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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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.

feedback

Be the Bigger Person When Receiving Feedback

Giving quality feedback in a respectful way can be hard. Receiving feedback in a respectful way is even harder. (Even receiving positive feedback for some is difficult.) During and after receiving negative feedback in particular, do you notice you have heightened negative emotions or niggling thoughts that linger long afterwards? That just shows you care.

When I refer to feedback, I mean any information that is given to you about your own behavior, communication, or performance that is intended to make you aware of how you impacted someone else – whether good or bad. However, I’ll focus on receiving negative feedback, which often feels harder to swallow.

As a leader, you probably find yourself being the formal giver of feedback more often than a formal receiver of it. Still, there are many opportunities to receive feedback. You can solicit feedback from individuals, via employee surveys, or through a 360-degree feedback process. You may also receive unsolicited feedback from anyone at work.

Positioning yourself as a good receiver of feedback can be very powerful for you personally and as a role model for your team and the rest of your company. It really boils down to being the “bigger” person when receiving feedback.

If possible, you can practice receiving feedback on your terms by creating the best conditions possible to get feedback. These are situations where you have a lot of control by choosing the following:

  1. the specific feedback you wan;
  2. a non-threatening setting in which to receive the feedback; and
  3. people you respect and trust to provide the feedback.

Even under these conditions, it can still be hard to receive any negative or constructive feedback, but these might be the best conditions for implementing these tips for receiving unsolicited, negative feedback:

1. Keep your ego in check.

Even if you are high up the food chain, you aren’t perfect and are not above making improvements. To avoid getting your ego too involved, frame the intentions of the feedback giver in the best possible light. What are their good intentions for giving you feedback?

2. Keep your power in check.

Be aware of any power differential in your relationship with the feedback giver, especially if you have more positional power. It’s important to keep emotions down, or you risk having a chilling effect on getting future feedback. If you feel yourself getting angry, defensive, snarky, or deflecting blame onto others, these reactions can be magnified by your power and send amplified shockwaves back to the feedback givers or throughout your team. Or your heightened emotions may really be signaling your insecurity around the feedback topic.

3. Gauge your intention vs. impact.

Based on the feedback, how big is the gap between how you thought you were coming across and the actual impact you had on others? For most feedback, this the heart of the matter, or the point of the feedback. Take stock. It is, however, harder to gauge if you don’t respect the person’s opinion.

4. Accept the feedback graciously.

To do this, be quiet and listen without arguing. Avoid minimizing the person’s opinion, turning the tables on them to give THEM feedback, or disputing the feedback. Maintain neutral facial expressions and body language, and at the end, simply thank the person for their input. You may ask clarifying questions if necessary to understand the circumstances, or you may ask for specific tips you could employ to do better next time.

5. Consider the feedback.

You don’t have to accept all feedback as true or helpful. Take time in the subsequent days or weeks to decide what feedback to accept or reject. You may want to test the feedback with others you trust or validate the feedback by noticing your behaviors in similar situations going forward.

6. Circle back to the person.

When you circle back, you do so in the spirit of letting them know you’ve been considering the feedback and to thank them again for their candor. You are not obligated to report on what you’re doing about it. Just touching base with them again lets them know there are no hard feelings and serves as a good model for receiving feedback without letting it adversely affect work relationship.

Finding out you’ve fallen short of someone’s expectations can be hard. It’s just an indication of the degree to which you do care about being the best you can be. However, you show your colleagues and employees how to be a great leader when you can practice what you preach and give feedback as good as you get it.

 

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. And get my Conversation Planner to help you decide how to give respectful feedback to someone else.