We need the team together in the office, we cannot teach juniors otherwise. I frequently hear this argument put forward as a justification for getting people back into the office. In this article, we explore the truth behind this assumption. If true, are teams that aren’t requiring more face time missing out?
What is the assumption?
The argument goes that juniors/trainees learn just from being in the office. The conversations that are overheard, the ability to sit in on client meetings, and the freedom to go and ask for support from those around them. This is the way that the current partners learnt, “on-the-job”, and it is a tried and tested way of doing things. It is a low-risk strategy.
How accurate is this in a post-covid world?
Having trainees/juniors “learn by osmosis” is a fairly effortless way to impart knowledge. Some partners and training supervisors will be better than others and actively discuss what is overheard with their juniors. Perhaps in the taxi back from a meeting, a discussion will be had about how things went on. Most of the time though, it is assumed that what is heard will help shape people’s understanding of what needs to be done.
A hierarchy is underlined here. There is an imbalance of power. There is nothing inherently wrong with that, but it is something to be mindful of because it can erode psychological safety and it might put the brakes on juniors asking challenging questions, or even questioning what they have seen. A lot of what is taken in is absorbed without challenge. How much does this helps encourage different ways of doing things? How much does it encourage diverse thinking? The freedom to do this will vary depending on the individuals in question (at both a senior and junior level), but the truth is, this is rarely given much by way of conscious thought.
Pre-Covid a lot of what was overheard would have been communications by telephone (either with clients or internally), or in face-to-face meetings. There would have also been water-cooler chats or quick conversations with peers.
This beggars the question: do these things still exist post-covid?
Telephone calls have been all but replaced with virtual conferencing, and face-to-face meetings have been much reduced (and are much less likely to be ad-hoc now). It is rare for everyone to be in the office every day, so even water-cooler chats are less frequent. We would argue that as a result, a new way of developing individuals needs to be established.
What could a new way look like?
It would be easy to say that juniors can be made to sit in on virtual calls and invited to attend face-to-face meetings. Watercooler chats can be recreated on apps designed for quick communication (WhatsApp and the like). Of course, all of that is true, but it is falling into the trap that was there before. It is also based on an assumption. The assumption is that learning by osmosis works and that it is the best way.
Covid provided firms with many opportunities. Firms are still trying to navigate their way through them. This is just one area where Covid has uncovered an organisational truth - “we learn by osmosis here” – that can be tested and challenged to provide a better way.
So much of what we do ends up being a question of convenience rather than a thoughtful exercise. It is much easier to do what we have always done. Indeed, even post-covid habits die hard. It is easier to provide a hybrid event, given that guarantees more participants than to say everyone needs to be in either a real or virtual space. As a creator of learning journeys, we know that there is a place for mindful hybrid events, but there are also activities that are best-done face-to-face, and hybrid waters down the experience for both those online and in the room.
Maximizing time spent together
We are increasingly seeing firms inviting us in to carry out training face-to-face as a way to get teams together. Providing shared experiences helps strengthen the team’s sense of belonging and it provides a reason to be together. The learning is enhanced as a result.
This mindful and considered approach to location is perhaps what firms need to do more of. What do we want our juniors to learn by osmosis? Are we thinking about technical skills, soft skills, or something else? What might the journey to acquiring those skills look like now and what other support might be needed for this to work? Coaching or mentoring could ensure that conversations are had about what is observed. This would produce deeper insights and greater commitment. This is a more expensive way, not necessarily financially, but certainly in terms of time. However, this new way might just give firms an edge.