Building a Learning Culture

Imagine yourself in the following situation. You know your team, their strengths and their weaknesses. You know which members need to improve and in which areas. Like most, your team is made up of a variety of people: members who are eager to learn, who read everything they find, and others who don’t, for any number of reasons.

Even when you try to remind them to spend work time learning—remember, improving is part of the job—they don’t do it. They always have too much to do and can’t find the time.

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You know that if they don’t improve, it means feast today and famine tomorrow. You know your team members need to learn new aspects of the business, languages, frameworks, and ground knowledge, in order to be ready. But how do you convince them to do it? How can you change the mentality and foster learning?

Sharing articles and papersWill it work?

You’ll probably share articles and papers on your work channels, like Slack—but does that work? As soon as you start asking about that article you shared you find the same familiar pattern: there are some people who always read what you share, and the rest never do.

So you try to give internal talks and teach these things yourself, but most people think they don’t have time, there is too much to do, and so on. Again we find the same problem, the same pattern.

The key: learning must come first

Learning needs its own dedicated time, and space as a recognized part of your methodology. No matter the methodology you follow, you’ll have sync meetings, fixed steps that everybody has to follow, and other elements you probably take for granted. You can’t forget to make learning a deliberate part of that, too.

And later, how do you make sure learning’s wheels keep spinning?

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1. Daily learning meetings

At ShuttleCloud, I wanted my team to keep learning every day, improving their skills and knowledge on a variety of fronts.

We tried several tools to share articles and discuss them, but none worked out. I talked with my team several times about taking work time to read articles, watch videos, and so on, with no luck. After that I decided to try something new:

I come up with the daily learning meeting.

Every day I would send out an article to read, and someone would be chosen at random to explain the article to rest of team. No one was forced to read, only to attend, but guess what? When your peers are reading something, you end up doing it too.

Every day I spent considerable time reading articles about a subject I wanted my team to improve on. Of course, I had to choose the best articles possible to send around, because the idea was to make sure my team was happy and positive about this. Articles had to be clear and not too long.

This practice has been a huge success. After a year we do it every day. Now every member of my team looks for good articles and pushes to keep the learning active.

The learning meeting is really fun and some of them go into a lot of depth. I remember one meeting where we ended up capturing all of our TCP traffic to double-check what an article was saying about TCP.

Learning_Meetings_ShuttleCloud

2. Internal workshops

One rule we follow is that if you learn something you have to share it, so we have a lot of internal workshops. We are a small team and we need to maximize our efforts—if you’re doing something new you have to be sure that the rest of the team is up to speed with it so they can help you or pick it up from you later.

Most of the tools we currently have in production were discovered or taught like that, including Docker, Prometheus, 12 Factor, and our best practices.

3. Budget

We count on a pretty good budget for books and conferences. If someone needs a book, it’s bought immediately. If someone wants to attend a conference, the company takes care of everything so we can focus on the conference and nothing else.

4. Events

Technical events give a company a lot of benefits. They help with marketing, hiring, and, of course, learning new things. They also create the perfect atmosphere for a learning culture. At these events you’re surrounded by people who are eager to learn, to share their knowledge, and to improve. We started to organize and host events about two years ago, and in the last year we’ve regularly hosted meetups for:

We also have WorkshopWeLove: every two months we organize a workshop on a hot topic. These are one-day workshops where 50 people gather to learn something hands-on. To create high-quality workshops, we bring key people from abroad. We also keep the workshops completely free for attendees. We take care of everything, including:

  • Speaker expenses
  • Food and drinks
  • Organization
  • Content and sometimes part of the workshop if the topic is something we know about.

These events also allow us to give something back to the community. Here you can see some examples of our workshops:

We’ve brought people in from Switzerland, Belgium, UK, Ireland, other cities of Spain…

One last tip: Do you want to see your team achieve all that? You have to be the first one doing it. I’ve always believed that you have to lead people by exampleyou can’t expect a group to follow your guidelines when you’re acting differently.

Learning_ShuttleCloud

In the end it boils down to something really simple: as a company we are trying to excel, and that means improving what we do and how do it.

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