Continuous Team Learning

It is quite popular these days for teams to identify themselves as "lifelong learners." If you probe deeper into the meaning behind the statement you may find that team members attend ongoing training, keep up on their reading, and are familiar with the latest innovations in their field. Although these activities are vital sources of team learning, the greatest teacher, experience, is often overlooked as a powerful team educator.

Unfortunately, the learning derived from experience is not as uncomplicated and concrete as that acquired by reading a book. Learning derived from a team's experience is influenced by the skills and capabilities, attitudes and beliefs, and awareness and sensibilities of team members. In short, this means that each team member could take a different lesson away from the same experience.

To help teams learn the desired experiential lessons, most organizations provide guiding ideas such as missions and values statements to help shape team perspectives, direct team actions, and shape team thinking. The theories, methods, and infrastructure of the organization are all intended to mould the learning perspectives of organizational teams. Despite the structure and guidance provided by the organization, a team still might learn something different from their experience than is intended by the organization.

To fully benefit from experiential learning, teams need to debrief their experiences on a regular basis, and explicitly ask, "What did we learn from this experience?" Lessons can be derived from both team successes and failures to inform future challenges, and precipitate team growth. Following your team's next significant experience ask the following questions to glean new learning.

  • To what do we owe our success or failure? Many of our team building activities can include class room facilitation, so you team members can better identify success and failure.
  • What did we assume, and were our assumptions correct or faulty?
  • Were there any "sacred cows" or un-discussable subjects encountered during the course of the experience, and if so, what?
  • How could we work together more intelligently next time?
  • Did all team members feel fully supported and appropriately utilized throughout the experience?

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