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.

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.

team, collective, individual

Challenges of Forging Individuals Into a Team

How does a sense of team emerge where the whole is prioritized over the individual, especially in Western cultures where the emphasis is on the individual?

A team is a specific type of group where individuals come together to accomplish a shared purpose. In a team, the individual team members bring their unique talents and perspectives and work interdependently to achieve a unified outcome. This requires mutual responsibility, accountability, and support.

Move from a Focus on Individual Team Members to a Focus on the Team Purpose

With the complexity of today’s world, many companies are finding that individuals working by themselves but together with a common goal doesn’t rise to meet the demands of today’s complex and changing world. The creates an “every person for themselves” approach that falls short. Thus, the challenge for many companies today is to create true team where its “all for one and one for all”.

Forging individuals into a team requires the ability to create conditions where team members express their individual talents in service of the team, while keeping their focus on achieving the team’s purpose and serving the team’s stakeholders.

This is easier said than done because most people have been raised to focus on their own talents, needs, and goals. When this is the case, a focus on individuals is at the center of decision-making. Instead, this is where the team’s collective purpose, goals, and stakeholders should be. Consequently, the team can easily devolve back to being a group of individuals, each in pursuit of looking good individually.

As with most things in life, it’s a balancing act. A healthy team must strive for a balance between encouraging the individual team members to fully contribute while ensuring the shared team purpose drives the work.

Here are some things to monitor if you want to forge a collection of individuals into a high-performing or even transformative team:

Strive For Your Team’s Individual/Team Balance

A team leader along with the team must strive to create conditions where individual team members:

  • know which unique skills, knowledge, and abilities they contribute to the team.
  • are willing to reflect on their abilities and their limits to grow through the challenges of working with others.
  • have interesting and purposeful tasks to perform.
  • are willing to engage in productive conflict to find creative solutions with others.
  • are willing to ask for and offer help when needed without judgment.

Additionally, the team as a whole must:

  • agree upon a shared purpose, norms, goals/aspirations, and priorities.
  • recognize and appreciate individual contributions and encourage individual growth.
  • prioritize its work together with the stakeholders and shared purpose at the center.
  • take collective responsibility to improve as a team and to assist each team member in their individual development
  • engage in dialogue and productive conflict to find creative solutions
 Warning Signs That You’re Losing the Individual/Team Balance

To strike that individual/team balance, there are also things to avoid.  For example, signs that the focus is too much on individuals include:

  • individual opinions and preferences drive decision-making over what’s best for the team and its stakeholders.
  • the team allowing a louder or outspoken team member to dominate team discussions frequently.
  • the team allows individual preferences or behavior to derail group progress towards a shared goal.

Signs that the team might be stifling individual participation include:

  • group think sets in — team members don’t challenge interpretations or points of view out of habit or because they fear not being seen as “team players”.
  • a dogmatic or misguided group personality emerges that isolates the team and creates difficult interactions with others outside the team.
  • the team as a whole dismisses individual contributions (+ and -) that could lead to breakthroughs.

Building a great team is not easy. When you get full team member participation that serves the purpose of the team, it will be a thing of beauty.

 

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.