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 firebrandconsultingllc.com.

team, dialogue, fields of conversation

Dialogue: Moving Through Conflict To Creativity and Innovation

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: Politeness

In 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: Breakdown

During 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: Inquiry

In 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: Flow

The 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.

 

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strategic planning, idea, plan, action

Top Mistakes When Aligning Strategy and People

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:

1. Top leadership was removed from the day-to-day realities of the business.

A common impediment cited when aligning strategy and people was that senior and executive management remained separated from the reality of frontline employees during both the planning and implementation stages of initiatives. That is, top leaders often built a strategy and an implementation plan on untested assumptions and inadequate information (which caused initiatives to fall short or fizzle), mostly because they did not get vital information from employees who did the work. This, of course, lead to allocating misguided or inadequate resources and setting inadequate or unrealistic goals and milestones.

Also, by remaining removed from what was happening near the point of customer contact, employees didn’t see the strategy or tactics as realistic, which in turn made senior management lose credibility. Further, by remaining distant from the frontline realities, top leadership didn’t act as role models for everyone else. Instead, they seemed to take a “do what we say, not as we do” attitude by imposing their perspectives and plans on employees as they directed the work from afar. Thus, employees viewed senior leadership as avoiding accountability and passing the buck, which led to employee resentment that undermined employee engagement and, ultimately, the initiative itself.

2. The organization fails to intentionally prioritize and align strategy, vision, goals, and daily work

Another challenge that came up was a lack of shared understanding of how to translate strategy and goals into actionable tasks and behaviors that would make the desired difference. Often, top leaders assume that once goals were communicated to each respective area of the company, the people would automatically know what to do to get the desired results. Each successive layer of leadership throughout the organization provided little guidance throughout the organization about how employees needed to adjust and redirect their focus, energy, and targets. Further, many companies failed to prioritize how and where to deploy resources at various stages throughout implementation. This created confusion around the cadence and priority of work among departments, divisions and teams.

Instead, when implementation began, it became painfully clear to those performing the work where different areas of the organization stepped on each other’s toes, were working at cross-purposes, or were pursuing uncoordinated outcomes. The end results were internal conflict around competing interests between departments and divisions, confused communication, and even resentment between areas.

3. The organization lacks shared values and behavior norms.

Another reason that for the conundrum of aligning strategy and people was that the organization had not intentionally identified, defined, and prioritize its values. This meant there were few if any norms for how people were expected to work together. Without shared values and norms, each company area and each individual substituted their own values or their own interpretations of company values as they performed their work, made decisions, and interacted with each other. For example, one department valued creating profits for shareholders over everything else, even though that was not a primary goal of the initiative. This caused confusion and resentment as the one department worked at cross purposes with other departments. In other words, without shared values and norms, misinterpretations and miscommunication occurred frequently, leading to mistrust between different areas of the organization.

To conclude, in the 21st century, CEOs still struggle with aligning strategy and people, which goes to the heart of what leadership is all about. To do it better, most in leadership positions need to focus on what others in the organization need from them. First, senior leaders and executives to engage with employees at all levels of the organization to inform the strategy and implementation and remain engaged as role models throughout. Next, senior leadership must intentionally and clearly translate the strategy into current priorities and monitor and adjust those priorities throughout the initiative being mindful of and helping to resolve competing interests along the way. Finally, top leadership must foster an intentional, common culture that defines and reinforces a common language and common value-based behaviors to enhance collaboration.

 

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 firebrandconsultingllc.com.

individual, team, team identity, team purpose

5 Ways to Transform a Group of Individuals into a Team

In the U.S., most people are taught from an early age to be individually competent and independent. It’s no wonder that most of your employees have some difficulty in knowing how to work effectively within a team. Here are five things you can do to forge a collective sense of “team”:

1. Create Routines That Signal Start of Team Space

Being part of a team is like being a partner in a marriage — both require individuals to give up some of their individual desires and aspirations in service to the group. (Read a previous post I wrote about the ego “sacrifice” required here.) As a team leader, you can reinforce this notion with routines that are designed to signal that the group is entering “team” mode and to put their individual goals to the side.

