Earlier this year I had the opportunity to accompany my son to the Boy Scouts of America’s annual Camp O’ Ree. Over the weekend, the Scouts planned activities that included fire starting, survival, ready man, rope climbing, etc. What caught my attention was how the activities were planned and run by the Scouts, not the adults. It was the older boys’ responsibility to teach the younger boys – 12-17 year olds were teaching 9 and 10 year olds. They weren’t directed by troop leaders, and were in charge of determining the best methods of learning on their own.
I observed them weighing different techniques like lecture, hands on, simulation, full immersion and demonstration, and it struck me as oddly similar to corporate learning. Something that takes corporate learning executives countless hours of study to understand, the Scouts seemed to figure out so quickly. Even more fascinating than the preparation, was the knowledge transfer. The younger boys learned in a day what they could learn from an adult in six months. None of the boys cried, became frustrated or lost interest. If I tried to teach my son as the older Scouts did, I would have seen a meltdown of epic proportions at the first station of fire starting.
We hear talk these days of flat, leaderless organizations and how it promotes innovation, teamwork, productivity, collaboration. This is exactly what I observed at Camp Snyder. The scouts are very structured with leaders based on tenure and rank, but within a specific task there was full collaboration and no single leader. Take, for example, the Scouts’ quest to send “Cricketnauts” into space. Basically load live crickets into a model rocket and send upward a couple of hundred feet into the sky. Within minutes, three Scouts and two younger boys decided who would collect the crickets, pack the rock
et, launch the rocket and act as a runner to retrieve the rocket. That would have taken five Project Manager’s (no offense to the PM’s of the world) days to come up with a plan and execute.
So how does my ranting apply to teaching customers and employees? How do our more experienced employees train and share best practices with the younger generations? Do we fully understand how people learn within our companies? Do we spend the time to find out? As learning professionals, we position ourselves as experts and specialist who will develop solutions to solve our customers’ problems. But if we do not understand how they learn within their organizations, how can we develop an effective solution? So much can be learned by watching and observing others… and not always where you think you need to be observing.
The key to success for the Scouts is the peer to peer learning versus relying on the adults to teach them everything. Employees do this every day in the office but totally unaware of how much knowledge they are receiving from their cube buddy. So if you are a Learning Leader, go horizontal and not vertical to unleash your knowledge transfer. You wonder to yourself, where do I start? Now is your opportunity to relive your days as a Scout. Start with forming Scout Patrols – employee peer groups to discuss assigned topics, peer based book groups, communities of practice, informal coaching and mentoring partnering. Also, if you happen to be a learning technology geek like me, you can easily pull the Patrols together with employees located around the world with the right technology platform and tools. Time to get started and start racking up your collection of merit badges.
So what did the Boy Scouts teach me? If you take the time to watch how others learn, you most likely will learn something yourself.