For over 400 years, western civilization has increased its use of analytical thinking and the scientific method to explain almost everything in the natural world. By using analysis (separating a whole into its component parts), our society has greatly expanded the knowledge of how things work. With this knowledge, humans have invented new technologies that have freed many people from lives focused only on survival. Yet, elevating analysis over other thought processes has led to a loss of appreciation of how human beings and everything else are interdependent elements of an interconnected, complex web of life. You might notice this overuse of analysis in your workplace. For example, I would bet that most (if not all) of the “thinking” done by you and your team is analyzing problems by looking for causes and effects.
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The Learning Cycle is a simple framework used by teams to improve products and processes. It’s a cycle that includes Planning, Doing, Reviewing, and Learning from the results of projects and tasks. This basic learning cycle is useful for reviewing events and spotting patterns and to tweak task performance. However, for deeper learning and greater agility, take two passes around this cycle using a different emphasis the second time around.
Single-Loop LearningUse the first pass around the Learning Cycle to focus on what happened when you performed a task or implemented activity and focus on concrete factors, such as who, when, and how. This is referred to as “single loop learning”. During this initial loop around the cycle, your team seeks to detect and correct errors or undesirable outcomes by looking primarily at events and patterns that occurred. The cycle entails …
- Observing and collecting information during and after the fact,
- Assessing the results against desired measures and outcomes,
- Proposing causes and connections between events, and
- Adjusting techniques used in order to correct errors and to make improvements as you modify your original plan and start the cycle again.
Double-Loop Learning Will Take You DeeperAfter taking the first loop around the learning cycle, consider going around the framework a second time. However, this time around, go deeper into how the beliefs underlying the original vision, goals, frameworks, and norms. Doing this allows you to reflect on how the beliefs influenced and impacted your original plan, its implementation, and results. This second trip around puts you into double-loop learning. Using only the single loop, you address what is on the surface and is visible and obvious. However, the the second loop around the cycle deepens your review and reflection. During the second time around, look at the underlying thinking that shaped how you framed the task or project in the first place. In other words, double-loop learning moves you from considering only the visible actions, events, and outcomes to also consider the invisible mental models that influenced how you conceptualized the work. While single-loop learning focuses on the technical and practical, double-loop learning encourages you to go deeper. It encourages you to question the basic assumptions and beliefs behind the relevant strategy, policies, norm, etc., used to conceive of and design your task work. Today’s complex, constantly-changing world requires your team to be more aware of the underlying beliefs that drive its work. This is what makes you more agile and able to create greater value. Double-loop learning is a process that can improve your team’s discernment and lead to more meaningful and beneficial learning. Better ability to learn, in turn, will enable your team to adapt to changing conditions more effectively. With that adaptability and agility, your team will be more effective at serving its stakeholders now and into the future. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at bethstrathman.com.
High-performing teams take seriously how well they create value for their stakeholders. The best teams know what their stakeholders need and expect from them. Here are some things to keep in mind as you focus on understanding your critical stakeholders, both inside and outside your department or organization. When you do, you increase your team's effectiveness.
Identify Your StakeholdersYour stakeholders greatly influence the reason your team exists and vice versa. That's why it’s important to be clear about just who your team’s stakeholders are. To guide this inquiry, research by Clutterbuck and Hirst (2003) identified 3 aspects of influence between teams and their stakeholders: Creating or limiting financial resources - Executive teams or department heads are likely to control financial resources for your team. In non-profits, a particular donor or group of donors are stakeholders when they fund a program or initiative. Impact to or from one another - Customers are an obvious stakeholder for many sales, design, and manufacturing teams because of the direct impact of their work on the end user of a product or service. Also, there are often impacts between your team and other work teams in your organization. These effects can be so routine that you overlook them as stakeholders and vice versa. Having shared purpose and values - A shared purpose with stakeholders means that you both have an interest in each other's success. You know you share values with a stakeholder when the values they live by are similar or support yours. Indeed, research shows that shared values and purpose unifies your team and its stakeholders and helps your team create stakeholder relationships that will advance your team purpose (Freedman, et al, 2004). Thus, your team’s stakeholders are those individuals and groups who feel valued by you and find value in what your team does because they benefit from, are impacted by, and/or influence your team’s decisions and output.