Examples of these routines are:

  • At the beginning of team meetings, consider starting with a few seconds of silence to allow everyone to bring their focus into the meeting.
  • Use a team “check-in” to allow each individual to engage with the rest of the team from the start.
  • During an initial team or project launch, ask each individual to share what baggage they intend to leave behind (past quarrels or resentments, habits, tendencies, etc.) that won’t serve the team purpose and stakeholders.

In short, you can build small habits into team processes to reinforce the notion that everyone is moving into team mode where the team and its work is the focus instead of furthering individual agendas.

2. Frequently Revisit Team Purpose

To maintain the focus on the collective team endeavor, always remind your team of its purpose. Reminding the team why your team exists is a fundamental way to establish and re-establish team focus. Everything team members do — from the behaviors needed to achieve team success, to the goals and objectives they strive to achieve, to the processes they create for high quality output, should all come from to the team’s purpose. This is also true for each decision made and the roles and responsibilities assigned. In short, team purpose informs everything your team does. Team purpose reminds your team that their collective endeavor is not about them as individuals as much as it is about the team as a whole and the benefit it provides to others.

3. Keep Stakeholders at the Center of the Team’s Work

It’s easy for team members to get overly focused on their individual agendas and responsibilities. Yet, your team’s success is ultimately measured by how well its collective work provides beneficial value for stakeholders. In fact, stakeholders and their needs are the reason for your team’s purpose, which in turn drives your team’s work. (Read a previous article on how to take yourself out of the center.)

To keep your team’s focus on stakeholders, connect with them from time to time. Staying in touch allows your team to discover how well your team is providing valuable benefit to them and whether the relationship is good. When your team sees its stakeholders as central to team operations, you prioritize the collective team endeavor of serving stakeholders over individual team member interests.

4. Make Vulnerability and Fallibility Okay

One of the big reasons individual team members can be overly focused on themselves is that they want to appear capable. Yet, each human on your team has flaws. To mask those flaws, individuals often balk at admitting they sometimes lack skills or that they make mistakes. That’s why it’s important that you as team leader show that it’s okay to admit you aren’t all knowing, may lack some ability, and will own up to mistakes in the spirit of learning. Additionally, your team might consider creating norms around these concepts.

Acknowledging human frailties permits team members to accept each other as individuals. It also can focus them on learning together as a team rather than protecting their individual egos.

5. Create Team Accountability for Individual Team Member Development

As suggested by Keith Ferrazzi, you can forge a deeper focus on the team by creating a Team Relationship Action Plan. The key to such a plan is to ensure each individual team member identifies their own areas for growth. Then, they ask for what they need from other team members to make gains in those areas. This creates mutual accountability between each individual and whole team for individual development that furthers the team purpose and goals.

To conclude, individual talent and creativity are necessary contributions to team success. However, successful teams are able to create a singular team focus to serve their stakeholders. Don’t rely on this happening naturally; consider trying some of these ideas to routinely reinforce what it means to be a team.

 

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 firebrandconsultingllc.com.

failure, learning

Why You Should Prize Failure

Failure happens when a desired or expected outcome doesn’t materialize. It can happen whether or not there was something you could have done about it, too. Whether the mistake is a small glitch or a major flop, failure often weighs heavily on you personally because you’ve been conditioned that, without exception, “failure is not an option”.

This is a lot to overcome. In most people’s experience, nothing is perfect; you and the people around you are flawed, and the world is constantly changing. Thus, you’re not always going to get things right on with mistakes, foibles, and failure and re-frame them as ”learning”:

1. Failure points to weaknesses in behavior, skill, processes, your overall system, or level of support provided.

Use an error to examine a weakness in how you are performing the work. People involved may need to build technical or interpersonal skills. The steps designed to produce the work output may be inadequate. Also, you might need to increase follow ups or check ins during a process to increase the ability to get and give needed guidance.

