Developing The Learning Team – Step-By-Step Guide For Team Leaders

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A Learning team – the most adaptive one

A learning team is one that never stands still and always progresses together. Several characteristics could define learning teams:

  • Willingness to acquire new knowledge, skills, and competencies.
  • Proactiveness in searching for opportunities.
  • Driven by innovation and demanding projects/challenges.
  • Flexible and adaptive to unexpected circumstances.
  • Open to communication, collaboration, and diverse teamwork.

Learning teams are the peak performers who are not afraid of mistakes. On the contrary, making mistakes is the key to success that other teams tend to overlook. If you are part of a learning team, making mistakes means taking risks and aiming at accomplishing opportunistic goals. Motivated and eager to excel, team members and managers prefer this learning approach.

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Learning teams are the key to future corporate development

You need to communicate the mission, vision, purpose of your team to each member. You need to acquaint them with the business.

What are the common mistakes managers make during this process? They supply their team with too much theoretical information and then expect team members to remember every detail and put it into practice. However, nobody will understand how to leverage all the data unless you show them.

On the one hand, this is because learning builds knowledge, develops the team, hinders progress while doing, stimulates further progress, develops deliverables and feedback, and sequesters knowledge. But there is no need for you to make a trade-off between learning and doing because you can do it simultaneously – train & learn by doing.

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Popular models of ‘learn by doing’ (Google Ventures, P&G, Khan Academy)

Learning by doing is becoming more and more popular among companies because it is a cost-effective method for future outcomes.

For example, Google Ventures is famous for its Design Sprint Process – a team has only one week to think about an idea, create a product/service based on that idea and present a potential prototype to the targeted customers. It is a fast and cost-saving way to gather a massive bundle of thoughts and deliver them to the market to see whether customers will accept and use them or not. If the market response is negative, at least the team behind the idea has lost only one week and few resources for the launching. In an overview, the team identifies its mistakes, goes back, and improves its plan.

Procter & Gamble follows the Workshop Acceleration Model, like Google Venture’s one, while Khan Academy has been using the Flipped Classroom model in which teams are left to figure out the solution to a problem alone using only basic instructions.

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Treats of effective learning teams

Trustful team collaboration & efficient communication

Transparent communication, together with trustful collaboration, is a critical ingredient for successful learning teams and top-performing teams. Without them, teams may suffer from:

  • Inconsistency
  • Duplication of work and effort
  • Misinformation
  • Wong decisions

For various groups to work together cohesively, they need to bond together and establish trust and proper relationships.

Today many team members are part of “virtual teams” – either because of the pandemic or because members are at different locations outside the organisation. Good communication skills are essential when you cannot talk and discuss face-to-face with your teammates.

The learning team does not think of the remote working environment as a threat or barrier – it will face and adapt to it and try to work as efficiently as possible through the new communication channels.

learning team

United purpose and shared values

One consistent trait among effective learning teams is aligning with the purpose of the team – the team vision statement. The team must be integrated into the corporate purpose, mission, and values. Every individual within a team needs to share their values and vision with the others from the group – this is how a cohesive performance will progress and sustain over time.

‘People who are united around common professional and personal interests are getting along during work better than others who do not share common preferences.’

The learning team is called that way because it is eager to gather knowledge consistently, right? If team members share the same passion for learning and the same willingness to tackle challenges and participate in new projects, the whole team will benefit.

Make sure to provide your team members with such autonomy – give them a chance to develop and improve their skills and competencies by allowing them to use some of their time for research and work by their choice.

Stimulate learning – show the team that people who are eager to develop are supported and admired in your team and the company.

Learning teams

Continuous improvement & innovation

In today’s rapidly changing business environment, the passion for innovation and overall improvement plays an essential part in staying a step ahead. Team leaders are the driving force behind the team’s desire to innovate. The most challenging for you may be to change team members’ mindsets regarding failure. Allow them to fail fast, give them opportunistic and risky projects, engage them in diverse tasks.

If team members feel the support and encouragement from their leader, they will strive to succeed. Another critical element is that as a proactive leader, your team is looking after you. Show them that you are also seeking to improve yourself every day with every task – lead them by example.

Create a learning culture within your team

As a manager, you need to create a constant “learning culture” within your team and try to develop it over time. An authentic learning culture is sometimes defined as “a culture that supports an open mindset, an independent quest for knowledge, and shared learning directed toward the mission and goals of the organisation”.

However, research shows that learning culture is still an exception rather than the norm. Results show that only 10% of organisations have managed to create learning cultures, with just 20% of employees demonstrating effective learning behaviours at work.

Research by Bersin found that companies who effectively nurture their teams’ desire to learn are at least 30% more likely to be market leaders in their industries over an extended period. And therefore, we provide you with some recommendations on how to build such a culture in your team.

