When your team wants to learn a new skill, where do they turn first? Google? YouTube? Their corporate training programs? No. According to a study conducted by our company, Degreed, more workers first turn to their peers (55%)—second only to asking their bosses. Peer-to-peer learning can be a powerful development tool that breaks through some common barriers to skill-building — and it has other benefits as well.
Yet many organizations have yet to create a formal structure for peer-to-peer learning. In a McKinsey survey, Learning & Development officers report that while classroom training, experiential learning, and on-the-job application of skills are now in regular use as learning mechanisms, less than half of organizations have instituted any kind of formal peer-to-peer learning. One in three respondents said their organizations don’t even have any systems in place to share learning among employees.
In the research for our book The Expertise Economy, we found that managers are often reluctant to establish formal peer-to-peer learning primarily because of a perception that experts outside the company are more valuable as teachers than those inside it, and because peer-to-peer programs are spaced out over numerous sessions. In this context, sending employees to a single day of intense training from an outside expert is assumed to be more fruitful.
It isn’t. First, peer-to-peer learning taps into the expertise that already exists in your organization. Think of all the smart people that you hire and surround yourself with every day, and how much could be gained if peers shared their expertise with each other to learn and build new skills.
Peer-to-peer learning is also uniquely well suited to the way we learn. People gain new skills best in any situation that includes all four stages of what we call the “Learning Loop”: gain knowledge; practice by applying that knowledge; get feedback; and reflect on what has been learned. Peer-to-peer learning encompasses all of these.
For example, when Kelly was in charge of learning at LinkedIn, her team created a peer-to-peer learning program designed around the company’s key corporate values. One section of the program focused on difficult conversations; each participant was asked to identify a real-life difficult conversation they needed to have at work (especially one they might be avoiding). They were first taught about difficult conversations (stage 1); next they practiced with each other before holding the conversations in real life (stage 2). One of the participants, John, confronted his employee Mark about his missed deadlines, a pattern which had been negatively affecting the team. The conversation did not go well — John felt awkward, and Mark got defensive. When John shared this experience with his peers in the learning group, they openly shared their views and ideas, and their own experiences of similar situations (stage 3). As everyone in the group — not just John — reflected on what they had learned, they concluded that they had all become more confident and armed with ideas about how to better handle a similar situation in the future (stage 4). Later group members indicated that their real-world difficult conversations indeed had become more productive.
A learner’s development is dependent on a willingness to make mistakes, challenge ideas, and speak up about concerns — as John and his colleagues did in their group. Unlike some learning methods — like tests or exams, or high-pressure demonstrations of skills — peer-to-peer learning creates a space where the learner can feel safe taking these risks without a sense that their boss is evaluating their performance while they are learning. You’re more likely to have candid conversations about areas you need to develop with a peer than with someone who has power over your career and income. In peer-to-peer learning, the dynamics of hierarchy disappear. And unlike other methods — like classroom lectures or online compliance training — peer-to-peer learning provides a structured opportunity to have these discussions to begin with.
A secondary benefit of peer-to-peer learning is that the format itself helps employees develop management and leadership skills. Group reflection conversations help employees master the difficult skills of giving and accepting honest, constructive feedback. Because feedback flows in both directions, participants in peer-to-peer learning tend to put more time and energy into making sure the feedback they provide is meaningful. They think from the perspective of their peer, consider where each is coming from, and try to get specific about what will be most helpful and constructive. This doesn’t happen as often when a boss delivers one-way feedback to employees. Similarly, peer learning gives employees experience in leadership, handling different points of view, and developing skills such as empathy.
Setting Up a Peer Learning Program
Formal peer-to-peer learning programs can take many forms. As a manager, you can hold your program online or in person. Your program could pair participants in one-to-one sessions, create cohorts working together on real work problems over a few months, or involve weekly sessions in which individuals share the latest knowledge they’ve gained with their peers with plenty of time for discussion and reflection.
To make any peer-to-peer learning program successful for your team, we recommend a few best practices:
Appoint a facilitator. Although the structure of peer learning is horizontal rather than hierarchical, it’s important to have a neutral party who is not the team’s manager facilitate the program to keep in on track. This person — ideally a skilled facilitator — should organize sessions, keep everyone on topic, keep conversations moving forward, and maintain a positive atmosphere for participants to learn, experiment, and ask questions.
Build a safe environment. Peer learning only works when participants feel safe enough to share their thoughts, experiences, and questions. They need to be open and vulnerable enough to accept constructive input, and also have the courage to give honest feedback rather than telling people what they want to hear.
To build a safe environment, set ground rules. Some suggestions: confidentiality must be honored; feedback should be perceived as a generous gesture that should always be met with gratitude; participants should practice empathy, putting themselves in others’ shoes; and participants should never be mocked or embarrassed for expressing themselves in front of their peers.
