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Team Learning

The only relevant learning


in an organization is the
learning done by those
people who have the power
to take action.

Based on Peter Senge et.al. The Fifth Discipline FieldBook, pp.59-65; 351-441

Contents

Definitions
Dialogue
Skillful Discussion
Teams
The Wheel of Learning
Team Learning among Senior
Managers of an organization

Team Learning
Is not the same as team
building
Not a discipline of improving
team members skills or
communication skills.

The essence of Team Learning


is Alignment
Functioning as a whole
Is not agreement
Is about enhancing a teams capacity to
think and act in new synergistic ways, with
full coordination and a sense of unity,
because team members know each others
hearts and minds.
As alignment develops, people dont have
to hide or overlook their disagreements;
they use their disagreements to make their
collective understanding richer.

Improved Conversation
The primary medium with
which teams build all of
team learning capabilities.
Two conversational forms:
dialogue and skillful
discussion.

Dialogue
From two Greek roots, dia (meaning
through or each other) and logos
(meaning the word.
A stream of meaning flowing among
and through us and between us.
A sustained collective inquiry into
everyday experience and what we take
for granted.
Create conditions in which people
experience the primacy of the whole.

Dialogue
Not merely a set of techniques for
improving organizations,
enhancing communications,
building consensus or solving
problems.
Based on the principle that
conception and implementation
are intimately linked, with a core of
common meaning.
People learn how to think together.
Start to act in an aligned way.

A flock of birds taking flight


do not require planning.
Each member simply knows
what it is supposed to do
(or rather, whats best to do),
because they all fit into a
larger whole.

Breakdowns in effectiveness of teams and organizations are reflective


of a broader crisis in the nature of how human beings perceive the
world.
To develop meaning, people learn to
divide the world into categories and
distinctions in our thoughts and these
become realities.
Fragmentation of thought has infected
every field of human endeavour.
Specialist in most fields cannot talk
across specialties.
If fragmentation is prevalent, dialogue
is one proven strategy for stepping
back from the way of thinking which
fragmentation produces.

Evolution of Dialogue
PHASE 1
Instability of the
container

Invitation
Conversation
(to turn together)
Deliberation
(to weigh out)
INITIATORY CRISIS
Discussion
(to shake out)

Suspension
(to hang in front)

PHASE 2
Instability in the
container

CRISIS OF SUSPENSION

Debate
(To beat down)

Skillful Discussion
(the flow of speech;
logical analysis)

Dialogue
(the flow of meaning)

PHASE 3
Inquiry in the
container

CRISIS OF COLLECTIVE PAIN

Metalogue
(meaning moving with,
among)

PHASE 4
Creativity in the
container

Phase 1: Instability of the Container

When any group of individuals comes together, the bring with them
a wide range of tacit, unexpressed differences in perspectives.
At this moment, dialogue confronts its first crisis.
They need to look at the group as an entity, instead of merely
trying to understand each other or reach a decision that everyone
can live with.
INITIATORY CRISIS - You intend to have dialogue, but you cannot
force it to happen.
They have choice.
They can suspend their views, loosening the grip of their certainty
about all views, including their own; observe the ways they have
made and acted upon assumptions; question the total process of
thought and feelings - that will move them toward dialogue.
Or, they can move to converge and dissect or defend previously
held positions.
If they begin to defend themselves, avoiding evidence that would
weaken their view they are moving towards unproductive
discussion.
If they begin to surface the data that leads them to conflict, and the
reasoning they use to support their positions, they are moving into
skillful discussions.

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Phase 2: Instability in the Container


Groups begin to oscillate between suspending
views and discussing them. They feel frustrated,
disoriented, marginalized or constrained by others.
CRISIS OF SUSPENSION Extreme views are
stated and defended; the fragmentation that has
been hidden is appearing.
People need to be aware of what is happening.
They do not need to panic, to fight or to categorize
one viewpoint as right and another as wrong.
The need to listen and inquire.
At this crisis, skilled facilitation is most critical.

Phase 3: Inquiry in the Container

If a critical mass of people stay with the process beyond


this point, the conversation begins to flow in a new way.
People begin to inquire together was a whole.
People become sensitive to the way in which the
conversation is affecting all the participants.
New insights emerge.
It also leads to another crisis CRISIS OF COLLECTIVE
PAIN. People begin to sense their separateness. They
realize that they have created their own fragmentation
and isolation.
This crisis is deep and challenging, and moving through
this is by no means a given or necessary for success in
dialogue.
Groups may need a lot of time to move to the final level.

