How a Croatian platform for self-organized learning wants to untangle the complexities of large companies
BY ANA MARIJA KOSTANIĆ, Executive Editor at Netokracija, 18.08.2022
We are witnessing a growing number of digital products created in the small country of Croatia. One of the new, more exciting stories on the scene comes from the consulting duo - Dijana and Viktor Vetturelli.
The hybrid way of working is slowly but surely becoming our reality.
And while there are solutions in the form of "remote" leadership and "internal communication" applications, the truly relevant question is how to strengthen interpersonal relationships (in a meaningful way) in remote mode, how to create a shared understanding of work and collaboration, and how to quickly implement scalable changes regardless of where our colleagues are.
All of this is impossible without a meaningful conversation, explains Dijana Vetturelli, who, together with Viktor Vetturelli, started a unique story on the Croatian startup scene. Their qohubs platform for group learning, focused on the process taking place without trainers and leaders, provides a functional virtual space for companies that want to deal with the challenges mentioned above.
With this platform, companies should be able to transfer necessary information, knowledge, and practices to their employees with less effort to: introduce a new way of doing things, create effective teams, encourage creativity and innovation, educate them about the job, present new projects, or topics about inclusion and diversity... With their B2B platform for self-organized learning, four to six employees meet in five 90-minute sessions. They go through carefully prepared didactic content with interactive elements that initiate conversations based on observations and reflections, according to Viktor.
Until now, companies have mostly offered learning opportunities through training, seminars, or formal education, while the Vetturelli duo is aiming to offer qohubs as a solution that is not focused only on the individual. Find out below about the reasons why such a way of learning makes more sense, what it was like to set up this platform, and what companies can actually gain by using their platform.
Going from an educational program to the platform
The qohubs platform was created from an educational program that actually served as a pilot project for them. Like many others in March of 2020, Vetturelli, a business consulting company, was forced to reconsider its business models, Dijana tells me. They thought about how to create something for the digital world that would help organizations find their way in an increasingly dynamic work environment.
The result was the "Transformiraonica" virtual program. During five weeks and five 120-minute sessions, groups of five participants went through five topics: complexity, communication, collaboration, creativity, and culture. When we finished the program with the second generation of participants, it became clear that they were able to learn the most in a group conversation without a coach.
That was "THE" moment that encouraged them to launch the entire platform. Since then, they dug even deeper into theories of organizational consultant Russel Ackhoff and statistician and consultant William Edwards Deming, into their learning circles from the 1950s, but also into constructivism and social and conversational learning, Dijana said. The result was a draft based on which, together with their partners Vladimir Koren and Goran Antonović, they started programming the first platform that enables group learning without a coach or a trainer.
The transfer of information is no longer enough – it is necessary to have conversations
Going into the details of how it works, we were first interested in what kind of companies such a platform is intended for. Viktor briefly and clearly gave a comprehensive framework: for everyone who collaborates and creates value...
Any organization, whether from the profit or non-profit sector, which is looking for new solutions and aiming to work on organizational culture and humanization of work. It is designed for all progressive organizations that are aware that today every employee must and can contribute with their creativity, knowledge, and a different perspective.
Their approach to learning, in smaller groups, without coaches and trainers is quite specific. Dijana and Viktor are convinced that this is precisely where the most significant competitive advantage of qohubs lies. In the past, learning opportunities were mainly directed toward individuals. Viktor explains that this focus on individuals follows old myths about learning, which misses out on current needs in organizational learning.
As we mentioned, traditional learning management systems (LMS) focus on the individual and on transferring information that users must learn to provide correct answers. To make this process more effective, learning service providers use behavioral learning theories. This creates so-called dead knowledge, or information we cannot reproduce, meaning no skills are developed to solve complex business challenges. Today we live in a complex environment where surprises are a part of everyday life. In this environment, the transfer of information is no longer enough.
In complexity, we face challenges that we did not even know existed, for which we as humans must come up with new solutions. Fortunately, as humans, we have the ability to think, learn and communicate, and qohubs builds on these skills.