Focus on real-world situations. Whenever possible, these sessions should focus on genuine problems to solve. People are more likely to participate, learn, and remember new skills if they are learned in the course of addressing a real-life challenge.
Encourage networking. It helps to set up online social networks around learning, organize networking events for people to discuss their area of expertise, and establish learning groups that meet regularly to discuss ideas. Some organizations build company-wide campaigns in an effort to get everyone involved.
With a well-built peer-to-peer learning program in place as a complement to more traditional learning programs, your team will build lasting skills and relationships that will allow them to bring the skills they learn in those programs into their daily work.
Physician discontent over deteriorating working conditions and growing risks to patient care has risen to alarming levels in European hospitals. To understand physicians’ evolving reality, Bain’s biennial Europe Front Line of Health Care Survey tracks European practitioners’ attitudes, priorities and decision-making power. The findings are based on input from 1,156 physicians across nine specialties and 154 hospital procurement administrators in Germany, France, the UK, and Italy. Our research shows that a majority of doctors wouldn’t recommend their hospital to family or friends as a place to work or receive care. Citing staffing shortages, budget cuts, aging equipment and inadequate facilities, physicians warn they are unprepared to cope with looming healthcare challenges. Provider organizations have attempted structural changes over the past few years to fix specific problems, but, on the whole, their efforts have fallen short.
When an entire system needs renewal, it’s hard to know where to start. In our experience, providers can create powerful momentum for change and reengage doctors by focusing specifically on technologies that doctors feel improves their ability to deliver care. However, technology alone is insufficient. Getting physician buy-in by assuring that they experience the technology’s benefits is essential.
We see a few leading provider networks in Europe that are starting down this path. They are reengaging physicians by setting out a clear vision to provide exceptional care, innovating at scale in a few core areas and making technology investments that will help them deliver substantial improvements in care delivery. These organizations are targeting technologies that have a proven impact on patient outcomes, efficiency of care delivery, workforce engagement, or population demand management.
The UK Salford Royal NHS foundation trust is one provider network leading in both frontline engagement and technology deployment. With a reputation as one of the best performing hospital trusts in the UK, it is one of 16 hospitals the NHS has cited as a “global digital exemplar”, a provider delivering superior care efficiently through the use of world-class digital technology.
The management team at the UK’s Salford Royal NHS foundation trust has launched 50 digital projects aimed at improving patient experience and safety, increasing operational efficiency and improving reliability. Many of those investments already have produced positive outcomes for patients, including an electronic assessment tool for detecting delirium which has reduced the average length of a hospital stay for patients by half, IT infrastructure that enables patients to send their wearable data directly to clinicians for real-time monitoring, and an electronic assessment tool that has reduced patients’ venous thromboembolism rate by 20%. Salford’s strategy also has significantly reduced documentation time for staff. Ninety-three percent of clinicians said they were satisfied with the hospital’s electronic patient record services according to a recent survey by KLAS research, compared with an average of 60% among clinicians generally.
Many provider organizations are still at the beginning of the journey. In Spain, Badalona Serveis Assistencials, a local provider outside Barcelona is deploying various technologies to develop a more integrated and effective care model for patients with complex chronic conditions. It has used advanced analytics to build a predictive model of patient populations by risk so that doctors can intervene proactively; it uses fully integrated electronic healthcare records to coordinate care across different care sites, including home, social care and health services; and it uses telemonitoring to keep a close watch on patients’ status at home. To date, the effort has reduced the average length of stay in hospitals, average bed days and emergency visits. Overall, it has improved patient outcomes and reduced the operating costs of clinical services.
In France, four Paris hospitals are part of a trial using machine learning and Big Data to tackle the problem of staffing shortages by forecasting patient visits and admission rates. The project, run by Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris, the largest hospital system in Europe, combines historical (anonymized) data with external datasets including weather, public holidays and flu patterns, to forecast visits and admission rates for the coming 15 days. The hospital group plans to use the data to ensure adequate staffing levels during peak periods, reduce waiting times and improve quality of care. Although still in development, the forecasting model has proven accurate within a 5% variance for the actual admission rate and management hopes to roll it out eventually across all 44 hospitals.
Europe’s healthcare providers face broad systemic challenges, including rethinking care delivery for a rapidly aging population. Targeted investments in technology that improve patient care and provider efficiency can help enable that shift. The efforts by Salford, Badalona Serveis Assistencials and Assistance Publique-Hôpitaux de Paris highlight the way forward. Setting ambitious goals for improving care and using smart investments in technology can play a vital role in galvanizing broader change — and help address the discontent that so many doctors in Europe face.