Phase 4: Creativity in the Container


If this crisis is navigated, the distinction between
memory and thinking becomes apparent.
Thinking takes on an entirely different rhythm and
pace.
Words may not be fine enough to capture the subtle
and delicate understandings that begin to emerge;
people may fall silent. Yet the silence is not an empty
void, but one replete with richness.
The group does not have meanings in its
conversations, the group is its meaning.
This kind of exchange allows for breakthroughs in
levels of intelligence and creativity.

The Paradoxes of Dialogue


Techniques that leave techniques behind
You need techniques of dialogue to help with
collective inquiry but technique in itself cannot get
you to your goal. Dialogue is like some form of
Eastern Meditation which is a discipline that can
be taught, and yet the ability it generates has little
to do with the techniques that people teach you.
Dont just do something, stand there
When faced with difficult problems, it is argued,
dont think about action, nor talk, but act.
However, in dialogue, we dont think about what
were doing; we do something about what were
thinking. This may have more power than any
other step you can take, even if it looks to the
outsider that not much is going on.

The Paradoxes of Dialogue (contd)


Intention but no decision
Dialogue encourages people to develop a shared
intention for inquiry. If the intent is on making a
decision, this will cut off the free flow of inquiry. It
is best to approach dialogue with no result in
mind, but with the intention of developing a
deeper inquiry, wherever it leads you.
A safely dangerous place
The safety of dialogue comes directly from the
willingness to touch the dangerous. The spirit of
dialogue is: Education is a process of
endangering the soul in a spirit of enlightened
discourse.
The word decision comes from the Latin decidere,
which means to murder alternatives.

The Paradoxes of Dialogue (contd)


Being individual and collective
Some of the most powerful contributions to a
collective conversation can come from
people who are learning to listen, not to the
group, but to themselves. The voice in their
heart, mind and body is saying something
because the collective dialogue is taking
place around them.

Basic Components of a
Dialogue Session

Invitation: People must be given the choice to


participate. Dialogue cannot be shoved down their
throats. The goal is to evoke higher-level response.

Generative listening: Art of developing deeper


silence in yourself, and hear beneath the words to their
meaning.You pay close attention to what is being said
beneath the words. You listen not only for what
someone knows but for who he or she is.

Observing the observer: Developing an

environment this is quite enough so that people can


observe their thoughts and the teams thoughts.
Suspending assumptions: To refrain from imposing
your views on others and to avoid suppressing or
holding back what you think. It means exploring your
assumptions from new angles.

Disagreement as an opportunity
Use potential disagreements to find
out where to dig deeper.
The moment of disagreement is cause
for celebrations.
In fact, if there is no disagreement, it
means that the group is moving too
quickly.
Often, an affection develops between
members of the group with the most
opposing views, as if the affection is
fueled by diversity.

Discussion
Stems from the Latin discutere,
which means to smash to pieces.
A conversational form that promotes
fragmentation.
People discuss to win; they heave
ideas against each other to see
whose ideas will be the strongest.
It undermines learning and ideas
and solutions rarely get the
consideration the deserve.

Skillful Discussion
Involves collaborative
reflection and inquiry skills to
see how things fit together
ands a more penetrating
understanding of the forces
at play among the tea
members themselves.
Incorporates some of the
techniques and devices of
dialogue and action learning
but always focused on tasks.

Meetings
Have agendas
People leave with priorities and work
assignments in hand.
The team also learns to make their
thought processes visible, to surface
and challenge assumptions, and to
look more closely at sources of
disagreements.
Improve the the quality of their
collective thinking and interacting.

Five Basic Protocols For


Skillful Discussion
1.
2.

Pay attention to your intentions: Be clear


of what you want, and do not mislead others
as to your intention.
Balance advocacy with inquiry: The
pendulum has swung far over on the
advocacy side. Teams are not challenging
each other in a meaningful way and it is
merely in-your-face one-upmanship.
Others just sit there and listen, in turn, to
each others statements. Assumptions are
not even surfaced, much less challenged.
What they are really thinking will be heard
only after the meeting in the corridors or in
the bathrooms.

Five Basic Protocols For


Skillful Discussion (contd)
3.

4.