During a 90-minute learning session at qohubs, the plan is for participants to work together on different concepts and to be introduced to new theories, based on which they enter into a conversation with each other and reflect them in their business contexts - at the individual, team, and organizational level. It is essential to mention that they do this during their usual work hours in their work environment. This reflects everything that occurs in the organization and in the market context while learning becomes an integral part of work and work an integral part of learning, Viktor pointed out.
How did the consultants get into digital product development?
The story of this startup is specific and all the more remarkable because it is not every day that we see a Croatian consulting company developing its own digital product, although undoubtedly there have been more and more of them globally over the last few years. The desire to create something of their own and the need to expand their business portfolio are motivating enough in 2022 when you have experience in the business. Dijana confirmed this to me:
The consulting experience is extremely beneficial, and I can hardly imagine that a platform such as this one can be designed without knowledge of organizational reality and sociological theories. Moreover, the solutions we have on the market today are built on the wrong managerial assumptions. But that is an entirely different topic.
(On qohubs, any organization can purchase access to predefined content. Alternatively, through a (multi)annual license, there is an option to create content for themselves.)
Finally, circumstances and nature of work were good evidence for them that there is a need for such a platform. In 90% of cases, their clients are large international corporations with teams spread across different markets. In this respect, there has always been a certain limitation to encouraging rapid change. In attempts to create understanding, knowledge, and mechanisms that can lead to changes in such large systems, many companies focus on formats in which employees are only given information in different ways, but the results stay the same, explains Dijana.
It is already an established practice to design tools that will catch employees' attention – via internal newsletters, podcasts, information applications, and the like - but ultimately, it is about sharing information - which doesn't lead to change.
Why should companies choose qohubs for employee training?
qohubs relies on self-organizing learning based on experience from 2015 when they developed their first digital product for a regional branch of one of the largest financial institutions in the world. It was a mobile application with educational content built on the principles of e-learning. Although the team, due to positive social group pressure, quickly on-boarded the application, Viktor recalls how as many as 72% of the participants just switched to WhatsApp, where they continued communication.
This question is exactly where the fundamental difference between qohubs and traditional e-learning platforms, whose primary task is the transfer of knowledge, is hidden, Viktor notes.
Although we have our predefined content packed into cycles of five 90-minute sessions, the strength of qohubs lies in the didactic preparation that encourages qohubs participants to engage in meaningful conversation, reflect, share observations, and create common understanding.
At this time, we have two options. The first one is for a client to use predefined content such as organizational agility, creating effective teams, change management, wellbeing, creativity, and innovation or diversity and inclusion content.
The second option is to have the company's instructional design experts create the content. With the latter one, we assist them by certifying their members for qohubs instructional design. There is an entirely different logic in creating content for individuals and a different one when our goal is to encourage conversation in a safe space to initiate organizational changes.
qohubs has already achieved several collaborations, and one that definitely stands out is that with the Croatian Paralympic Committee. They are not rookies in the world of Paralympics, Dijana added. They have been supporting the movement for 13 years in various communication challenges. This time, they plan to design a 120-minute program with them that will be available as of September 2022 and help employees change their perspective and discover the meaning of diversity and missed opportunities related to inclusion.
A necessary addition to existing solutions?
Viktor concludes that it is not a question of whether Croatian qohubs is a better product than other options on the market because they see their product as a complement to existing solutions. Although almost synonymous, Viktor states that complicated and complex problems are not the same thing, and it is precisely in the nuance of this difference that they see the needs of today's business world.
Traditional e-learning platforms help with complicated problems, and qohubs is a solution for complex problems. The transfer of knowledge is sufficient for complicated issues. For complex ones, critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity of many people are required.
In general, Dijana and Viktor believe that organizations are not taught to create appropriate learning options for navigating complexity and consciously and consistently using them.
The reason is straightforward. They did not need such an option in the past and were successful without it. Those days are over.