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Daniel Marzullo


How to Create Entrepreneurial Learning Environments Inside Your Organization

Creating the right culture and opportunities for growth

Published: Thursday, April 20, 2023 - 11:03

Are you looking to drive innovation and growth within your company? Creating an entrepreneurial learning environment may be the answer you’re looking for. However, implementing this culture can be challenging for any leadership team.

This article includes a guide with some of the steps you can take to help foster an environment that encourages innovation and growth. Read on to learn more about fostering entrepreneurial thinking and creativity, based on the influential teachings of Gary Schoeniger and his company, the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative.

Create a work environment that fuels entrepreneurial thinking

Entrepreneurs are voracious learners. They continuously learn from their successes, mistakes, other entrepreneurs and influences around them, and their environment.

This constant state of learning allows them to become better business leaders, make better decisions, and innovate. For employers, there are many benefits to molding team leaders into entrepreneurial thinkers, including increased creativity, better problem-solving skills, and leadership development.

Entrepreneurial learning is a term that encompasses the process of acquiring and developing the knowledge, skills, and mindset necessary for entrepreneurial activity. It can be broken down into four learning methods:
1. Experiential
2. Project-based
3. Peer-to-peer
4. Self-directed

Source: Kolb et al

Encourage experimentation at every level of your organization

Experiential learning theory is defined as a process of acquiring knowledge by both grasping and transforming experiences. David Kolb, founder of Experience Based Learning Systems (EBLS), believes that learning involves gaining abstract concepts that can be applied in various situations. Hence, knowledge is formed through the transformation of experiences.

Experiential learning can also be considered a cycle in which entrepreneurs learn from their mistakes hands-on. The cycle begins when an entrepreneur has an experience (maybe they lost a big client). They reflect on and observe the experience (“What went wrong?”), conceptualize how to improve the situation (game plan), and then do it.

While entrepreneurs often practice experiential learning naturally in their careers, this way of thinking can also be taught in the workplace. Employers can emulate this type of learning by encouraging their employees to share their ideas, experiment, and take risks. Companies must also foster a culture of psychological safety that allows workers to try new things without fear of failure and offers opportunities for their risks to be rewarded.

Experimentation can help employees gain new skills and knowledge and contribute to the organization’s success. By actively engaging in the learning process, individuals can better understand their work and become more effective problem solvers.

Create project-based learning initiatives

Project-based learning involves presenting a problem that a team within the organization needs to solve. The team then works together to devise a solution, using skills and creativity to develop a viable plan. This approach is ideal for encouraging entrepreneurial thinking, allowing employees to develop problem-solving skills while working through real-world, often ambiguous problems.

To ensure the success of project-based learning initiatives, it’s important to structure them in an employee-centered way. This means focusing on the employees’ needs and interests rather than the organization’s goals. By doing so, employees are more likely to be engaged and motivated, leading to a better outcome for the project.

Another critical factor in the success of project-based learning initiatives is team size. Small teams of two to three employees are ideal, allowing for more individual participation and creativity. This can lead to a more diverse range of ideas and solutions as well as a greater sense of ownership and responsibility for the project.

Managers must act as facilitators or guides for the project rather than subject-matter experts. This allows employees to take ownership of the project and develop their own solutions rather than relying on the expertise of their managers.

Requiring team collaboration is essential for the success of project-based learning initiatives. Collaboration allows employees to share ideas and build on each other’s strengths, leading to a more effective and creative solution. It also fosters a sense of teamwork and camaraderie among employees, which can positively affect morale and productivity.

Implement peer-to-peer learning opportunities

When companies encourage employees to work and learn together, they get more out of the experience. Studies have found that those with less background knowledge on a topic can experience as much knowledge retention as those with more background when taught concepts by their peers. This is because peers often share a similar perspective, making the learning experience more relatable and engaging.

When companies encourage employees to work and learn together, they can create a collaborative learning environment that supports creativity, innovation, and problem-solving skills. Collaborative learning can help build strong relationships among team members, leading to improved communication and teamwork. This can have a positive effect on productivity and morale, as well as help to create a culture of learning and continuous improvement within the organization.

Encourage team members to become self-directed learners

The staged self-directed learning model (SSDL) by Gerald Grow provides a framework for understanding how learners progress toward greater self-direction. The model is based on the situational leadership model developed by Hersey and Blanchard, and it emphasizes the role of managers in facilitating this development.

According to Grow, learners progress through four distinct phases of self-directed learning: dependent, interested, involved, and self-directed. During the dependent phase, learners rely on external sources of information, such as workshops and guidance from their manager or mentor. The interested phase marks a shift toward greater engagement as learners begin to participate in discussions and take a more active role in their learning.

During the involved phase, managers take on more of a facilitator role, assigning project-based work and providing feedback as needed. Finally, in the self-directed phase, learners can work independently or in small teams, with the manager acting as a delegator rather than as a direct instructor.

By tailoring instruction and support to a learning stage of self-direction, managers can help to facilitate development toward greater autonomy and self-direction. This can lead to increased motivation, engagement, and productivity among employees, as well as improved outcomes for the organization as a whole.

Benefits of entrepreneurial thinking

Building an entrepreneurial learning environment can lead to myriad benefits for both employees and the company as a whole. Employees will likely feel more engaged and invested in their work with a culture of innovation and risk-taking. This can lead to higher job satisfaction and retention levels, and increased productivity and creativity.

An entrepreneurial learning environment can help companies stay competitive in a rapidly changing business landscape. By encouraging employees to learn and adapt constantly, companies are better equipped to respond to new challenges and opportunities as they arise. This results in greater agility, resilience, and improved financial performance over the long term.

A robust entrepreneurial learning environment can foster collaboration and teamwork among employees. When individuals are encouraged to share ideas, knowledge, and expertise, they are more likely to work together effectively and find innovative solutions to complex problems. This also promotes a culture of continuous improvement, where employees are encouraged to learn from mistakes and seek feedback to improve their performance.

A strong focus on entrepreneurial learning can attract and retain top talent. Highly skilled and motivated employees are often drawn to companies that prioritize personal and professional growth, and provide opportunities for employees to develop new skills and take on new challenges.

An entrepreneurial learning environment can help build a culture of accountability and ownership. When employees are empowered to take risks and make decisions, they are more likely to feel a sense of ownership over their work and its outcomes. This can result in a stronger sense of commitment and responsibility as well as improved performance and results.

The bottom line

Creating an entrepreneurial learning environment can be a powerful way to drive innovation and growth within your company. Although implementing this type of culture may present some challenges, there are steps that leadership teams can take to foster an environment that encourages entrepreneurial thinking and creativity.

By following the guidance of Gary Schoeniger and the Entrepreneurial Learning Initiative, companies can create a work environment that supports continuous learning, collaboration, and experimentation. By doing so, they unlock the full potential of their teams and drive long-term success.


About The Author

Daniel Marzullo’s picture

Daniel Marzullo

Dan Marzullo is an advisor for early-stage entrepreneurs. He also runs an agency, writes, and speaks about entrepreneurship. You can find more of Dan’s work here.