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Build shared meaning: Be precise. Routinely check


the meanings behind the words being spoken. Take
care to make evident the meaning or lack of
meaning in a word. Do not make assumptions that
everyone understand what you are saying.
Use self-awareness as a resource: Ask yourself, at
moments you are confused, angry, frustrated,
concerned or troubled:
What am I thinking? (pause)
What am I feeling? (pause)
What do I want to do at this moment?
You will often end up with insights about the teams
assumptions or your own concerns, which you raise
before the group, without casting blame.

Five Basic Protocols For


Skillful Discussion (contd)
5.

Explore Impasses: Ask yourself: What do we agree


on and what do we disagree on? Can we pinpoint
the source of disagreement or impasse? Often the
source of disagreement fall into four categories:
Facts What exactly happened? What was the
data?
Methods How should we do what we need to do?
Goals What is our objective?
Values Why do we think it must be done in a
particular way? What do we believe in?
Simply agreeing on the source of disagreement often
allows people to learn more about the situation and
clarifying assumptions.

Preparing the ground for


skillful discussion
Create a safe haven for
participants
Make openness and trust the rule
rather than the exception.
Encourage and reward the
injection of new perspectives.
Plan the agenda, time and context
for concentrated deliberation.

How to listen in skillful discussion


(or any time)
1.
2.
3.
4.
5.
6.
7.
8.
9.

Stop talking
Imagine the other persons viewpoint
Look, act, and be interested
Observe non-verbal behaviour
Dont interrupt
Listen between the lines for implicit and explicit
meanings
Speak only affirmatively while listening
Rephrase what the other person has just told you
Stop talking (The first and the last because all
other techniques of listening depend on it. Take a
vow of silence once in a while.)

In skillful discussion, you make a choice;


in a dialogue, you discover the nature of the
choice.

Dialogue is like jazz.


Skillful discussion is like chamber music

A Continuum
Raw
Debate

Polite
Discussion

Skillful
Discussion

More
conventional

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them to the
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Teams
are recognized as a critical
component of every organization
the predominant unit for
decision-making and getting
things done.

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What You Can Expect from


Team Learning
Goes beyond Team Building.
Inspires more fundamental changes which
effects the entire organization.
Challenging intellectually, emotionally,
socially and spiritually
Nothing to do with school-learning
Starts with self-mastery and self knowledge,
but involves looking outward to develop
knowledge of, and alignment with, others in
your team.

Characteristics of a
Learning Team
Have a reason to talk and
learn a situation that
compels deliberation, a
need to solve a problem,
the collective desire to
create something new, or a
drive to foster new
relationships with other
parts of the organization.

Team Facilitator
An outside facilitator trained in
techniques for building reflection and
inquiry skills as well as dialogue
facilitation can develop skills faster.
Team members often unknowingly
misrepresent reality and cover up.
Only an outsider can see these
learning disabilities clearly.

Ground Rules for Team Learning


Agree to tell the truth as each
person knows it
Bring relevant information
immediately
Limit the time each person can
speak
Clarify how decisions will be made
and by whom
Establish ways to safely check and
challenge each other
How to deal with violations of the
ground rules

How Do We Learn?

The Wheel of Learning

Predators
Operate in cycles.
Most of the time they display barely any movement,
projecting a sense of calm focus, waiting for the right
moment.
Then it comes!
Their muscles are charged with intensity as they as they
sneak with up on their prey and strike.
When its over, they return to their original calm.
The cycle is back to its beginning.

People learn in similarly


cyclical fashion
They pass between action and
reflection, between activity and repose.
Managers need to tap into this rhythm
to create not only time to think, but
time for different types of thought and
collective discussion.
Remember the Wheel of Learning.

Different Phases of the


Learning Cycle
More
concrete

DOING

DECIDING

REFLECTING
(thinking & feeling)

CONNECTING

More
abstract
More Action

More Reflection

Reflecting

Observing your own thinking and acting


Start with review of a previous action.
How well did it go?
What were we thinking & feeling during
the process?
What underlying beliefs (what theories in
use) seemed to affect the way we
handled it?
Do we see our goals different now?

Connecting
Creating ideas and possibilities for action, and
rearranging them into new forms.
Looking for links between your potential
actions and other patterns of behaviour in the
system around you.
What did our last action suggest might be a
fruitful path to follow?
What new understandings do we have about
the world?
Where should we be looking next?