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Lead by example – Be a Role Model

For the real magic of ‘learn by doing’ to become real, you need to be part of your team’s journey. Become a co-creator. If you want your team to be active, not be afraid of mistakes, learn fast by doing tasks and experimenting, you need to show them that you are exactly this type of person.

Key advice:

  • Be enthusiastic about new opportunities and show a willingness to act.
  • Be supportive and encourage new ideas, proposals, and decisions.
  • Engage with your team in innovative projects.
  • Consider each team member idea on how your learning approach can be improved.
  • Accept and acknowledge individual interests and values – stimulate their growth and development.
  • Motivate learning and do not punish mistakes.
  • Reward participation and long-term efficient performance

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Set goals and expectations for your team

The ‘learning by doing’ approach is becoming more popular because it delivers long-term efficient performance meaning more profound ongoing knowledge and expertise.

Isn’t this familiar – once you have put something into practice, you feel more knowledgeable and competent about it, whereas if you only listened, read, or watched it, you are less confident in yourself.

We all want to know what we are expected to achieve. So, we prefer to follow pre-set requirements and guidelines because they make us feel more comfortable when we know what we are asked to do and when we need to show what we have done.

However, living in a world when the only certain thing is change, we cannot rely on straightforward paths anymore. Still, you can at least provide your team with some expectations. You need to communicate the learning culture of the team that you are leading from the beginning. Tell them that they will learn new skills and gain knowledge by first practising it, not the other way around.

  • Know what you want to achieve. Every team has goals – this stimulates learning and overall strive for success.
  • Set goals based on the level and engagement of the team.
  • Let people develop their own goals, express their way of achieving these goals.
  • Set deadlines to foster “design sprint” working but prepare for unforeseen conditions.
  • Learn from your mistakes and communicate with your team – this is how you motivate them to improve.

What is in for me?

Individual team members often subconsciously question the advantages they can derive from a particular task or job. You need to assure them that they are not only contributing to the overall company’s successful performance and the team’s one but their personal growth.

As recommended above, being a co-creator of your team learning culture, you have the chance to listen and acknowledge your values and visions. BKnowingach team member’s goals can assign the appropriate tasks and projects and satisfy people by giving them exciting work that will serve as a driver of their motivation, hence overall performance.

A good approach would be to foster individual and collaborative learning simultaneously. Encourage people to develop their competencies and talents for the sake of their satisfaction and motivation. At the same time, try to align individual goals with the team ones. This way, you could give the proper answer to the question ‘What is it in for me?’.

Survey shows that employees today are more stimulated to remain on a job, not because of the salary as a pure reward, but for some intrinsic benefits as professional development, gaining advanced expertise, opportunistic projects. So, it is all about providing your team members with a chance to learn and excel.

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Monitor, assess, and reward.

Team leaders always need to monitor the development of each team member and the team. You will gain helpful feedback from the team and use it in future tasks and discussions to improve the level of confidence team members have in their competencies.

Frequent evaluations and conversations between you and your team are crucial for you to sustain a learning drive. Mistakes should not be punished – encourage them because, through mistakes, your team learns how to perform better next time- what to do and what to avoid.

The traditional boardroom top-down model is not efficient anymore. You will not create a successful learning team if you prepare for a conversation on performance for one year.

By opening a more holistic dialogue between managers and employees, you can identify star performers and accelerate them in suitable streams rather than await the annual review to identify potential future leaders.

By waiting until the end of the year to flag struggling employees, failure can go on for too long without intervention. Waiting to address a poor performer doesn’t add to your team’s learning. Frequent check-ins give a reference point without the much-maligned employee rating system. Everyday discussions and improvements are the keys to nourish a learning culture.

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Learning by doing together

To create a learning team, you first need to establish a team – people who stick together, work together efficiently and trust each other. Team building and developing activities would help you to bring those people together. As we said earlier, communication and collaboration are placed at the core of every sustainable relationship. Team members need to establish their way to communicate freely and honestly to feel motivated to collaborate with their colleagues.

Above all else, this approach allows you to create a team that learns together and works together. So, the culture of ‘learning by doing is also significantly related to the formation and development of the team. Imagine you are leading a brand-new team– you need to teach members how to communicate, cooperate, developed a shared vision and purpose.

But how can I weave in team-building activities?

How to use team-building to develop a learning team

By showing and putting everything, you want to tell them into practical games and sessions. Team building activities will be your ground for experimentation before using your learning for real. You can use the KissTheFrogNOW decks as a practical example. For example, new teams reap the most significant benefits with the PersonalQuestions.

Explore over 20 sessions and team-building canvases here.

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