Not All Stakeholders are ObviousIt’s easy to overlook some stakeholders. For example, many executive and management teams often overlook their direct reports as stakeholders. They overlook that their team decisions and work products almost always directly affect those who report to them. It’s easy to focus only on the loudest or most powerful voices. Using a stakeholder map can help you identify your team's key stakeholders, including those "unusual voices" who benefit from or influence your team's work while having less influence in the decision-making process. Additionally, high-performing teams have large networks of both strong and weak ties to networks of stakeholders that provide expertise that can support the team. Weak ties tend to be with others with whom the team has ad hoc interactions. Strong ties are with those with more critical cooperation and expertise. Teams can nurture both types of stakeholder relationships accordingly.
Stay Engaged with StakeholdersOne way to say in touch with your stakeholders is to identify members of your team who can act as team representatives to engage stakeholders: • Ambassadors: market the team to the those with power both inside and outside the organization; • Scouts: gather information from people outside the organization who have different knowledge/expertise; • Coordinators: manage the connections to the team across functions inside the organization. The better relationship you have with your stakeholders, the higher competitive advantage your business has (Jones 1995). Therefore, to become a more effective team, it’s important to identify and continually engage your key stakeholders. When you do, your team will gain the information necessary to continually adapt to changing conditions in its stakeholder system. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at bethstrathman.com.
Making decisions for yourself difficult. For teams, multiply the difficulty of decision-making even more! Not only do decision-making biases and pitfalls abound, but chances decrease of reaching a solid decision when the process used is found lacking. There are, however, some aspects of decision-making that will lead to better decisions if you include them in your process. Consider making your decision-making more conscious, intentional, and systemic by taking into account these decision-making factors to make better team decisions:
Team Identity & AspirationsWhat in the world does “team identity” have to do with decision-making? Well, it turns out, a lot. How your team sees itself is the foundation of a good decision. A solid decision ultimately is based upon your team’s purpose, vision, values, and goals. A good decision reflects why your team exists (purpose), how they envision themselves being successful (vision), and how the decision reflects core team values. Additionally, your team must be clear about what they are trying to achieve with the decision they will make. That is, how will the decision further current team goals or more general aspirations? When all is said and done, a good final decision will meet the needs of team stakeholders, inside and outside the organization.
Decision ImplicationsNot every decision is life and death. However, the decisions your team makes are probably important; otherwise, you wouldn’t be spending team time on them. So, to help the team gauge the level of importance, consider the potential cost of making the wrong decision. As a team, estimate how much time, money, energy, etc. is hanging in the balance to put the decision in perspective, including the potential costs in terms of time, money, and energy.
Criteria for Viable OptionsHow will your team know which decision is best? It’s key to create decision criteria. Key criteria are those attributes that enable the team to discern options that are “better” or more desirable and feasible than others. To begin your attributes list, start with the components of team identity & aspiration and the implications of making the right or wrong decision above. For example, the “decision has to further our overall goal of X; serve stakeholder A, B, C; not jeopardize our relationship with stakeholder D; and allow us to meet our deadline of May 31st.” From these basic building blocks. The team can suggest or brainstorm additional criteria as necessary throughout the decision-making process as new information comes to light.
External Data & Its InterpretationAnother consideration is the use of additional data to aid in making a decision. Indeed, gathering and interpreting qualitative and quantitative data is where much decision-making time is usually spent.
Default decisionBefore your team formally starts collecting statistics and opinions, take the small but important step of taking a straw poll to see what the team would do if they had to make the decision without further input. Why? The “default decision” is like a starting point that the team can use to determine additional data it wants or needs to convince team members that its seemingly obvious “default” option is appropriate or not. “Based on what we know today and our preliminary criteria, we’d decide to do X. What added information might allow us to see if that option holds up?”
