As learning leaders continue to incorporate diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) into their respective learning and development (L&D) strategies, creating or repurposing employee resource groups (ERGs) might be an essential method for furthering progress. Traditionally, ERGs were established to support employees with shared interests or identities. However, when we consider their use in contemporary work cultures that welcome innovation from high-performing talent, they can play an important role in expanding or creating a more effective learning ecosystem within an organization.

ERGs can provide a space for employees to come together and share knowledge, experiences and best practices associated with work roles and career experiences. For ERGs to best support skill acquisition and application, these groups should be created with purpose, structure and rules for engagement.

Define the Purpose of the Group

One ERG might be focused solely on supporting new hires, while another group might be geared towards helping employees develop skillsets that are specific to their job function. In all cases, it is important to be clear about the group’s purpose from the outset. Three questions that learning leaders might consider when defining the purpose of the group might include:

  • What type of learning activities will take place within the group?
  • Who is the target audience for the group?
  • What are the goals and objectives of the group?

The answers to these questions will not only help to shape the group’s purpose, but also create guardrails that will keep learning on track. Purpose also helps to ensure that the time commitment invested by employees in the group will be most effective and efficient.

Create Structure for Efficiency

In addition to defining the purpose, it is important to establish structure. This will require the group to consider things like membership criteria, meeting times, cadence and locations (including virtual considerations), as well as how decisions will be made. It might also be the time to establish how the group will measure its success. A few questions to consider when creating structure might include:

  • What are the rules for joining and leaving the group?
  • Who will be responsible for leading the group?
  • What is the expected time commitment for group members?
  • Where will the group meet?

Consider these questions early on to ensure the greatest efficiency. Establishing structure with the initial group makes it easier for future members because expectations will have already been set.

Establish Rules for Engagement

The final piece of the puzzle is to establish rules for engagement. Rules help ensure that the group can have productive conversations, share best practices and develop actionable plans. Some initial considerations might include things like maintaining confidentiality, being respectful of diverse opinions and determining how the group’s time and resources are best spent. For example, if the group is focused on professional development, then time spent discussing personal matters might not be an acceptable use of the group’s time.

A few questions when establishing rules of engagement might include:

  • What is the process for sharing ideas and information within the group?
  • How will controversial topics be handled?
  • What is the process for making decisions?
  • Who has the final say on decisions made by the group?

The rules of engagement should not feel punitive. But they should provide a framework within which the group can operate. Above all, the group’s activities, outputs and outcomes should feel inclusive to all while the rules of engagements should result in each member feeling a sense of value while transferring their newly acquired skills to their real-world experiences.