Let’s MOOC — where leaders learn together and from each other

Picture the following scene: Thousands of people in a room are all talking at the same time. They’re having discussions, laughing, murmuring. They’re talking about what they’re working on at the moment, putting questions to experts, sharing the burning issues they’re concerned about, and striving to find the best solution.

All at the same time. Together, in parallel, and separately. In nine languages. Managers, master craftspeople, and members of the Board of Management. For three whole weeks. How is this supposed to work? How can it possibly produce any useful results? Those are fair questions. My answer is, “It works beautifully!” That’s because something very valuable is happening here: learning.

You may be wondering how I know that. The space in question is a platform and an event — a Massive Open Online Conversation, or MOOC, for all leaders at Daimler. We’re in the midst of the final preparations. The MOOC will kick off on September 17, two weeks from now.

Space instead of finger pointing

A MOOC doesn’t have any lecturers, a podium, microphones, presentations or fixed appointments. What it does have is customized short stimuli, carefully selected contributions by experts, methods and tools, case studies, exercises, tips and tricks, sources of more detailed information and, above all, space. There’s lots of space for many more talks — across organizational, departmental, hierarchic, and national boundaries.

Here, people don’t listen to you only because you bear a great deal of responsibility within our company or because you’ve got a well-known name. Here, the important thing is not who you are but what you have to say.

The discussion proceeds in writing. If you want to contribute or share something, you write a comment. If you want to start out by simply listening, you follow the discussion and join in later. We conduct discussions in plenary sessions with all the participants, and also in small randomly formed groups.

If you wish, you can switch from one group to another. The participants can go online whenever and wherever they wish. On average, that amounts to a few hours per week. There are no obligations, only opportunities — and, naturally, rules to ensure respectful cooperation.

Moments that get under your skin

Are you still skeptical? Believe me, it works. The event that my colleagues and I are preparing for is the second of its kind. Sitting around our table are management experts, psychologists, digitalization specialists, and communications professionals. I’m proud of this team.

At the first MOOC, which was held a year ago, more than half of all Daimler leaders worldwide participated. It was held under the aegis of our Leadership 2020 initiative. For three weeks the leaders shared their new ideas about leadership online, critically examined these ideas, and thus restructured our leadership culture. There were lots of discussions — for example, between a manager from Portland, a master craftsman from Untertürkheim, and a senior manager from Beijing. Together, they took the first steps.

These were emotional moments, even for experienced professional educators. “You feel that you’re part of something huge, and you realize that you yourself are contributing to it,” commented one of our MOOC participants. Here, each participant plays an important role.

It’s all about Leading Digital

On September 17 we’re going into the second round. Once again the theme will be leadership, and once again all of the Group’s leaders are invited to participate. Specifically, this time the topic will be Leading Digital — in other words, successful leadership in the digital world.

For three weeks, we will address the topics of leadership and digitalization. Will be focusing on digitalization in our globalized world, the digitalization of the automotive sector, and the question of how we can succeed as leaders in a digital world, both individually and together. What works well for us as the Daimler company and for me as a manager? It’s going to be an exciting event, because this time the format itself will in effect be a small part of the content: working and learning digitally.

We don’t have a monopoly on wisdom

Why are we making such a huge effort, and why are we using this format? Because in this rapidly spinning world, learning and working also have to change fast, and so do we ourselves. We want to make fast progress together. The era when educators could claim to be the sole owners of knowledge — if it ever existed at all, which I doubt — is now definitely a thing of the past.

As a learning professional, my job is to make learning possible. We are experts at making knowledge visible and connecting people so that innovation can happen.

Simply using what’s already there

Learning keeps us flexible and competitive, as people and as a company. We create the spaces in which learning can take place — spaces like our MOOC. Traditional top-down teaching is not effective, and it’s not fun either.

That’s because everything we learn in this format is quickly forgotten. And why should I rely on the input from a single expert if I’ve got access to everybody’s experiences in one space and all the experts are shearing their knowledge with me?

September 17 – October 5: Thousands of managers, one space, one discussion — I’m looking forward to it. Let’s MOOC!

Kati Sommer is in charge of digital learning formats and digital infrastructure for the offers of the Daimler Corporate Academy. For the MOOC she works with an interdisciplinary team in cooperation with IMD Business School and the London-based agency Wolff Olins.