2. Failure provides you new information and data about what does and doesn’t work.

Mistakes help you home in on what will ultimately work well, especially when you are in uncharted territory. Repeated, incremental failures can help you fine tune toward success.

“Mistakes are the portals of discovery.” – James Joyce

3. Failure can highlight false assumptions.

Consumers didn’t embrace the Ford Edsel in the late 1950s in part because the company mistakenly assumed consumers wanted big cars when they wanted smaller, more economical ones. The maker of Coke incorrectly assumed that it would convert Pepsi drinkers if it made its product taste more like its rival. While it’s too bad that these companies went all the way to market with ill-conceived products, they did learn that their thinking was flawed at a fundamental level.

4. Failure can create curiosity that leads to inquiry and more engagement.

With an eye towards learning, you can use failure to focus your team on the work. To do this you must avoid blaming and shaming individuals, which can drive a wedge in the middle of your team. Instead, focusing on what happened can bring your team together to solve problems. Additionally, your team can go one step further to share what they learned with others in your organization.

Perfection is not the goal. Nothing and no one will ever be 100% error free. Rather, view the performance of work as a creative process that can teach you a lot through the errors, mishaps, and failures that occur along the way. Be grateful you have opportunities to discover what and how you can improve the next time.

 

WANT TO USE THIS IN YOUR NEWSLETTER OR BLOG? 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 firebrandconsultingllc.com.

implement idea

This is Why It Takes Patience to Implement Your Brilliant Idea

Difficult and uncertain situations often highlight weaknesses and failures in our habits, systems and practices. Energized by any “Eureka” moment, you might emerge from difficult situations as an evangelist for a new ideas or ways of doing and being. As you begin to enthusiastically share your ideas and insights, you will often find your brilliance and excitement are not enough to energize others to change or act.

Instead, successfully bringing your brilliant insight into concrete reality when others are involved is not only about the specific policies, procedures, processes, and finances required to implement it. It requires understanding the psychological and sociological aspects of the stakeholders who will implement it, benefit from it, and be otherwise impacted by it.

Here are two things to focus on to make implementing a new idea a little easier over the long-term:

Develop a Shared Cause or Purpose with Others

Dale Carnegie famously said, “People support what they helped to create.”  Others won’t readily get on your bandwagon, even if you have authority over them. Even though your idea, insight, or cause has become apparent to you, others may not have shared the difficulties that gave birth to your idea. For this reason, many won’t understand what your insight will do for them. For some, it might even be threatening.

Thus, much of your initial work will be to create dialogues with stakeholders. These dialogues should center around the themes related to your new idea. This way, you can discover how it could relate it to their experience and be worthwhile for them. Additionally, you’ll see how you can adapt your purpose to encompass a wider group of stakeholders.

With a shared purpose, it’s more likely others will willingly invest their time, talent, and energy to bring it to life. With a critical mass of stakeholders joining you, momentum will begin to carry you forward.

Be Prepared to “Go Slow to Go Fast” Despite Your Enthusiasm

Turning your valuable insight into real change may require letting go of quick fixes and embracing delayed gratification. Meaningful change is often systemic change, and that can take time. This is true especially in the beginning stages when you are enlisting others to join with you. You must be prepared to change direction and handle setbacks.

For example, some stakeholders will be very supportive of your endeavor. You will be tempted to focus on their validation and stay the course. However, be mindful of less enthusiastic stakeholders. Some may attempt to slow or even undermine progress openly or covertly, quietly or adamantly. Take the time to engage with less supportive stakeholders to discover their concerns and how those concerns can be addressed. You may need to re-visit and adapt your shared purpose. And you may not be able to please everyone, but engaging with even the naysayers and remaining open to concerns will build your credibility.

Another way to “go slow to go fast” is by experimenting with one little change at a time to see how it goes. You’ll will be able to test any assumptions about which new ways of operating are needed or practical.

