February 12, 2024

TIL: Learning Together

TIL is a weekly learning event that I like to run with my teams. Every friday for 30-45 minutes we share 5 minute presentations on something we learned that week. There are only 3 rules.

  • 5 minutes to present
  • 5 minutes to prepare
  • Q&A throughout

I like to say that learning is the best part of the job. (It is for me!) And chances are if you learned something someone else on your team would want to learn that too. So this low stakes easy going way to give your team the chance to show their learning to each other and practice asking questions, sharing information and collaborating.

I stole this format from an old New York Tech Meetup called Hack'n'Tell stared by a good friend, where you had 5 minutes for presentations and 5 minutes for Q&A and then an iPad clapped you off the stage. It was wonderful and often weird and quite a lot of fun.

One of the effects I've found from doing this event with my teams is that it helps dispel the "experts myth". That is the myth that one person can be an expert in all things. You might have one or two people on your team like this. And whether or not they want to be the "expert" people often defer to the person's judgement and end up engaging and discussing less when the "expert" is involved.

I've found your "experts" often love showing off the things they learn and it shows people that they aren't experts in all things, they often just like to learn about all things. I find it gives them a constructive way to share and teach, and it helps people to engage in questioning the "experts" opinions by participating in their process.

I also like that it gives people a chance to try stuff out and experiment. Maybe they don't normally present, maybe they want to practice for a big demo, maybe they have a topic they want to introduce to the team. In any case it doesn't take much to open a few browser tabs and talk through them for a few minutes. Some great ideas and revelations can come out of innocuous talks. And seeing how other people work helps spread quality of life improvements The "what program was that in your terminal?" question nerd snipes me every time.

In order to ensure everyone gets to participate, when I see people who haven't presented learn something (in meetings, projects, or slack) I lightly encourage them to sign up. I often hear "oh everybody else probably knows this" and while that doesn't actually matter at all it's pretty easy to point back at the presentations and show how that is never true.

Lastly there are fun talks. Some people decide to do a powerpoint on something they made at home, art, electronics, cooking, what have you. We all have hobbies and they're interesting! And sometimes it's a 15 slide history lesson of silly business idioms and how they relate to medieval military practices. "More wood behind fewer arrows" is a phrase I now know makes even less sense then you'd think. These talks are wonderful.

I tend to run TIL events like this.

  • A rolling electronic sign-up sheet (google doc, github issue, whatever)
  • A reminder on thursday to sign up, and light encouragement to people to present or suggest presenters. (There is always something you wish more people would know. 2-4 sign-ups are perfect, people often volunteer during the event too)
  • I introduce presenters and keep time (I'm not strict but I keep things flowing)
  • With permission I record the event and edit the talks in Descript to produce short videos on each topic. It takes me about 30 minutes but they become concise and sharable videos. Some teams have kept the videos private to the team, others have shared them far and wide in the company. In either case being able to look up something or share a video on a topic is quite helpful.

That's it.

A team that learns together makes great things together and I hope you can add TIL as a tool in your toolbox to make that happen.

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