Peer learning for business success


7 minute read
Ben Clayton

Ben Clayton

Chief Technical Officer

Digital Insights

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The pandemic and shift to hybrid working has significantly impacted ways of working for many people – from adopting new communications technologies and processes to a more flexible approach to working that has enabled us to establish a better work-life balance.

For Calvium, not too much has changed. Prior to the pandemic, we were already embarking on an explicit drive to make fully remote working possible to support the requirements of our increasingly international team – who are dispersed across Bristol, Spain and Portugal – and to attract the best talent into the business.

What the pandemic has done is helped us to refine those early processes and provide valuable lessons in collaboration. We are now a fully hybrid workforce and in a strong position to bring together talent from beyond the confines of the local area.

Naturally, alongside the opportunities this has brought with it new challenges. One prominent question we have found ourselves asking is, how to encourage internal knowledge-sharing when you can’t just lean over between desks and ask?

On the back of a transformative two years and with ambitious plans for growth, we’d like to share our experiences of how we share and develop knowledge in a way that ensures we are always agile and evolving, whether in-person or online. We hope this will be valuable for anyone looking to start or build on their own hybrid and/or disparate working development.

Collaborative sharing and developing

As our work rarely involves off-the-shelf solutions, it requires a high level of creative problem-solving that can only be achieved if we are always sharing knowledge with one another.

Many of our clients have their own tools, requirements and technologies – especially in highly secure industries such as aerospace and defence – and so internal training of project- and client-specific processes is extremely important, as is training around organisational-specific processes.

Given the complex and fast-evolving industry we operate within, we are frequently taking theoretical knowledge and trying to apply it to practical situations. Sharing the technical knowledge of tools and the ways they work together is key to this, while also helping to drive efficiency and reduce bugs.

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There is knowledge that can be developed together, too. Simply discussing solutions, and then verifying the best solution in a specific context, is an incredibly effective and efficient way to solve problems. We also come together to make sure we are prepared for upcoming changes – whether for new OS versions or updates to policies and regulation – and that we have gathered ideas on the implications of these.

It is important to note here that our development team all learn from each other. As a company, Calvium works with many different technologies in multiple industries and while our development team has a wealth of knowledge and experience, no one can be expected to know everything. 

For us, knowledge-sharing and learning is certainly non-hierarchical – especially as so much has changed over the past decade, which has created an almost level playing field in the tech industry. Even the most experienced in the industry have more to learn, which is why peer learning is so integral to Calvium’s way of working.

Coming together

From senior experienced developers to new graduates, we have a variety of experience in the team across a range of specialisms: front-end, back-end, various flavours of relational databases (MySQL, SQL Server, PostgreSQL) and cloud computing platforms (Azure, AWS and Google Cloud Platform); we have people that love debugging and others that specialise in native and cross-platform development.

Together, we are a growing team of highly creative and dynamic-thinking individuals that need to share a wealth of knowledge as well as support how we work together as humans with different learning styles and preferences.

For these reasons, bringing people together is invaluable. This is what allows us to grow internal knowledge and develop staff skills to produce improved products for clients and discuss solutions to improve them; to communicate and improve internal processes, verify the best solutions and get the approval from colleagues; to share tips, tricks and best practice to improve efficiency.

It is a critical opportunity for us to check our understanding from self-directed learning, too, as well as to trouble-shoot across teams and undertake peer-review processes that add another layer of testing to ensure quality to the client.

Again, the nature of our industry means we are always looking ahead, and so future-scoping forms an integral part of our peer learning. Here, we will be looking at what’s functional, what’s interesting and what’s new and upcoming. If something is emerging in the tech sphere, we will be thinking about the potential future impacts and how it might work if/when it becomes mainstream.

It is amazing what can be imagined and achieved when you bring so many brilliant minds together – whether that’s in the same physical room or via a remote video link.

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Peer learning in practice

For the Calvium development team, fortnightly tech talks are a staple feature of our learning and development. We meet for an hour online to:

  • Ask questions, debate solutions and best ways of working.
  • Share current project challenges, successes or updates, as well as new discoveries that might save time or improve processes across the team.
  • Discuss context dependent solutions and their limitations – these talks give us a chance to expand the view of particular issues into the wider dependencies, restrictions and functionality for us in other and future projects.
  • Demonstrate lines of code from a particular project, describe the problem and how it was solved.
  • Drill into project differences and solutions, and return to old issues and solutions discussed in a different context previously.

We also hold regular coffee talks where team members demonstrate the project they’re working on and discuss key challenges and solutions. This is especially valuable when sharing knowledge with other teams and making sure they understand what we’re doing and vice versa.

Within the development team, we find pair programming sessions and code review processes to be a great way to learn from each other and solve problems. Pair programming is especially handy when you are dealing with complex interconnected solutions that are hard to ‘split’ into two neat parts; it allows you to share screens, live video/audio call and use tools so two people can edit the same code simultaneously. 

While computing degrees are valuable, building robust bespoke solutions requires practical on-the-job learning and experience of dealing with real-world problems.

The final thing to mention here is that mentoring and weekly one-on-ones have become increasingly important with the shift to hybrid working as you can’t always see how someone is doing, whether they are stressed, struggling or if they need help. Over time, we have found mentoring has become less about line management and more about sharing nuggets of experience, tips and tricks.

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Celebrating success

Sharing and celebrating each other’s achievements is essential for us to learn and grow as a team, as well as to boost morale and foster a good workplace culture. Hearing about the impact of colleagues’ good work not only raises the standard and bar for the team, it feels great to know you are working with such highly-skilled and reliable colleagues.

We have regular group conversations to give opportunities to hear about each other’s successes and to appreciate one another, as well as to make sure complimentary comments from clients get distributed to the wider team.

In line with this ethos, it is equally important that we avoid a blame culture. On the rare occasion that mistakes are made or something goes wrong, staff are supported to improve and not blamed. This then means people aren’t afraid to take risks and try new things, which ensures we are always learning and growing as a team.

Final thoughts

It is a real treat to be a part of a team of creative problem-solvers sharing knowledge – kicking around examples, contexts and tools like a football. It’s an example of the dynamic way the Calvium team thinks, and of the Calvium culture more widely.

Get in touch with us if you would like to benefit from working with our knowledgeable and evolving team of problem-solvers. Or perhaps you fancy being one of them? In which case we would love to hear from you.

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