Building a learning culture

Lab Associate Natalie Tucker shares her reflections on the learning culture that enabled the success of our inaugural Climate Safe Lending Fellowship  for banking professionals advancing the climate agenda within their institutions.

Last month we wrapped up our first Climate Safe Lending Fellowship – a special adaptation of the Finance Innovation Lab’s flagship Fellowship programme in collaboration with the Climate Safe Lending Network – designed to support a cohort of climate champions working in banks to accelerate climate action from within. The six-month-long Fellowship saw 23 banking professionals develop their knowledge, networks, confidence and skills to influence ‘critical shifts’ inside their banks – and the programme’s culture contributed in no small part to the success of this first cohort.

The Fellowship culture

As the Fellowship drew to a close, I was struck by the strength of the culture that had been built among the cohort – a culture of mutual trust, respect and openness – all geared towards each Fellow being able to bring their best, and to maximise their learning. In line with the Lab’s culture and values, we intentionally set out to build the culture this way along with the Fellows, and one element in particular reflected an important aspect of our team’s own culture – a learning culture.

But what exactly is a ‘learning culture’? The Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development (CIPD) defines it as ‘one that embeds learning into how things are done at an individual, team and organisational level’. For us, it comprises two important components: mindsets and processes.

Learning mindsets

As a team leading a programme focused on supporting others’ learning, we were perhaps already predisposed to a learning mindset. Each of us brought to the Fellowship an openness to learning ourselves, and the humility to recognise that regardless of our existing experience or expertise, there is always more to learn.

This was reinforced by the Lab’s ethos of modelling the kinds of values and behaviours we believe will create a democratic, sustainable, just and resilient financial system. Furthermore, having clarity over roles and responsibilities, and a culture of collaboration and empowerment, allowed all of the team to be part of this learning culture on an equal footing.

So how did we apply these mindsets – what were the practices and processes that helped build this culture on the Fellowship?

Learning processes

Just as we apply ‘Action Learning’ to our own work, we used it as a teaching tool on the Fellowship. The World Institute for Action Learning defines this as ‘a process that involves a small group working on real problems, taking action, and learning as individuals, as a team, and as an organization’. In delivering the Fellowship we used the following four-stage Action Learning cycle as a guide:

Diagram demonstrating that four principles - plan, act, adapt, reflect form an ongoing process.

  • Plan: When designing each of our activities, we kept the following in mind:
    • Intended outcomes for Fellows – from the programme as a whole, and for the specific activity in question.
    • A set of design principles (such as keeping it simple, and equity & inclusion) – which helped us to consistently choose the most appropriate content, timing and delivery methods.
  • Act: We delivered each activity with a focus on:
    • Noticing how it was received and the results it achieved, especially in relation to the intended outcomes for Fellows, but also paying attention to any surprising or unexpected results.
    • Regularly inviting and reviewing feedback from Fellows.
  • Reflect: After each activity (or set of activities) we made time for:
    • Team discussion of Fellows’ feedback and our own observations.
    • In-depth reflection on what each of us noticed was proving effective, and our ideas for making improvements.
  • Adapt: We incorporated changes into the next round of activities by:
    • Reviewing all the team’s reflections, building ideas into our design process, and making additional recommendations.
    • Creating space for further team discussion on important topics where no clear actions had emerged (e.g. in a future meeting, or a Slack thread).
Action Learning… in action

This played out at all levels of our programme design and ways of working together.

At the workshop level, hearing from Fellows how much they valued learning from one another led us to maximise small group discussion time in each session, as well as designing one of our final workshops around Fellows presenting their experiences and exchanging tips with each other.

When it came to higher level programme decisions, when reflecting on our first round of individual support sessions with Fellows in November, we noticed that they needed time to digest and apply what they were learning on the programme. We realised that offering the next round of these 1-2-1 sessions in January as planned would be too soon, so we rescheduled them to later in the programme.

Regular reflection as a team also gave us the chance to share what we liked about our ways of working together and to suggest alternatives, as well as supporting each other’s learning by giving feedback in relation to our personal development goals. This helped us to agree, for example, clear parameters for how to get important messages to each other during workshops, and what to do if we noticed one of the team had missed something they were meant to do.

Developing our learning culture further

Having followed this process throughout the six months of the Fellowship, what adaptations could we make to improve our learning culture in the future? Two areas come to mind:

  • Applying Action Learning to our own team: Our Action Learning this year focused primarily on achieving intended outcomes for Fellows. If we paid as much attention to ourselves as a team and how we work together, what difference could this make to enabling us to better achieve those outcomes?
  • Being more transparent: Much of what is described above took place behind the scenes, without explicit discussion with the Fellows. What might it look like in future years to be fully transparent about our processes and choices so that Fellows can learn and apply them in their own work – or even to reflect and adapt, in conversation with Fellows?
Final reflection

Alongside my role on the Fellowship, I work with start-ups to develop their impact strategies and measurement approaches. We talk a lot about the value of building an ‘impact management mindset’. Rather than focusing on quantifying and proving social impact, impact management is about continually paying attention to what we’re achieving. It involves measuring little and often in order to constantly learn and improve what we do. Arguably, nowhere is this more important than on a learning programme, and it was a pleasure to work with a team who embodied this mindset from our first round of planning to our final acts of reflection and beyond.

As well as continually seeking to improve our activities and processes as a team, we learned so much from this cohort of Fellows about what it takes to be a climate intrapreneur in banking – we’re excited to share highlights with you in our Insights Report, due to be published in June.

If you’re a banker interested in participating in the Fellowship, you can sign up to the Climate Safe Learning Lab and we’ll let you know when applications open.

If you’re interested in learning more about our approach to Action Learning or delivering Fellowship programmes, please contact our Intrapreneurship Programme Manager, Ally Spencer.