Additional dataWith the default option in mind, the team can use common sense, analysis, and curiosity to decide on, collect and use additional data to test their initial “default” option. Also, after reflecting on the additional data desired to make the decision, your team may have a better sense of additional key criteria to consider when making the decision. Using the additional data and the team’s criteria for a good decision, it can generate and evaluate options that warrant further consideration before making the final decision.
Confidence in the DecisionOnce the team has settled on its decision, it’s wise to do a final gut check regarding the team’s level of confidence in the final decision. If the team indicates low confidence in the final decision, the team can determine what it needs to do to increase its confidence to an acceptable level. Good decision-making can have a large impact on team performance. Decisions don’t happen on their own. The best teams make better decisions because they intentionally consider their team purpose, aspirations, implications, data, criteria, and confidence in the final decision. WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER, BLOG OR WEBSITE? You can, as long as you include this information with it: Beth Strathman works with executives and senior leaders to create team environments that optimize ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at bethstrathman.com.
Do you congratulate yourself on the fact that your team never argues or even disagrees with each other? Hold on. That might not be a good thing. Results from a study of 55 executives teams by consulting firm RHR International found that while internal cohesion and psychological safety are important to executive team performance, they are not the most critical at the enterprise level. Rather, it is the team’s ability to manage conflicting tensions—as opposed to seeking agreement—that predicts top-team performance. Even if you don’t lead an executive team, you know that conflict happens on most teams at all levels of your company. Indeed, with the emphasis on creating diverse teams, it’s likely that the different backgrounds, experiences, and expertise will lead to more wide-ranging points of view. The trick is not to avoid conflict, but to understand that disagreement is often a step in the conversation process on the way toward understanding the larger system you within which your team operates.
Field #1: PolitenessIn this field, team members are minding their p’s and q’s, making sure not to be seen as negative. In this stage, people do not necessarily say what they think in order to keep the peace and the appearance of playing “nice”. At this point, team members work to maintain the appearance of being a cohesive team by not “rocking the boat”. Nothing new happens in the field of politeness, so it’s likely that team members leave a conversation that stayed in this field with their expectations met. Same ol’ meeting, different day.
Field #2: BreakdownDuring a team meeting or discussion, it’s probably not uncommon from your team to move to the field of breakdown. You know you’re in breakdown when individual team members begin to assert their individual points of view (POV). In this field, tension in the group begins to rise as group cohesion dissipates and individuals debate, defend, and argue about the merits of their assertions, credentials, experiences, and facts known to them. When team conversations end in this field of breakdown, team members leave the conversation with awareness or new information from other POVs that challenge assumptions and information they knew coming in. When team members begin to realize that there is a different way to look at the issue or their own part in the issue/situation that they hadn’t thought of or realized before.
Field #3: InquiryIn inquiry, team members begin to reflect on their own perspectives as parts of the whole, rather than the only or the “right” perspective. In fact, in this field team members gain a new perspective. They begin to ask questions out of curiosity about what they truly don’t understand, instead of asking leading or charged questions to convince others to see their points of view.
Field 4: FlowThe team enters level four feeling like a cohesive group again co-creating new ideas that move within the group. The team sees the bigger picture or system because of its awareness of multiple POVs. You’re in this field when energy and inspiration is high in anticipation of something new being created. Team members leave the conversation feeling like they have become different people who are more connected to who they are meant to be. As a bonus, fill in the form below to download a graphic detailing the four fields of conversation. This tool is useful in teaching your team how think and work together for break-through results. You and your team will learn to move from conflict to creativity and innovation more effectively. [wpforms id="2105"]
A recent survey found that one of the top frustrations of CEOs is aligning strategy and people. This was interesting to me because of the amount of research and experience available to companies about strategy, change management, employee engagement, etc. Moreover, aren’t companies meant to move an idea or strategy from the abstract to concrete reality by way of their employees? I was curious to see what made aligning strategy and people so difficult even today. To find out, I interviewed some colleagues in Human Resources, and here are the top three challenges that emerged from our conversations: