How to Keep Team Members Engaged — Social Learning Spaces Make it Easy!

As a team leader, are you wondering how to keep team members engaged, when your team lost some of its cohesiveness and enthusiasm? Try Social Learning Spaces!Is your team fully engaged in their work as a team or are they distracted? Really, who can blame them if they are distracted? This last year has brought major upheaval in how teams interact and in how work gets done. There’s no going back to normal and maybe that’s a very good thing. If you’ve been wondering how to keep team members engaged, there is a new and exciting opportunity for you! I believe leaders can use this time of transition as an opportunity to re-engage their teams through social learning spaces.

What exactly is a social learning space and how can you use it to help your team members be more fully engaged? 

Google the term and you’ll find fascinating academic studies on the subject, but it can be a bit challenging to drill down on the benefits. Since I live in the academic world as the Assistant Dean at Touro University, I’ve enjoyed a front seat at trainings on social learning and have seen how the principles can be applied beyond education to any team of people who want to learn and grow. My goal is to introduce the concept to you as a learning leader who is ready to guide your team in a new direction.

What kind of space do you work in with your team? You might visualize the boardroom table or a Zoom conference room. But in terms of a social learning space, it’s helpful to think of the environment. This encompasses more than the physical or virtual setting for interaction.

A social learning space is an environment where engagement takes place among a group of people who are learning to make a difference.

There’s that word again, engagement. Without it, your team either floats or flounders but it certainly doesn’t flourish. 

Let’s examine the three terms that build this concept according to researchers, Beverly Wenger-Trayner and Étienne Wenger. (If you want a deeper dive into social learning spaces, I highly recommend their book, Learning to Make a Difference: Value Creation in Social Learning Spaces.)

Social. At the core of this model is the people and relationships that inhabit it. Interaction between all team members is key, no one is left sitting on the sidelines.

Learning. Rather than instructing your team as a leader, this model is about a desire to work together as a group towards a joint inquiry. It’s an environment of mutual engagement constantly moving towards the edge of what the participants already know.

Space. Again, this is not a physical or virtual space. We call it a space because it is experienced by participants as a “room” for engagement. As Beverly Wenger-Trayner and Étienne Wenger explain, “It’s an area defined by social relationships where a mutual type of learning can take place.”

How to Keep Team Members Engaged

Now that you know what composes a social learning space, is that how you would describe your team’s environment? Ask yourself, do the members of my team:

  • Participate because they’re inspired or is it merely perfunctory?
  • Feel like they’re making a difference or powerless to make a change?
  • Listen closely when teammates share or zone out?
  • Get creative in the face of adversity or shut down?

The reality is Social Learning Spaces take time to evolve. As a leader, you should know this isn’t a quick fix. There’s more to it than getting your team to show up for the meeting. Physical or virtual attendance doesn’t translate to participation. However, participation can be learned. In fact, it can be contagious. The book, Learning to Make a Difference, explains it this way,

“Cultivating the ability to learn together is an art that people learn by doing. Over time, it becomes an identity.” Not knowing how to keep team members engaged becomes a thing of the past!

If your team could use a new identity, a shared passion, and re-engagement into what’s possible, I encourage you to continue learning about Social Learning Spaces. You don’t have to dive in and investigate all the latest studies, simply sign up for Social Learning Spaces for Teams. I’ll send you digestible research and team-building strategies you can implement right away.  I’ll also keep you up-to-date on my upcoming Masterclass: Social Learning Spaces for Teams — Fuel Your Team’s Evolution.

Team Leadership Skills

Louise J Santiago, PhD
Executive Coach and Organizational Consultant

Where Leadership is Intentional Work

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