How Double-Loop Learning Will Increase Your Team’s Agility and Effectiveness

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 Learning

Use 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 Deeper

After taking the first loop around the learning cycle, consider going around the framework a second time.  However, this time around, however, 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, you 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 further. It encourages you  to question the basic assumptions and beliefs behind the relevant strategy, policies, norms, 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 learning 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

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