Big Results From Small Teams: Organizational Education

This will be a bit more abstract of a topic than usual, but it is no less important.

One of the greatest challenges of broker-dom is knowledge. Being an insurance broker is, after all, a professional service. Certainly we have physical “products” in the form of policies but mostly what we are selling is ourselves, our knowledge, and our service.

Because there is so much that goes into writing insurance coverage it is absolutely vital that every organization have an information sharing procedure. But I hesitate to use that word – procedure – because I often find the process is over formalized. Straight truth time: how many formal “monthly meetings” have you been in – not that you’ve lead – where you’ve felt engaged, where you’ve wanted to participate, and where the meeting went over because everyone was so invested in the topic? I’m guessing very few (and if not please let me know your secrets!).

But because education is not just an organization disseminating information from point A to point B, excitement and participation are crucial to your organization’s learning ability. A traditional “meeting” format is perfect for disseminating information but it’s very poor for creating new information. And new information – about what needs to be addressed, how current obstacles already are addressed, about what client requests are coming in – is exactly what you need to foster an organic, positive learning environment.

I suggest every organization encourage staff to create their own learning sessions among themselves. This allows them to choose times that are convenient, topics that are relevant, and participants that are engaged. Some of the best knowledge I have gained is through simple 4 person meetings where we were all excited to bring some new quirk of our job to show everyone.

It’s also through this “ground-up” method that you’ll find out individuals predilections – who is excited about what aspects of problem solving? Who is good at finding relevant information to a question that was posed? Who is adept at creating deliverables to enhance this new-found knowledge? You will get drastically more input from a handful of engaged people than you will with an entire team, even if you mandate “everyone bring one topic of discussion”. That’s old thinking – get that out of here!

Once these “mini-sessions” take off you’ll find them an incredible resource for more traditional organization-wide needs. After all, if there’s a hot topic among the mini teams there’s a good chance it’ll be important elsewhere. I can’t tell you the number of topics that have arisen in one of these small “learning sessions” that showed a need for organization-wide education.

One of the coolest aspects of these sessions is getting to know everyone’s passion. Everything in your organization – absolutely everything – is complex when you look at the details. There is no small job – just big people who think jobs are small. So when you start running learning sessions like this you’ll get a massive amount of insight and expertise you never knew you needed. Everything from how to save a few computer clicks for a task that’s performed 2,000 times a day, to better ways to send information between teams, to how to make invoices look cleaner, to… all sorts of topics you never knew you needed because the “top down” approach simply doesn’t allow it.

In short, every single person in your organization is a thought leader and it takes creativity to tap that. These individuals are mired in day to day work and often don’t have the opportunity to voice their opinion in an appropriate setting – and a “team wide meeting” is not an appropriate setting. People need to be able to be open and honest, and be able to talk to their peers rather than someone who controls their vacation days. It’s only through empowerment of the individual, organically, can you start to see what needs there are to address.

Finally, it is incredibly important to memorialize all of this. Having a good info-sharing plan in your organization isn’t enough because once those people leave, their info is gone as well. This is where the more traditional process takes place – have your learning session teams write down notes and topics of discussion. It doesn’t need to be anything serious – really just what people brought up and how it was addressed; think of it like meeting “minutes”. These can then be reviewed for commonality.

If you want to take it a step further, there are so many technology tools to help you. Everything from message boards, to knowledge bases, to Wikis. Heck, if someone wants to let them send out a newsletter to team members with topics or circumstances they find particularly interesting.

Many organizations tend to look at “education” and internal info as a very straightforward process. But brokers deal in ambiguity every day. And even when we’re dealing with literal policy contract language, every exception has a caveat has a circumstance where it doesn’t apply. A good broker is good because of how they deal with that complexity and ambiguity. If you’re not innovating your education methods you’re doing yourselves, and your clients, a disservice.

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