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Gunnar Gissel
Gunnar Gissel

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3 Phases for Building a Culture of Learning

Originally posted at my blog

I attended Joseph Matsey's talk on building a culture of learning at Abstraction's last year. I really enjoyed the talk, and have been thinking about and implementing ideas from it over the past year. Here's a summary of my takeaway for the 3 different phases of culture building (with a bonus 4th phase, of "you have a culture")

Guerilla Learning

This is where a lot of places start - there isn't really any particular culture of learning, but some learning exercises and activities are supported

  • High resistance to taking time from shipping
  • Ad hoc learning
  • Onboarding by oral tradition
  • Few folks driving learning


  • Think opportunistically
  • Improve team members primary roles
  • Seek fast returns with low investment


  • Workshops
  • Meetups
  • Build a team library
  • New hire buddies
    • Try cross-team buddies


  • Buy in never starts
  • Stay stuck in guerilla learning forever

Buy in Starts

This is a dangerous intermediate phase, where some culture building has happened, but it's not baked in or fully supported by management

  • New hires have some kind of organized learning
  • Team members want more, but aren't empowered


  • Leverage internal experts (workshops, talks)
  • Seed good role models (and shame everyone else)
  • Mentor mentors (mentorship is an orthogonal skillset to what you do at work)


  • Weekly talks, 4 15 minute talks
  • Project updates
  • Tech approaches
    • Senior leadership talks
    • Ops talks


  • Key folks leaving
  • "Takes too much time" payout not obvious, track and figure out how to measure returns
  • Mentor burnout

Making it Stick

This is the final phase, that takes management buy in, re-programming existing employees and enculturating new hires

  • Boringly normal
    • From "workshops are amazing" to "oh god a workshop"


  • Momentum to sustain effort
  • Sustained learning
  • Make people forget the old way


  • Learning/teaching as a KIP
  • Apprenticeships
  • 3 part onboarding
    • Teach skills
    • Teach processes, history and context
    • Personal development
  • 20% time


  • Payoffs hard to measure
  • No one is responsible
  • Losing the habit

Self Sustaining

At some critical mass point, it continues lurching forward. This point is when you have a durable culture of learning

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Thank you Mat the W for the photo of Hammerschlag

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