HRD 2012 - Promoting Informal Learning through the ‘Bird Feeder’ Approach

If you visit ‘CIPD Towers’ (as it often referred to) of a weekday afternoon, you will see pods of food dotted around the building. This is by no means a formal procedure, but each team tends to have a table that is piled with food that ranges from carrots and houmous (look how healthy we are, it’s the new year and we’re on diet) to chocolate cake, brownies, homemade sausage rolls and the old classics: Jaffa cakes, kettle chips and Hobnobs.

These little pods of deliciousness have come to be known as ‘bird feeders’ as CIPD staff members descend upon them like birds, have a nibble and swoop off again to continue their daily tasks. On the surface, this may appear as nothing but a nice distraction on one’s way back from a meeting. But I have observed some very interesting interactions taking place around our ‘Bird Feeders’. I suppose you can liken it to the old ‘water cooler discussion’ where people have an informal chat while filling up their water bottles. But seriously, how exciting is water? Gathering around a table of gorgeous snack foods, however, is a different story.

At ‘CIPD Bird Feeders’ I have witnessed cross-functional working where members of different teams share their knowledge. I have experienced 5 minute ‘coaching’ conversations and problem-solving discussions. I don’t think we realise it, but a lot of learning takes place around our ‘Bird Feeders’.

Organisations are constantly trying to encourage learning both formally and informally and it is vital that you have the right culture to promote idea-sharing and ongoing development. You don’t necessarily need to implement large-scale L&D interventions (although they certainly have their place), sometimes, you need to look at the small things like the ‘Bird Feeders’ and understand how your working environment promotes learning and cross-functional working.

We are in the build up to the fantastically exciting HRD Conference taking place on 25 – 26 April, and at this event, we will be addressing all your L&D-related issues. Hear Ernst & Young and ITV talk about ‘Becoming a Learning Organisation’ and get practical advice and tips from organisations such as Groupon UK, Phillips Electronics, eBay, Fujitsu, British Airways and Mercedes-Benz.

I am a big advocate of our Bird Feeders, and I hope that HRD will help you to find the right Bird Feeder for your organisation.

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  • Has anyone tried this in their own office?  It does make sense both physiologically and psychologically in that food appeals to more senses than the thirst reflex!   Curious of Warwickshire, I am interested in the question about the quality of the informal learning. Anecdotally I know that these bird feeder conversations can avert all sorts of little disasters, absence related, conflict related etc.