I heard a great idea yesterday from the founder/owner of an innovative Dutch technology firm. He wanted to create an experiential learning opportunity for himself, the head of the business for nearly 20 years, so he organized a “Boss swap” with a friend in another company. For three days, he swapped roles with another CEO from a similar-sized, but non-competing business, to see what he could learn.

He said that he found the experience fascinating. Indeed, he got some new management ideas that he could effectively apply in his own workplace. And, by observing with a more dispassionate view on structures, roles and work flows, he found that when he returned he was able to look more objectively at his own business.

One of the most valuable parts of this experience he said were the discussions with his swap partner afterwards. Both in similar roles, they were able to help each other explore internal decisions and options for change with much more background that they could ever shared over (many) dinner conversations, creating a peer-learning opportunity that bordered on coaching that was equally valuable to both of them. He also said that, following his experience, he organized similar swaps for other levels of management in different offices, and that the Dutch media had been so interested in the exercise that they had covered it in the news (no doubt an added benefit.)

This strikes me as an excellent informal learning exchange for those at different management levels in our institution (even between our HQ and regional/national offices). It would give managers the opportunity to think differently about their own work, build relationships among senior staff (and with other workers), and develop a system of peer-support at the management level. It would also give people more information and experience with one another’s programmes and might help identify practical ways to collaborate that were not obvious before.

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