How to understand and support different learning and work styles

You’ve likely heard of differentiated learning in the classroom – the idea that individuals have different ways of learning (visual, aural, verbal, etc.) and therefore require diverse avenues of learning; one size does not fit all. This people-centered approach is also applicable to the workplace. Individuals have different working styles and needs. Therefore, they work best in certain environments and not as well in others.

Differentiation in the workplace requires you to first understand the individual needs and learning styles of your team members. To understand this is to truly understand how to work effectively with people. When you acknowledge your team members’ individual work styles, you are able to meet them where they are and provide them with what they need to thrive. 

Let’s explore what differentiated working looks like in day-to-day work, meetings, and workshops. 

Differentiation in the Workplace

Everyone on your team has their own version of working best. There are many factors that contribute to this including personality (introverted or extroverted), workstyle (optimal time of day to work, preference to work alone or collaborating with others, etc.), and learning style (learning by observing, doing, hearing, etc.). As a result, employees can suffer if they are confined to fit a certain work model that does not coincide with their needs and preferences.

For example, say you are holding an employee training for a new process being implemented. The training is a presentation-style meeting where the leader takes the team through the new process with a visual flowchart. Those who are visual learners will likely follow along well and retain the information. However, a psychical or hands-on learner may need to practice the process themselves in order to understand. If you do not account for the different learning styles in your team, you risk some employees misunderstanding or falling behind. 

No Team Member Left Behind

A team is only as strong as each individual in it. Get to know your team members learning and work styles so you can best support them. Maybe that’s sending out a questionnaire with questions and prompts to get to know each person’s learning style. Or hold one-on-ones to ask each person if they are getting what they need and if not how they can feel supported. You can use this information to categorize how team members work best and provide them with what they need when they need it. Once you have a good understanding of what everyone needs, you can adjust meetings accordingly to keep everyone on the same page.

For example, (using the previous new process team training scenario) you could offer hands-on training to identified physical learners and an informative video to visual learners. This way, each person not only receives what they need, but they also avoid wasting time engaging in a less effective method of training. 

Differentiated Meetings

Differentiated learning styles can cause some people to show up differently than their co-workers in meetings and workshops. If they are out of sync with the rest of the group, the entire group will end up suffering. For example, picture a group work session where an individual is not quite grasping the concept being discussed. If a facilitator fails to notice this disconnect and continues with the meeting anyway, the person will fall behind and become further disengaged. You then lose the crucial brain power and contribution of that person–and you need it! 

Supporting team members in meetings starts with the setup. Make sure that everyone is versed in the tools you’re using and is briefed on the topic before the meeting beings so there are no misunderstandings or gaps of knowledge. What this looks like: send an agenda beforehand that outlines the tools everyone will need to participate and the topics that will be discussed. Include a “how-to” video or written instructions to educate people on how to use the tool(s). If people need additional support, offer training. Also, assign any prep work necessary for everyone to be primed to participate. You want everyone on the same page once the meeting begins so you can get the most out of your time together. 

Once the meeting has begun, read the room and take note of where team members are at in the meeting. Does someone appear to be lost or disengaged? How can you adjust to bring them up to speed? Sometimes this looks like taking the person aside to answer questions or provide necessary context. Other times it requires adjusting for learning styles: some people may need time to process their thoughts internally before contributing their ideas to the group, while others thrive when spitballing their ideas out loud. Get to know your team and give them what they need to succeed, or find the best facilitator in your team.

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Continuous Learning

Differentiation in the workplace is fluctuating, so stay open to change and making adjustments as needed. People and connection are at the center of any great business. Keep them a priority by maintaining an open dialogue with your team about what they need. Some team members may grow in and out of certain work styles (think: remote vs. in-person work), or you could hire someone who has a different work style than you’re accustomed to. Adapt accordingly. 

You must also consider offering different versions of trainings and team work sessions as needed in order to really cater to individuals’ needs. Again, forcing people to conform to one certain style or way of doing things can stifle their performance. When we consider differentiated learning with our teams, we can maximize individual growth and performance. The stronger the individual the more effective the team is as a whole.

To learn how to facilitate the room with grace & ease check out our Professional Facilitation Workshop on July 13 + 14 here.