We all know that the help and encouragement of others is essential to our progress and success at work. We all need to have people around us who can offer objectivity and alternative perspectives, alongside challenge and support.

A growing number of forward thinking organisations are embracing a new way of supporting their talent. They are setting up and actively encouraging the growth of networks of Learning Partnerships.

Learning Partnerships deliver value for the individuals involved, and also support their organisations to learn to value and celebrate diversity, difference and sharing.

Unlike mentoring, where the sharing of expertise is the primary focus, Learning Partnerships are relationships between colleagues who want to explore and learn together.

Learning Partnerships are reciprocal relationships which combine the powerful benefits of coaching with the insights of peer-to-peer learning. They provide colleagues with the opportunity to become involved with each other’s personal and professional development through the development of their own coaching skills.

Learning Partnerships give individuals from across different parts of an organisation a vehicle through which they can share insights and experience.

When organisations fully embrace Learning Partnerships and embed them into their way of delivering staff development they discover that they:

  • Deliver significant and measurable returns on the initial outlay of time and resources.
  • Foster collaboration and cross functional working.
  • Accelerate the rate of development of their talent base.
  • Open up lines of communication across the whole organisation.
  • Help identify and develop future leaders.
  • Support the development of a self-directed learning culture.
  • Support innovation, growth and problem solving.

Learning Partnerships facilitate equality, reciprocity and collaboration, and as such are mutually rewarding learning exchanges. To succeed, each Learning Partner needs to be committed to mutual respect, honesty and openness.

All Learning Partnerships begin with exploration and agreement around outcomes, goals, roles and responsibilities. Both parties need to be actively committed to working within a Learning Partnership relationship where the needs of both are met.

The key to unlocking a great Learning Partnership is the ability to step in and out of different roles within one relationship. Not only do Learning Partners need to be able to coach and be learners, they also need to be a:

  • Thinking Partner – a sounding board who facilitates clarity and challenges perspectives and beliefs.
  • Objective Supporter – providing a fresh point of view and support in identifying new strategies and opportunities.
  • Companion – a fellow traveller to share insights and learning and to help track success.

Learning Partners come together in a number of ways. They coach each other, review learning, offer observations and different perspectives, and share insights and wisdom.

Learning Partners take turns in coaching each other, and they need to actively listen without judgment. They reflect back what they are hearing, ask incisive questions, and support their Learning Partner to decide on a course of action.

They provide a neutral space to explore, as they have no vested interest in the outcome of the coaching discussion. Their sole aim is to support and encourage their Learning Partner to achieve the outcome they have set themselves.

As Social Facilitators, we have been supporting organisations to embed Learning Partnerships into their learning and development offers for some time now, and know that the key to ensuring success is the provision of skills development and ongoing access to an experienced coach/mentor acting as the facilitator of a series of Learning Partnerships.