The Best (Free!) Learning Tool You Already Have

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Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful (and free) development tool.

Research shows that when people want to learn a skill, turning to colleagues for help is often the first thing they do.

You can encourage this kind of learning in your organization by setting up a formal program for it:

  1. Start by appointing a facilitator to oversee the program. It’s important to have a neutral party — who is not the team’s manager — to organize sessions, keep everyone on topic, and maintain a positive atmosphere.

  2. Before your first session, create a safe environment so that people feel comfortable sharing their thoughts, experiences, and questions. Setting ground rules around honoring confidentiality and accepting feedback graciously can help.

  3. During sessions, be sure that learning is tied to real-world situations and problems so that participants can apply the skills they’ve learned quickly.

  4. Finally, encourage employees to network, whether online, at networking events, or through another method, so that anyone in the company can get involved.

Adapted from “How to Help Your Employees Learn from Each Other,” by Kelly Palmer and David Blake

Shift from Gossip to Good Discussion


We all get frustrated with colleagues from time to time. But complaining about a coworker behind their back can be destructive. It erodes trust on the team, risks hurting the person’s feelings, and makes you look bad.

The next time you’re tempted to complain about someone, stop and ask yourself why. If it’s to justify your feelings or to confirm that you’re right, don’t do it.

On the other hand, if you’re having a problem with a coworker and want someone else’s take on the issue, or you want to brainstorm helpful solutions, then talk it out professionally.

Finally, when someone comes to you for a gripe session, pivot the conversation away from complaining and toward problem solving. You can also adopt a “tell them first” policy with your colleagues, meaning you’ll let someone vent to you about a coworker — as long as they’ve already talked to that coworker about the issue.

Adapted from “Stop Complaining About Your Colleagues Behind Their Backs," by Deborah Grayson Riegel

Optimize the Open Office

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An open office can be a nightmare when it comes to noise — especially when you’re working on something that requires your undivided attention.

To get the focus you need, talk to your team to sync up expectations about how you can all work optimally. Try these:

  • Develop some ground rules. For example, you all might agree that when one colleague is on the phone, everyone else will only whisper.

  • Invest in noise-canceling headphones. They not only drown out unwanted noise, but also serve as a visual cue that you don’t want to be disturbed.

  • Scout out a private, quiet space — say, an underused conference room — that will allow you to write and think when you truly can’t be interrupted.

  • Finally, if noise is still a problem, ask your manager about moving to a new desk. Don’t lodge complaints about your talkative coworkers; be positive and tell your boss that you’ll be more productive in another space.

How do you optimize the open office plan?

Find the Meaning in the Menial


We all have parts of our jobs that aren’t fun. But even a task we don’t like can be meaningful if you search for it. Try this exercise:

Think about an activity that you don’t always enjoy doing — delivering performance reviews, for example. Now ask yourself why you do it, but ask four times.

  1. The first time you ask “Why do I do this?” you might answer, “Because I have to” or “I want to let my people know where they stand.”

  2. The second time: “Why do I want to let my people know where they stand?” The answer here might not be inspiring: “Because it’s part of my job.” But the answer might also start to sound more meaningful: “So that people can know how they can reach their career goals.”

  3. Then ask a third time: “Why do I care if people know how to reach their career goals?” Continue for one more iteration.

  4. By the fourth round, you’re likely to uncover a meaningful reason behind the activity — and a motivation for doing it well.

You spend your days motivating your team. Explain reasoning to yourself too!

Find your calm in the storm

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When our jobs are at their most hectic, our approach to work can shift from “How do I get everything done?” to “How do I survive this?”

To cope with intense times, try a few strategies:

  • Reward yourself for finishing a tough task (like writing a report) by completing an easy task (like running an errand). This will help you pace yourself and ensure your brain gets a break while you stay productive.

  • Motivate yourself with the pleasurable parts of hard projects. If you don’t love writing reports but do enjoy editing, let yourself look forward to when you’ll clean up and improve your text.

  • Use small scraps of time for mental rest. When you’re forced to do nothing for a few minutes — whether before a meeting starts or in line at the grocery store — take some slow breaths, drop your shoulders, and unwind.

[Adapted from “How to Get Through an Extremely Busy Time at Work,” by Alice Boyes]

How do you keep calm during the busy season?

Overwhelmed or overburdened?

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Project overload is real. As a leader, it can be hard to tell whether your team needs more resources or could just be working more efficiently. Here’s how to check:

  • Start by asking people to identify their key activities and how much time they spend on them in a typical week. Use that data to assess workloads and priorities.

  • Consider which tasks the team could stop doing and which might benefit from having their process rethought.

    • Pay special attention to low-value projects that have to get done but that take up an inordinate amount of time.

    • Are there ways to simplify the workflows to reduce the amount of time your team spends in these areas?

  • Last but not least, look for tasks that simply can be done more quickly.

If your team is still struggling after these steps, it might be time to hire more people.

Smile, Breathe, and Prioritize on.

When you're remote, plan ahead!

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Do you have a coworker who’s in a different office or location?

When you work virtually with someone on a regular basis, it can be helpful to talk about how you’ll work together. Plan out how you will communicate.

  • You might decide to email for simple matters but get on Skype when something complex requires you to share screens.

  • Discuss what times of day are better to call or text, and whether there are particular days of the week you should avoid.

  • If you collaborate on documents, establish a process to ensure you don’t inadvertently delete updates or create conflicting versions.

    • Consider using Dropbox, Google Docs, or another service that monitors revisions.

Establishing these kinds of ground rules early on demonstrates respect for each other’s time and helps avoid the frustration that can come from mismatched expectations. You got this!