Guide: Create an employee-to-employee learning program

Introduction

Organizations that embrace a culture of learning create an environment that encourages curiosity and knowledge sharing, which in turn leads to better business outcomes. A strong learning culture can better position your organization for future needed skill shifts and primes employees to think and act more like owners when it comes to their own development needs. One effective way to promote a learning culture is through an employee-to-employee learning program. Employees develop and grow by teaching others, and the people in your organization learn from peers with first-hand knowledge of the business.

At Google, 80% of all tracked trainings are run through an employee-to-employee network called “g2g” (Googler-to-Googler). This volunteer teaching network of over 6,000 Google employees dedicate a portion of their time to helping their peers learn and grow. Volunteers — known internally as “g2g’ers” — can participate in a variety of ways, such as teaching courses, providing 1:1 mentoring, and designing learning materials, and they come from every department of Google.

Many of the most popular classes led by g2g’ers focus on general professional skills, like negotiations and leadership, and role-related skills, like sales training and Python coding. It’s also helped upskill huge numbers of employees around new opportunities. For example, as mobile computing on smartphones exploded, thousands of Googlers went through an Android training bootcamp run by the very Googlers who worked on Android.

Google still uses vendors (and a few internal “professional” trainers) to teach some classes, but sparingly, and for content that’s either highly specialized, or targeted to executives.

An employee-to-employee learning program is not about “doing more with less.” If you’re looking to save money on a training budget and mandating participation, you could end up with resentful employee teachers delivering rushed classes to confused employee learners. Before proceeding, consider potential pitfalls. One thing that has made the g2g program so successful at Google is that the employees participate voluntarily and are supported by a culture that values learning.

Guide: Create an employee-to-employee learning program

Define your learning goals

What are your goals for learning in your organization? What do you hope to achieve by launching an employee-to-employee learning program? These are important questions to ask at the start. The goal at Google is to provide the right learning to the right people at the right time. For g2g, this means focusing efforts on providing high quality learning experiences at scale through community-driven initiatives.

This goal is anchored on three core beliefs:

  • All employees have the right to learn, regardless of location, role, tenure or level in the organization.
  • Learning is the responsibility of the entire company, not just the Learning & Development team.
  • Trust that employees are smart, capable and motivated — they have the capacity to grow Google’s learning culture.

Make sure your org size can support an employee-to-employee program. While empowering employees to teach and learn from each other can offer tremendous benefits, it may also be impractical given the size of your organization. There is a cost to selecting, supporting, and training employee facilitators. Take time to do an analysis to determine your setup and operating costs and comparing that to what it would cost to provide the same training via other means (e.g., vendors or full time staff).

Make sure the content can be appropriately delivered by a peer. If you’re trying to teach highly specialized content, content aimed at your most senior leaders, or content that could be very sensitive, consider having a professional deliver that content. You don’t want to setup an employee facilitator to fail by giving them an impossible task.

Remember that not all learning happens in a classroom with a single teacher in front of multiple students. So even if a full employee-to-employee learning program doesn’t make sense for your organization, consider the many other ways your employees can help one another learn. One on one mentoring programs can be incredibly powerful or having employees hold open office hours can be an easy way for expertise to be shared.

Guide: Create an employee-to-employee learning program

Make learning part of the culture

In order for an employee-to-employee learning program to work, it needs to be part of a wider organizational culture that values continuous learning. No matter your industry, it’s likely that your employees, your organization, and, ultimately, your bottom line would benefit from a culture where employees were constantly learning new things, seeking out new opportunities, and developing new skills.

The success of the g2g program at Google is due largely to the culture of learning fostered within the company. The g2g program is aligned with Google’s core learning philosophies:

  • Learning is a process, not an event, that requires motivation, opportunities to practice, and continuous feedback.
  • Learning happens in real life, especially during transitions or challenging moments.
  • Learning is personal. Everyone has different learning styles and different levels of challenge within which they can work.
  • Learning is social. Google supports an environment for Googlers to connect with peers for advice and support.

