New Work means a commitment to life-long learning and the readiness to reinvent yourself.”
To be honest, the concept of “New Work” wasn’t yet on anyone’s mind when we asked for suggestions on how to call the first learning and development program for the InterNations Team. However, by opting for “Long Live Learning”, we chose a name that highlights the life-long importance of acquiring new skills and growing as a person — and, of course, one that emphasizes that learning can and should be fun!
What “Long Live Learning” Is All About
Once a month, our team members can join a two-hour workshop or expert talk at the InterNations office in Munich. The main aim is to present a variety of job-related topics during short after-work “taster sessions”.
A Lecture Series for the World of Work
The “Long Live Learning” series is now well into its fifth year: Back in 2013, we introduced the InterNations Guiding Principles, practical guidelines to represent our team’s core values and to reflect our attitude towards work and our communication. With the principle “Move forward and keep learning”, we encourage all team members to pursue personal growth and development — not only for their job, but for life. Theory’s all well and good, though, but we also needed to find a way of supporting this belief in practice.
At that time, InterNations was still very much a start-up. Our company had 64 employees by the end of 2013, a number which has more than doubled. One of the challenges of being a start-up is having to make the most of limited resources. Such challenges just force you to get creative: Even though Christa — our Team Lead Human Resources — was then running the HR department as a one-woman show, she responded to the team’s growing need for learning and development.
Discussing the issue with some employees who’d recently graduated, Christa drew inspiration from academia: At German universities, the Ringvorlesung (an interdisciplinary lecture series with a common theme) is a popular format, which could be easily adapted to the workplace. In summer 2014, it was finally time to put theory into practice, starting with a kick-off session on the basics of project management.
What began as an experiment has become a fixture of working at InterNations. Today, the “Long Live Learning” series is no longer our only opportunity for personal development. It has also turned into a screening tool to identify the best speakers for the in-depth learning and development workshops we provide nowadays.
From Product Management to Improv Theater
In the four dozen “Long Live Learning” sessions to date, our experts have covered a wide range of topics. Sometimes, guest speakers from the InterNations team seize the chance to present their department — from Engineering to Product Development to Member Relations — and tell us what they do all day.
We’ve also had team members sharing their own expertise on subjects they feel passionate about, such as brand management or unconscious bias awareness. Even a former intern came back to teach a class on mindfulness after deciding to turn his interest in yoga and meditation into a freelancing gig: we happily agreed to serve as “guinea pigs” for the start of his coaching career.
In most cases, though, we invite an external speaker to present a topic from one of the following categories: Business skills are always a popular choice. For example, our team members had the opportunity to find out how “workhacks” can increase productivity, how to give a convincing presentation, or how to deal with complaints at work.
In addition to this practical skillset, communication and soft skills — such as leadership or conflict management — play an important role. Intercultural communication is a recurring theme, hardly surprising for a company which runs the world’s largest expat network and whose team currently represents 48 nationalities.
“I still remember our first intercultural training session, though it took place over four years ago,” says Denise, one of our Feel Good Managers, who’s responsible for organizing the lecture series. “I was highly impressed by the speaker. She came with great credentials, like, she’d previously worked for the World Bank and the UN, and she didn’t disappoint. I really liked her concrete approach to an abstract topic, with lots of examples and case studies.”
Another recurring topic is work-life balance or health in the workplace, from building resilience to keeping your back healthy at a sedentary office job. These sessions are among Christa’s favorites: “Our recent workshop on stress management was one of my personal highlights. We had a fantastic duo of speakers — one to provide the theoretical background and explain what causes stress, the other to show us some easy exercises involving the entire body. I loved that they didn’t just appeal to the intellect but went for a holistic experience.”
Lastly, workshops focusing on creativity techniques can be a lot of fun. Perhaps the most unusual format to date: Improv for business, two hours of using methods from stand-up comedy and improvisational theater in order to react with more flexibility to everyday challenges in your professional life. “This was actually the best training I’ve had so far,” a team member wrote in their feedback form. “Let’s do this again!”
The Perfect Speakers for Our Team
By now, we have established a pool of qualified speakers to fall back on. In the beginning, most came from Christa’s extensive personal network; as a former self-employed person with further qualifications in coaching and career counseling, she has plenty of contacts working in adult and continuing education. Over time, other team members have added their own recommendations — the organizers are always happy about word-of-mouth marketing.
This personal approach seems to be working best. It helps us to find speakers who are both experts in their field and willing to engage with our company culture, people who are good at reading the room and involving their audience instead of just giving a pre-prepared lecture.
“Doing an online search rarely yields any helpful results,” Christa thinks — although there’s the occasional exception to the rule.
“Once I stumbled upon a promising lead more or less by accident: I was reading up on the Center for Leadership and People Management at the University of Munich and emailed one of their contacts, hoping to maybe find out more about their speakers and coaches. Turns out that the contact person herself holds a Ph.D. in work, organizational and social psychology and offers training and consulting for managers and employees outside of academia, too.”
This speaker made her debut at InterNations with a “Long Live Learning” session on cooperation and delegation at work, and she’s now in charge of our regular one-day workshops on conflict management and time management.
Interaction and Team Bonding
Apart from the compact two-hour format, there’s only one thing all “Long Live Learning” sessions have in common: the interactive elements. “They are usually the most popular part of every workshop. Even the topic itself can sometimes be secondary,” Denise explains. “It’s far easier and more effective to learn something new with a hands-on method. Also, it’s a purely voluntary event, it takes place at night, after our usual working hours, and you need to keep everyone motivated and energized.”
The small size of the group normally allows the speakers to easily introduce interactive exercises — and the “Long Live Learning” sessions are also a great opportunity for members from different teams and departments to bond. On average, about ten or twelve people show up for each workshop, although there are notable exceptions to that rule, too.
The highest turnout so far? Over 25 people flocked to our team lodge to get advice on filing their income tax return in Germany, a topic that local and international team members alike seem to consider rather stressful. This Q&A session proved to be so successful that it might become an annual event in May, when the deadline for doing your taxes is drawing near.
The Future of “Long Live Learning”
This year, we will be revisiting a few other popular topics from past sessions, beyond tax advice for expat employees. Of course, Christa and Denise also have some exciting new speakers in store: for example, a couple of start-up founders will talk about using virtual reality to increase digital competence, and we’ll take a new look at intercultural issues, this time with a special emphasis on decoding German culture.
“After all these years, I’m still looking forward to each workshop,” Christa says. “I find it interesting to see what the speaker makes of their topic and how they present it.” “It’s a wonderful opportunity,” Denise adds, “and I hope our team members will keep up their interest in ‘Long Live Learning’ for a long time.”
Photo credits: iStockphoto / Library of Congress / InterNations