August 2, 2018

Reflective practice

“We do not learn from experience…we learn from reflecting on experience.” This quote is widely attributed to John Dewey, the American philosopher, psychologist and educational reformer.

Reflecting on experience is something that everyone should do, both in the workplace and out of the workplace. It is something that L&D and HR professionals should encourage in their organisation’s workforce and should be instilling as part of their workplace culture. It is also something that L&D and HR professionals need to be doing themselves. You have to practice what you preach after all.

A lot of L&D and HR professionals would like to have time for reflection in their working day, according to our ‘Develop Yourself Survey Annual Report 2018’. It cropped up time and time again as something participants said they should be allowed and enabled to do on a regular basis in working hours. Many recognise the importance of taking time out for reflection, but either struggle to squeeze it in during their busy working day or think it would be frowned upon by managers and colleagues.

Reflective practice is often bandied about as a term today and has become very popular in disciplines such as health and social care. It’s something that L&D and HR professionals talk about as well. And for good reason – reflective practice should help people perform better at work. It should also help people make the right decisions for the right reasons. Otherwise, it’s very easy for people to keep ploughing on, caught up in the day to day realities of work, without thinking about how they could do things better or if the set course of action is actually a good one.

But what is reflective practice exactly? At its heart, reflective practice is about taking a step back and reflecting on what you do, how work is going and how particular projects/events/experiences have gone. What has worked well? What hasn’t worked well’? What could you or others have done better or differently? What would the likely outcomes have been if you had done x or y instead of z?

Reflective practice is about thinking about your actions and experiences and learning from them in a measured way and thinking about the best way to move forward. It helps individuals and teams to form an overview of their working practice and to hone in on particular situations or learning events. How has the first stage of implementation of a new learning intervention gone? What have been the pain points? What has worked well? What could have been done better?

People often think of reflective practice as something that individuals do on their own. It certainly works well on an individual level, but it also works very well as something that groups or teams do together. Some organisations encourage teams to come together regularly to reflect collectively.

By encouraging people and teams to think properly and deeply about their work, their individual and collective practice, organisations are fostering a culture of continuous learning and continuous self improvement. Individuals and teams are encouraged to take responsibility for their own development and how that ties in to organisational needs.

Ideally, reflective practice enables individuals and organisations to perform better on a continuous basis and to take a holistic, strategic overview. It works on many levels, which is why L&D and business leaders need to ensure individuals and teams have the time and space to reflect on a regular basis – not just at times of crisis when the reflection is all about how things have gone disastrously wrong.