Here are a few things Google has done to help make peer-to-peer learning a part of the culture:

  • Strong leadership sponsorship: Like so many large-scale efforts, getting support from the top is critical. Employees need to hear (and hopefully see) that leaders believe that learning is an important part of work. At Google, one senior leader said: “It’s very unlikely that you’ll ever learn faster, or better than you will from one of your fellow employees.”
  • Connection to core values: It can be easy to pay lip service to employee development, but it’s difficult to fake if your core values include how you treat employees. If your organization is serious about fostering a learning culture, tie it into your organizational mission or core values. By then supporting an employee-to-employee learning program, you’re sharing responsibility and ownership for a learning culture with your employees and everyone can see how it connects to your organization’s reason for being.
  • Start early: Making it clear and explicit from day one that learning is expected and part of everyone’s job is an important opportunity. Consider how you can incorporate it directly into new hire orientation or encourage managers to bring it up with new team members. At Google, the new-hire (“Noogler”) orientation program itself features multiple g2g facilitators talking about a variety of topics.

The g2g team is often asked: “How do you motivate people to do something outside their core job?” The answer is actually pretty simple; trust people to do great work, give them tools and feedback, show them how it connects to the big picture, and then step aside. When the team focused their strategy around trust and support, participants have consistently exceeded expectations.

build Tool: Recruit facilitators

Selecting the right people to teach the content makes a huge difference to the future success an employee-to-employee learning program. By investing upfront in finding folks who are passionate about helping their peers grow, you’ll save time and resources later on by not having to struggle with volunteer accountability or motivation.

Here are a few tips on recruiting:

  • Make sure they’re interested: Having leaders nominate the best subject matter experts for the topic sounds like a good idea, but often it doesn’t work. A passion for teaching and sharing expertise is critical to a volunteer’s success. The Google team has found that g2g’ers who have been nominated to teach, but don’t have a passion for teaching, tend to have lower quality scores than those who self-select into the program. Assessing a candidate’s level of interest, not just their level of competency, has to be part of the process.
  • But, interest alone isn’t enough: Interest is critical when selecting volunteers, but you don’t want to just accept everyone who’s interested. It needs to be a balance between finding folks who are passionate about teaching as well as experts in the content.
  • Take the time to interview: Sit down with potential teachers to get to know them and assess their fit for the program. The g2g team hosts a short, introductory conversation (20-30 mins) to share a bit about the g2g program, expectations for participation, and to ensure the candidate has manager approval to participate. If both parties are still interested, there’s a demo “teach-in” where candidates are asked to give a mock training on any topic. There’s then a final meeting in which the team shares the decision to accept the candidate into the program or let them know that they’re not a fit and why.

Recruiting the right people for the right content is a critical step in building a successful peer-to-peer learning program, even if they’ve been nominated to participate by leadership.

Here are a few resources to help you along the way:

Make it your own: customize the tool below.

Interview Guide for Evaluating Facilitators

Tips and questions for how to conduct an effective interview that will give you insight into the skills and motivation of your candidates.

Facilitator Mock Training Prep Guide

Guidance for facilitator candidates to help them prepare to demonstrate their facilitation skills during a short mock training session.

Facilitator Mock Training Assessment Sheet

Criteria and instructions for evaluating the facilitation skills of your candidates.

build Tool: Develop facilitator skills

Development is critical to both the quality of your program and to the motivation of your participants. When people volunteer for something, they usually want to do a good job. By providing them with the resources and support they need to improve their own skills, you’ll not only increase the quality of the trainings they teach, but your facilitators will view this support as a reward itself.

Investing time and resources to teach your facilitators the basics of effective facilitation so they feel confident in the classroom and equipped to handle any training scenario is important. At Google, g2g facilitators go through this Facilitation Bootcamp as a great first step in developing their foundational skills.

The course is designed to be a two-hour, interactive live workshop. The focus is more on facilitating group discussions and activities rather than presenting slides -- which is why the slide deck itself is very minimal! That was an intentional choice to make sure time is spent on group facilitation rather than presenting content.

You can easily adapt this workshop to be run virtually over Google Hangouts or a similar platform. Here’s three tips for making a virtual training work (more tips can be found in the appendix of the Participant Workbook):

  1. Use breakout virtual rooms for small group discussions and exercises.
  2. Use shared Google Docs (or other collaborative software) for participants to answer questions or do activities simultaneously.
  3. Pause for a longer time (5-15 seconds, or even longer if you want to force participation) when waiting for verbal questions or responses to allow time for participants to un-mute.

