.

Give your team the autonomy to manage their own learning and development, and don’t slip into the outdated way of working by insisting on programs that YOU think are best.

12) Create accountability

Learning and development often get pushed aside in fast-paced businesses because the clients or service is a priority. But the more this keeps happening the less agile and resilient your business becomes.

Company cultures where learning is at its core are more resilient to dramatic changes in the outside world, and have greater innovation making them more competitive in their market.

Learning and development isn’t just a nice thing to have, it’s a must-have.

To support continuous learning no matter the circumstance creates an accountability program where your team can have a learning partner to help them keep accountable to the things they’re currently learning and to have someone to discuss it with.

Accountability buddies can make all the difference between passive learning, and engaged learning.

13) Treat every day like a school day

It’s true what they say – every day is a school day. And the same goes for our workplace environment.

Every day we encounter situations, experiences and interactions that we can learn from. The trouble is, most of the time we’re so caught up in the day to day of work we don’t take the time to treat these things as a learning opportunity.

But what if you commissioned your team to spend one week learning from everyday occurrences and reflecting on them?

From conflicts, client relationships to a process that went wrong; I’m pretty sure there are many examples you can see in your everyday workplace where your team could be learning.

Use this as a topic for a week in your company culture, and see what happens.

Being an ‘observer’ of our work day rather than an someone working on default can lead to some fascinating lessons.

These are only a handful of ways you can increase learning and development in your workplace. There are so many other ways you can create a culture of learning and build a growth mindset amongst your team. The best pace to start is to ask them.

What do your team want to learn about?

It’s great having a structured learning and development program that you’ve spent hours on, but if your team doesn’t care for the topics you’re putting on, it’s going to be unpopular and not benefit the team or the company.

Gain as much feedback as possible on the topics that mean a lot to your team, and that includes things that aren’t related to your organisation.

The more you can stimulate them and support their passions the more invested they will be in remaining with your company.

Find out how to improve your company’s culture – contact me about my company culture training, or company culture coaching. 


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    About The Author

    Lizzie Benton is a people and culture specialist who supports organisations in developing a unique company culture and building engaged teams. Lizzie has been recognised as a millennial changing the world of work, and has been featured in the Metro, HuffingtonPost and has spoken across the UK on employee engagement. When not consulting or running a workshop, Lizzie can be found in rural Lincolnshire enjoying afternoon tea and fresh air.