Don’t underestimate the psychology and group dynamics of creating a worthwhile endeavor from a new idea or insight. The hard work is not creating the new processes or procedures to implement. Rather, the real work happens when you bring together multiple stakeholders, who have different points of view, visions, fears, and allegiances. With time, patience, and a willingness to adjust and learn, you can make progress with a shared purpose and permission to experiment.  You’ll be fine — as long as you are prepared for conflict, resistance, complaining, uncertainty, disappointment, and disillusionment along with excitement, satisfaction, and sense of achievement.

 

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 team ownership, accountability, learning, and results. Learn more at firebrandconsultingllc.com.

How to Be a Credible Leader

Previously, I wrote about four areas for leadership focus.  In this post, I’m focusing on establishing your credibility.

Over the past century or two, the expectations of what a leader is and does has shifted and that applies to how leaders established credibility.  Used to be that a leader was credible if he was “large and in charge” as set forth in the Great Man Theory.  To establish credibility in previous centuries, an individual (usually male) needed to dynamically leave his mark on the world through personal power, charisma, intelligence, and wisdom.  From the top, down, he directed, commanded, provided answers, intimidated, kicked butt and took names, and was always deferred to by everyone else.  In short, the leader sat atop the pyramid in a hierarchical paradigm borrowed from the military.

Today, a shift has and is still occurring that is questioning the heavy reliance not only on top-down hierarchy but also the traditional tough-guy leadership traits that formerly formed the basis of a leader’s credibility.  Sure. In a crisis, expediency and taking charge can pay off.  You absolutely want a leader who can take control of the situation and go into command-and-control mode to alleviate a big threat quickly.  Yet on a day-to-day, non-crisis basis, the credible leader of the 21st century is one who enlists others to follow through competence, transparency, inspiration, and being forward-looking.

How are you reflecting these 21st century aspects of credibility?

Competence.

In the past and for today’s leader, a large component of credibility comes from being competent. Competence is being qualified for the job.  It comes from knowing your stuff and being intelligent enough to ask the right questions if you don’t.  Increasingly, the competent 21st century leader is also emotionally competent, meaning he is aware of his emotions, can regulate them, and is aware of how others are feeling.

Being competent does not mean the individual is an expert in all things related to the business or of managing his emotions; rather, it means the individual is adequately knowledgeable and skilled and has a basic knowledge and ability with most things that come his way.  Competence is often an issue when someone is hired or promoted through political wrangling, nepotism, or favoritism.

Transparency.

People don’t like being manipulated or lied to.  That’s why leaders who are open and honest with their employees earn high marks.  Openness and honesty keeps everyone together as a unit, sharing the same experience.  It also, provides the leader an opportunity to teach employees about his thought process, including underlying assumptions.  In addition to being instructive, transparency can invite the sharing of alternate viewpoints.  The back and forth exchange of ideas that comes from such openness helps forge a stronger bond amongst the group and furthers the leader’s believability and credibility.

Inspiration.

To be inspiring, you don’t have to be Martin Luther King, Jr.  It does, however, mean that you can help others see that they are part of something bigger and can accomplish great things in concert with others.  This is about helping employees see the “big picture” and their place in helping the grand plan come to fruition.  Neurologically, by way of mirror neurons, followers’ brains light up in many different areas when they interact with a leader who can enthusiastically connect them with the big picture.  This increases the chance that employees will be open to new ideas and new emotions as they scan the business environment for options to attain a corporate goal or vision.  And that is exactly what a leader wants to inspire employees to do.

Forward-looking.

Finally, today’s leader must have the ability to scan for future trends, opportunities, and threats.  The marketplace changes so quickly that leaders must have an eye on what is coming down the pike – good, bad, different and indifferent.  This gives the organization advanced notice allowing it to adapt and stay relevant and in business. The leader who is uncomfortable with change or unaware of trends will react slowly if at all, failing to catch the next wave that will keep the business afloat.  Because followers rely on the continuation of the organization, the credible leader is in tune with what’s happening now as well as with what is likely coming in the future to ensure the longevity of the organization.

What do you need to do differently to be  credible enough to lead?

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: www.bethstrathman.com.