Make it your own: customize the tool below.

Facilitation Bootcamp Training Slides

Slide deck to present to participants during the training.

Facilitation Bootcamp Training Facilitator Guide

Facilitator notes and talking points to effectively run a session of Facilitation Bootcamp.

Facilitation Bootcamp Training Workbook

Workbook for each participant to take notes during the training. Also includes an Appendix with more detailed information and resources.

build Tool: Give actionable feedback

Feedback is one of the most valuable things you can provide your facilitators. There are a variety of ways to collect and give feedback to facilitators:

  • Sit in on a training session. Observe at least one session of each facilitator and take notes and provide structured feedback afterwards. Consider having a content expert or another facilitator also sit in.
  • Collect feedback from your learners. After each training session, course attendees fill out a survey (see template below) to leave feedback on how the training went, and to rate their facilitator. The survey questions are a combination of 1-5 rating scale and open-ended question types. The feedback scores and comments are aggregated into a report for the facilitator so they can see where they’re doing well, and where they need to improve.
  • Give personalized 1:1 coaching. To help new or struggling facilitators, consider having a veteran facilitator meet with them one-one-one (“1:1”) to discuss training tips, advice, solutions, preparation for training sessions, and more. At Google, these sorts of coaching sessions have proven very effective at improving facilitator quality. In 2015, facilitator rating scores (as measured by the student surveys) increased by an average of .3 out of 5.0 following completion of one coaching session.

Make it your own: customize the tool below.

Post-Class Evaluation Survey

A customizable survey to send to learning participants after their sessions.

Guide: Create an employee-to-employee learning program

Recognize & reward

Think about meaningful recognition options for your facilitators. This can be a message to their manager explaining their great work, a certificate they can print, or physical rewards.

You may want to send your facilitators recognition if they've:

  • taken on a new challenge, such as facilitating a customized session
  • been an active member of the facilitator community, encouraging participation from others
  • volunteered to upskill a new facilitator, or provided qualitative feedback to an existing facilitator

You may want to also reward facilitators when they've met a milestone in their facilitator career, such as delivering their 5th session, their 10 session, reaching a 100% satisfied feedback score from participants, etc. Consider not publicizing when these milestones are to avoid creating a culture where participants are motivated if they’ll be recognized with physical rewards.

To keep facilitators engaged in an ongoing basis, consider creating a network and connecting all of your facilitators. Building a supportive, well-connected community with your facilitators will be well worth the effort in the long term. Program managers who have cultivated strong communities can rely more heavily on their facilitators to help them out with onboarding new facilitators, updating content, and handling custom requests. This can be done with a simple email list or you can hold regular meetings to convene facilitators. Encourage your facilitators to discuss best practices, content changes, new projects, and more.

Guide: Create an employee-to-employee learning program

Avoid pitfalls

There were plenty of growing pains for the g2g team as they started and scaled the program at Google. But so long as lessons were learned and shared, the team continued to improve the program.

Remove barriers to entry. When g2g first started, in the name of quality, there were tons of hoops that volunteers needed to jump through in order to participate. The process could take up to a year to complete, which is too long for any organization. The g2g program’s growth wasn’t keeping up with Google’s expanding needs, so the team decided to run an uncontrolled “experiment.” All general prerequisites to participate in g2g were removed, and instead instituted program-specific requirements. After this change, facilitator participation doubled in just six months, and quality remained high. In the years since, the program has removed even more barriers and given volunteers more support resources to bring in more facilitators and help them build their skills, and our quality has continued to rise over time. Trust people to do great work and create a quality assurance process that assumes people will do well, rather than assuming they will fail.

Secure leadership support, not just permission. When g2g first started, the team focused on making sure volunteers had permission from their managers to participate, rather than active support to make their participation successful. This was a major mistake. Permission and support are two very different things, and it’s taken years to shift the organization to a culture of support for volunteer programs like this. We started providing more data to managers and leaders, showing the individual and organizational value of having employees teach. Now, instead of just allowing their reports to participate as long as it “doesn’t interfere with their core job,” Google managers are encouraging participation and making space in employees’ workloads for activities that benefit the larger organization. Take the time to embed these concepts into manager training and expectations before scaling too far.