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.

decision, choice

What the Best Teams Do to Optimize Their Decision Making

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 & Aspirations

What 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 Implications

Not 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 Options

How 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 Interpretation

Another 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 decision

Before 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 data

With 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 Decision

Once 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 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.

team - put work at center

Build a Team of Self-Motivated Self-Starters with This Subtle Mindset Shift

Are you frustrated because you don’t think your team takes responsibility or is as accountable as they could be? Do you feel like you have to hold people’s hands too much? Do you believe all or some team members lack self-motivation?

You might be feeding into this problem.

You could be unwittingly creating a dynamic that subtly communicates to your team that they shouldn’t make a move without you. For example, if you have a more directive leadership style, you might consider yourself the “hub” to your team’s “spokes”. Effectively, you place yourself in the middle of almost every interaction and decision made on your team. In contrast, let’s assume your leadership style is more “hand’s off”. In this case, your team might be confused about their roles, accountabilities, and decision-making authority. With this confusion, they are more likely to hold back from taking appropriate action.

Assume you have the right people on your team. You can make a subtle mindset shift in how you envision your team, its focus, and way of operating to get things done. Instead start by taking yourself out of the center of that team. Stop seeing yourself as its “hub”. Instead, shift to envision yourself on the “rim” of the team “wheel” along with and your team.  Then, envision the team placing the “work” or current goal in the center. In other words, make the “work” the hub and focus for all action and decision-making instead of you.

When you and your team put the work in the center, you are no longer the “go-to” person . . . the action taker . . . the person team members need to appeal to for permission. Also, you won’t feel the need to be in every little loop.

Rather, you’ll begin to see each of your team members spot what they need to do to address an issue or to move a project forward to reach the goal. Your team will take the reins more readily and more often without feeling the need to rely on you to get the go-ahead.

This frees you up to take on the role as resource, guide, facilitator, and obstacle remover — a much more productive place for a team leader to be at any level in the organization.

If you don’t want to be the parent or the babysitter to your adult team, stop putting yourself in the center of the team. With this one small shift, you will lead your team towards greater self-direction, accountability, and responsibility.

You can view a short, related YouTube video on my channel here.

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. Take her 5-minute quiz on to find out how you’re doing at creating a high-performance team environment.

teams, adaptive leadership

How Uncertainty and Conflict Lead to Innovation and Creativity

Did you know that teams rated as the “best” make more mistakes (not fewer) than others? How come? Because the better teams that make more mistakes DISCUSS them. When they do this, they can work together to reduce them. In short, these “better” teams operate in an environment of “psychological safety”.

According to Harvard Business School professor and researcher, Amy Edmondson, psychological safety is the “belief that you will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes.”

In contrast to a work environment the emphasizes only accountability to produce results, an environment of psychological safety is one that:

• Appreciates diverse perspectives and encourages disagreement instead of assuming there is one correct perspective or answer.
• Allows team members to admit what is unknown, uncomfortable, or uncertain. It is not a trendy “safe space” designed to shelter team members from things they don’t agree with.
• Focuses on experimentation to find ways to address current challenge. To this end, it encourages appropriate risk and allows mistakes.
• Approaches challenges as a system instead of looking for one thing or individual to blame.
• Allows for imperfection and encourages acknowledging personal fallibility and flaws without encouraging unproductive, dysfunctional behavior.

Through her research, Edmondson identified 3 leadership behaviors that help create psychological safety:

1. A Learning Framework.

Work is framed as a learning problem; not an execution problem.  This is accomplished, in part, by acknowledging uncertainty and interdependence. In this way, the team knows it’s OK to encounter fits, starts, detours, and failure before it arrives at an end result.

2. Lean in to Vulnerability and Flaws.

As a leader, when you acknowledge your own fallibility, you emphasize the need for all to speak up and add their perspectives. You can say things, like, “I’m curious to know how you see this.” or “What am I missing here?”

3. Model Curiosity.

Ask lots of questions to show the team how to speak up to get the information they need without being afraid to look less than competent.

For your part, creating psychological safety means that you as a leader must manage your emotions and reactivity. You might think you’re modeling curiosity to encourage participation in a discussion. However, if you get visibly upset at what your team’s input, you’ll undermine psychological safety.

In conclusion, when you create psychological safety with your team, you create an environment that taps into the human element of work instead of treating them as simple cogs in a machine. When coupled with high accountability for results, psychological safety helps you create a learning team that constantly adapts to challenges. In this way, your team has the best chance of expressing its full potential. And that leads to more innovation and creativity in your organization.

Learn more about Amy Edmondson’s research and how to create psychological safety in your organization with her book, The Fearless Organization: Creating Psychological Safety or her TedX Talk.

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 women in leadership who want to have more positive impact within their organizations, by gaining greater presence and composure, focus, and influence with their teams. Learn more at: firebrandconsultingllc.com.

By the Numbers – Capturing Lessons Learned

Much institutional knowledge in companies is lost through turnover and poor communication. Such institutional information is often critical to successful operations and execution of company goals. One way to preserve and share knowledge and expertise is to actively capture, store and share “lessons learned”. However, for most, it’s easier said than done.

This infographic compiles the numbers related to capturing, retaining, and sharing lessons learned:

lessons learned