Deciding
Settling on a method for action
From alternatives and options generated in
the connecting stages, you choose and
refine your approach
Incorporates an element of choice
Here is the alternatives we choose to take,
and here are the reasons why.

Doing
Performing a task, with as much of an
experimental frame of mind as possible.
What you do might be hurried, but it will
be supported by the three reflective
stages which cam before.
When you finish the deed, you move
immediately back to the reflecting
stages, with a review: How well did it
work out?

The Learning Wheel

Sets aside time for reflection and


creativity
Work done in rhythm with the wheel
is reassuringly cyclical.
Time for reflection is built in, and yet
when its time to act, you can move
instantly.
People recognize that they learn
faster when they move slowly
when they are more thoughtful and
take time not just to react
momentarily, but try to understand
more deeply what is going on at the
moment.

Team Learning Wheel


More
concrete

COORDINATED
ACTION

JOINT
PLANNING

PUBLIC
REFLECTION

SHARED
MEANING

More
abstract
More Action

More Reflection

Each Point on the Individual Wheel has a


Team Equivalent

Reflecting stage is public because it


takes place over a common table.
People talk about their mental models
and beliefs and challenge each other
gently but relentlessly.
Shared Meaning is mutual
understanding or shared insight.
Then, comes joint planning or joint
design of an action step.
Finally, there is coordinated action which need not be joint action.
Public reflection and shared meaning
are the most important stages.
The key role of leaders is to keep the
wheel moving.

Individual Learning Styles


Team
More
concrete

A
COORDINATED
ACTION

JOINT
PLANNING
More
abstract

PUBLIC
REFLECTION

Most people take


naturally to one or
two phases of the
cycle.

SHARED
MEANING
C

D
More Action

More Reflection

Style B: Divergent Thinkers


Excel at problem analysis
The brainstormers
See things from different
perspectives
They say, Well there is another
way to look at it.
Have to shut them up.

Style C: Connection-Makers
Draw hypotheses and suggest
reasons why something
happened.
The most natural thinkers on the
team.
Have to be drawn out.

Style D: Solution-Finders
Convergent thinkers
A facility for abstraction but also drawn to
experiment.
Intuitively feel that things should move to
a point.
Great at solution analysis.
Action begins under their aegis.

Style A: Accommodaters
Manage the process of
accommodating the groups
theory to reality;
implementing the solution,
and judging the hypotheses
of the experiment against the
facts.
Most willing to dump the
theory if the theory doesnt fit,
which makes them essential.

The most powerful teams have representatives


from all four styles.
And, these teams drive their members crazy.
While A is trying to bring
things to a point, Bs got
seventeen different ideas
about how to look at it. D
wants to do something
anything for Gods sake!
and C has just notice a new
set of connections.
The challenge is learning to
value that diversity.

Team Learning among senior


managers of an organization

Shared Vision: While any team must developed shared


intent within self, you must master a process that
appropriately involves a whole organization in what amounts
to a collective action.
Organizational Assessment: To know with high accuracy
what is going on within the organization; bad news is as
likely to come to your attention as good.
Strategy as a Learning Activity: Strategy as a team
learning activity stands in sharp contrast to strategy
developed by experts. Beyond the formulation of strategy,
the bulk of learning may occur in strategy verification
probing and testing the strategy.
Organization Strategy: What characteristics of our
organization must change to accomplish our strategy?
Organization Change: You must master managing
organization change design, structure, and
implementation.

Unique learning problems of


the executive team

For the executive team member, life is more a


zero-sum game than before. One person
getting ahead often means another getting
left behind.
The executive team leader, who may or may
not be impartial makes the final decision, and
there is no appellate court.
The makeup of the executive team, in and of
itself, is a challenge, populated by aggressive
:movers who are used to getting what they
want and getting things done.
They operate in an environment that is
particularly unforgiving. Mistakes are not
tolerated.

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Developing the Executive Team


Learning Agenda

Have a heart-to-heart talk within the team about


what you sincerely want, both in terms of results
and how you want to work together.
Have an open and honest discussion about the
current reality you now face relative to the
above aspirations. Pay careful attention to what
you can and cannot discuss.
Identify those areas in which there is a
significant team knowledge or capacity deficit
and create methods for learning in these areas.
Determine whether the team has an appetite
and commitment for learning. Look for ways to
reconstruct things that you are already doing to
make them learning activities

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