Workplace is discipline; see one, do one, teach one

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We cannot always ‘just do it’, like the Nike adverts suggest. For the future, we also need to teach.

This point is perhaps missed in the 150th post on workessence, a reflection by Neil Usher – see more at:

Neil argues that, “Workplace – like many disciplines – is a composite of many others….Why nail ourselves to a definition?” I tend to agree, for the most part, especially having witnessed the continuous debate over “what is facilities management?”, for over two decades!

Summarizing Neil’s blog:

Workplace = ? (human resources, culture, brand, design, psychology, project & facilities management, social art, communication…, x, y).

I added ‘x, y’ because, of course, Neil is right to say, “Its part other stuff, that comes and goes, butts in and disappears. I probably should know better, think a bit more about what that might be, but it’s not that important.” 

Here’s the punchline:

There won’t be a professional body to erect barriers to entry, mysticise the boundaries, and fend off those without a certificate – we are fine with the wider network of the social web….We will float in and out of other conversations, and gatecrash parties that look interesting – or need livening up. We are okay without rules, without answers …..Workplace is a discipline, but without discipline. Long may it stay that way.

So, do we agree? In part, yes. But….what happens to teaching?

“See one, do one, teach one” is the medical schools’ signature pedagogy, now being seriously considered in legal education, and doubtless in many other less well-developed professions and disciplines. Maximum learning results when the student goes through all three stages – they visualize the activity by watching first. Then they try it for themselves. Lastly, they embed their knowledge (and usefully pass it on) by teaching the activity.

Neil Usher’s underlying criticism of the “professional body” may be well founded. Whilst the best professional bodies are fundamental promoters of new knowledge and learning opportunities, the worst are self-serving self-promotion groups. But then, the best are “professionals” whereas the worst are merely trade bodies and PR machines. One can quickly spot the difference by reviewing their publications, and/or support of serious academic and practice-based research.

Workplace is a discipline, with fuzzy edges. But, it will not develop as a discipline “without discipline” as Neil suggests. There are building blocks that every workplace strategist, consultant, designer or corporate manager needs to know. It would be wasteful to society if every young professional had to learn purely from their own experience. Of course, for medical professionals, it would also be dangerous! There are a few legal minimum standards affecting the workplace discipline, but mostly the result of a poorly executed workplace project will be an unsatisfied customer – and possibly a less effective occupying organisation.

Workplace practitioners are busy ‘doing’. But, for the future development of the workplace discipline, someone needs to capture the best of what they are doing, and document it, so that the discipline can be taught. And better still, we need a structure of “see one, do one, teach one”.

1 Comment
  1. James Ware says

    Paul, this is a very thoughtful – and important – idea. I agree with you that workplace should be more of a discipline, but clearly it is actually the sum of many separate but interconnected other disciplines. Yet if it is to become a true profession it needs standards, principles, methods, and certification procedures. I am actually not sure that I want to see it become that bureaucratized, but if we seek recognition from, and influence with, the C-Suite it strikes me that we need to move the discipline forward in some fashion. Food for thought, indeed!

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