Mutual Learning

Mutual Learning

I have an admission to make. (I have others, but I’ll stick to just the one for now).

I’m not very good at mutual learning.

I mean, I’d like to be. And on those rare occasions when it has happened, I can admit to feeling a sense of well-being and connectedness that’s hard to describe.

I can espouse all the values of mutual learning. But living them (putting them into action) is another matter. I guess the nature of one’s role naturally constrains the opportunities for mutual learning. However, that said, I am resolved to experiment with increasing the mutual learning opportunities in any future roles I may have.

Mutual Learning and The Coach

I suspect that, as a coach, I have a bias in action away from mutual learning. When actively coaching, I’m most interested in what the player is learning about their chosen topic/field/subject/issue, and I’m also interested in what I’m learning about coaching more effectively. But I couldn’t call that very mutual. It’s not like we’re co-exploring the same landscape together. And that makes me feel like we’re both missing out on something. Ditto for team coaching, only on a larger scale.

If you’re a coach, or have coached in the past, have you experienced this too? How do you feel about that?

I’d love to explore the possibility of more mutual learning in coaching assignments and I’m wondering how that could work. I suspect that if there is a way to make it happen, it could have some useful benefits, including:

  • Quicker learning for all parties
  • Increased retention of things learned (more scope for putting the learning into action)
  • Higher commitment to coaching sessions (on both sides) and to the idea of coaching, in general
  • Improved working relationships (and not just between coach and player)
  • Greater personal satisfaction all round

I am resolved to experiment with increasing the mutual learning content in future coaching sessions.

Mutual Learning and the Scrum Master

The role of Scrum Master has much in common with coaching, but differs in that folks typically expect the Scrum Master to be a subject-matter expert too. Whether these two aspects are compatible is another issue (see a previous blog post on this).

As a (some time) Scrum Master, I have noted more opportunities for mutual learning than in a pure-play coaching role. Upon reflection, I believe this is one of the main reasons I enjoy Scrum Mastering. I suspect not all Scrum Masters have the luxury (or wish?) of being able to indulge in mutual learning, at least openly, preferring or being obliged to appear omniscient.

Mutual Learning and the Consultant

Not many consultants I have met seem interested in mutual learning, except discretely and at the expense of the client and or co-learners. Not to say that consultants avoid learning, rather the opposite, just that the nature of the relationship is too often one of exploitation rather than partnership.

I am resolved to experiment with increasing the mutual learning content in future consulting engagements.

Mutual Learning and the Manager

In “The Great Game of Business”, Jack Stack tells a number of stories of managers who stepped outside their comfort zones, deciding to stop pretending the had all the answers, and embrace mutual learning alongside their employees. In the book, at least, this turns out well, variously delivering some or all of the various benefits promised by the mutual learning approach. In my own sojourns under the management hat, barring or perhaps because of the failures of my early attempts, I have always tried to join with others to find stuff out together.

Nevertheless, I am resolved to experiment with increasing further the mutual learning content in future management roles.

Mutual Learning and the Leader

Finally, we come to leadership. On the home page of my website, you will find this paragraph:

“you’ll never guess what I’ve found”

Effective transformational leaders engage people with the idea that meaningful change is possible. Specifically, by encouraging people to look with them at how the work works (understanding the business as a system), effective transformational leaders build engagement, enthusiasm for improvement, and an infectious sense of urgency and shared purpose. This approach requires strength, resolve and, perhaps above all, the courage to be different.

(Note: This was not intended to imply that a leader is “above” others in some hierarchical sense, more that anyone can adopt this role when they discover something curious and potentially significant).

I am resolved to experiment with increasing the mutuality of the leadership role and the mutual learning this implies.


In the spirit of mutual learning, please let me ask: “What do you think?”

– Bob

  1. Hi Bob,
    I have had some super experiences with mutual learning in the mentor/coach + acolyte scenario. I came to this by realizing that in guiding and teaching, a big part of fostering adoption of the agenda/process/content – whatever, involves many times ingesting information that is in conflict with the student’s existing framework.
    It can be very difficult to convince a young salesperson that their policy of laving voicemail cold is not preferable when that is all they have ever done. So to try to crack that nut – as coach, you ask the student Why do you do it that way? What has your experience been? – and you may learn something. As well, you now have more information leverage to use to help the student see why the alternative approach may be more successful.
    You do not have to lose your coach perspective.
    Just remember – when met with resistance, ask why and listen. Periodically ask the student for their take. And listen.

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