The Joyful Rewards of Study Tours - 3 Reasons to Indulge


One of the most joyful and rewarding of all workplace experiences to undertake, in my opinion, is the humble study tour. I’ve been lucky enough in my career to visit, both here in New Zealand and overseas, many organisations which, are renowned for certain workplace practices and philosophies such as, customer focus, innovation processes, leadership capability and workplace culture excellence.  The opportunity to visit, study and learn from these organisations has enabled me to both think differently about crucial work philosophies such as strategy execution approach and to challenge whether certain work practices actually add any value at all to an organisation, e.g., performance reviews. Some study tours have introduced me to completely new ways of thinking and working, e.g., Agile methodology which, in turn allowed for adaption to new ways of operating in some of my future teams.  For example, my now business partner is an accredited Agile Scrum Master and prior to us going into business, she introduced and implemented the concept and working approach of scrum teams to a HR department that I was leading at the time.   The scrum team method was a completely new approach for most of the HR team members and yielded some fairly significant project wins in a much shorter duration of time than if a traditional HR approach had been used.

There are so many glorious reasons to undertake study tours from an individual perspective, to a team perspective to an organisation perspective.  To follow are 3 reasons that will certainly add value at an individual level, a team level and an organisational level:


1)       In my experience, when you partake in a study tour the leaders and employees of the organisation that you are visiting are so unbelievably generous in passing on invaluable knowledge about their organisation’s work processes and practices.   These leaders and employees are proud of all they have achieved and are only too happy to pass on stories of both their successes and just as importantly their failures, and the learnings from these failures.  If you are curious and open and prepared with questions to ask and treads to pull, the information you can glean can be truly capable of breaking some formidable paradigms that exist within your own organisation.  I think of one particular study tour which I participated in, where our entire Executive team visit several organisations in the USA. This outcome of this comprehensive study tour resulted in us changing our organisational approach on many fronts.  This included our approach to strategy execution, marketing and customer insight, innovation processes, engineering and manufacturing processes, leadership capability with all concepts underpinned by business and workplace culture excellence.  Now, clearly not all Executive teams or business owners can afford to jump on a flight and head off overseas to experience study tours so here is the really good news, there are so many amazing things happening right here in New Zealand, on your local door step.  If there are particular workplace practices and philosophies that you are interested in, e.g. introducing continuous improvement to your organisation, have a chat with your local Employer Chamber of Commerce branch, your local economic development agency or maybe MBIE. These organisations should be fairly insightful as to what businesses or organisations are out there that are strong in the area that you are interested in learning about.   Recruitment consultants are another really good source of knowledge as to what is happening in local companies and organisations.


2)      As well as supporting your ability to think differently, study tours can also be extremely valuable in helping to validate areas where your organisation is already doing well.  There will undoubtedly be an area where you are strong from a workplace practice and philosophy perspective and you will intuitionally feel this. However, having conversations with senior leaders and employees from other renowned organisations that share the same beliefs, have similar processes and competence in this area will add an important level of reassurance and confidence.  It can also have the added benefit, when you receive this type of validation, of giving clear direction and focus to building further strength in an area that may potentially become a differentiating, competitive competency for your organisation, e.g. innovation processes.   Validation from study tours on your current workplace practices can also be extremely important from a change management perspective when it comes to existing employee mindset.  What I mean by this is just because you or your senior team have participated in a study tour which, has inspired, reenergised and given new, clear focus and direction, not everyone at your organisation will feel that same motivation to change.  Before attempting any change, you will need to prepare your employees and their mindset to be open to thinking differently and therefore, willing to change current practices. Hence, if you are planning some fairly meaty changes as a result of your study tour learnings, part of the change management narrative, should encompass dialogue on what the organisation is currently doing well.  This will help to celebrate the past efforts of employees and give important recognition to existing work practices that are fit for purpose before you enter what can be a tricky, controversial narrative about the competitive need to shake things up.  That is, to change or reinvent other workplace practice areas that may not be fit for purpose or relevant to market and external customer needs and expectations.  From an employee perspective, genuine acknowledgement and recognition for what is working well is key to employee engagement and willingness to think and act differently in areas that may not be working well. Without this recognition, there can be a powerful, bloody-mindedness that can significantly hinder change management efforts at an organisational level. 


3)      Probably not as an important point as the two points above (although some may argue otherwise, which I’m all good with) is that study tours can be a really enlightening and fun, team bonding experience.  An experience that can shed invaluable insight and in-depth understanding on individual thought patterns, beliefs and knowledge base related to the different workplace practices and philosophes that are being studied.  This is information that you wouldn’t normally get to understand or discuss in the daily, operational life of the workplace environment.  I can think of a past study tour example where it suddenly occurred to me that two of our senior, executive leaders that had previously appeared chalk and cheese, actually had a great deal in common regarding their thoughts and beliefs on certain workplace philosophies.  It was just that when they were briefly discussing the same workplace practices or philosophies in the overwhelmingly busy, operational, daily environment, their very different personality preferences were getting in the way of them having a decent, healthy conversation.  The very experience itself of this particular study tour aligned these two senior executives that were both respectively accountable for the two biggest areas of the organisation, in a way that I don’t believe they could have been aligned without this study tour experience.  

In addition, as the subtitle of this section suggests there are aspects to study tours that are just fun and help to bond a team, particularly if the study tour is of a duration that lasts more than one day and there is travel involved.   The time spent together as a team during the down time of a study tour allows the team to co-exist and have some fun in a way that would be impossible during normal office hours. There are many (many) stories from the Executive team USA study tour that I mentioned earlier to demonstrate this ‘fun & bonding’ point however, what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas. The point here is that the entertaining, good-natured stories that arise out of study tours are the shared stories that help bond a team and bring a level of strength and camaraderie to a team that is hard to replicate in other ways. 

In closing, study tours have so many benefits on so many different levels that if you are able to influence your organisation’s view on this type of learning it is definitely worthwhile doing so.  For example, in a previous life where I was in the role of GM of Human Resources, some of my HR team needed to travel to place like the USA, China and the UK to facilitate different HR and OD workshops. As the leader, I was able to instil the philosophy that if possible, my team members were to tag on an extra day and complete study tours at local organisations that were renowned for certain workplace practices.  This is such a win-win situation for both team members and the organisation from a learning and employee engagement perspective. The overall payoff from investment in study tours can be compelling as when translated from learnings into actual practical outcomes, an organisation can fundamentally reinvent itself on many fronts.  The result of which, can mean that an organisation is far more fit for purpose and relevant to both its external customers’ needs and expectations, and the market place.  And of course, the cherry on the top, is that the experience of study tours can have tremendous ROI for the culture and performance of a team and build a bond that is hard to reproduce in any other way.  So, if you are thinking of indulging and exploring a new way of learning via study tours I hope these few words have helped to validate your thinking.  That in future, you also get to experience the above similar joys associated with study tours including an amazing exploration of new ways of thinking about and approaching both work practices and philosophies in your organisation.


Mary Buckley