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Thursday, May 16, 2013

Team Learning

Have you seen this before? You are sitting with all those familiar people, discussing, arguing and debating how to best deal with a situation. The members of the team obviously have no problem being honest with each other. There is enough trust in the team to engage each other in a passionate debate of ideas. However, you notice that you are losing precious time arguing and the ones who are really good at articulating their point seem to often win the arguments. Team meetings like this have become an intramural of wits. You probably realize that the problem in this situation is that not the best ideas win, it's the people who can debate the best win. This is not the most optimal way to solve a problem or learn as a team.
Even high performing teams can have this problem and it can hinder them from taking the team to a higher level of performance. I've learned from my encounters with teams as a facilitator and leader that trust is important but it is not enough. Trust in the team is important because it builds the needed confidence for people to speak up and listen to each other. However, we speak as we learned how to speak and listen (or hear) in the manner that we learned how to listen.

Let's look at all the communication training we've undergone from childhood up to now; We were of course taught how to speak, read, write and follow orders. In speaking, we were taught how to speak well and influence others by expressing our thoughts well. When we went to school, we were to taught to remember things and play them back when asked. We were also taught how to debate. We were taught to substantiate what we said to prove ourselves right.  Some of us joined debating teams to engage in "my belief is better than yours' contest. What are you noticing here? Our training on listening is comprised mostly of listening to remember and listening to respond when our ideas are being challenged.  When you lose a debate, it is similar to losing any contest. Many of us took that kind of attitude when we went out of the school.  This is the reason why team idea exchanges don't really become exchanges but more of doing a really good job of shoving ideas down each other's throat. Another thing that we are not trained to do well is ask questions. In school, asking too many questions could be interpreted as being dull.  At work, it could mean the same thing or if you ask questions that challenge the ideas of others specially the boss, it could be interpreted as an upfront which explains why a lot of the conversations in teams are not real conversations but one downward flow of instructions.

Here's something I like to offer if you relate to the things I wrote above. Team Learning- it's a fantastic way to improve communication and learning in the team. It is one of the five disciplines mentioned in Peter Senge's book "The Fifth Discipline" which  I highly recommend for you to read if you are serious about building a learning organization.

So, how does team learning look like? Imagine people sitting there looking together at all the available information, asking questions to deepen their understanding of the situation, sharing their own interpretation of it and advocating ideas without using their coercive influence to gain agreement. When that happens, you will see team members genuinely listening to each other and building on each other's ideas rather than have their ideas compete with each other. What you'll get is a result of a collaboration rather than ideas that won the debate. This thing won't just happen. People need to learn how to do this to achieve this quality of conversation that lead to team learning. Yes, I put together something to help teams learn this. If you are interested, check out the program below.


  1. I like this article and I'd like to offer my assistance to you when you run your team learning course.

    Pat Pascua


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