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Enabling Team Learning. Start with Analysing your Successes and Challenges.

On a number of occasions in my career I have suggested to team managers that learning time should be put aside in team meetings to allow the whole team to develop their skills and knowledge. This learning process also allows the team to develop as a team together and also gives individual team members the chance to show off their own skills and knowledge as well as develop their presentations and training skills when they present their own topics.

As a team manager I always tried to allow time for this to occur although I would admit to not being as disciplined in this area as I would have liked due to business pressures and agenda ‘hijacking’ by various invited ‘guests.’ It has been a great frustration that many team managers simply block even the idea of ‘team learning’ through their meetings as the main ‘reason’ for blocking this is always that there is not enough time on the team meeting agenda. They can also highlight that their company has a ‘self-learning’ policy in that individuals have the responsibility to develop their own learning ‘in their own time and at their own pace’.

This, to me, is always an avoidance tactic. Yes, there’s pressure on filling the team agenda with so-called ‘business critical’ topics but if these are prioritised properly and the timings of these agreed topics are managed well then time can be freed up to allow learning opportunities to happen.

Another key challenge is that the team doesn’t have an overall team development plan, with all development being focused on individual plans. However, there will be areas of development and learning that apply to all the team members and as a ‘starting point’ time should be put aside to discuss in depth both the successes and challenges that the team and team members may be facing. Too often the full understanding of successes and challenges are actually lost in the meeting's presentation ‘update’ whereby individual team members simply report their progress or lack of it. High performance teams will put in the time to analyse why success has happened, how it can be transferred across all relevant team members, and how best it is sustained. In relation to performance challenges then these again should be analysed by the whole team and the root causes identified with recovery actions agreed and then put in place. These are all learning opportunities and ones which support the development of individuals in the team and ultimately the improved performance of the team. Learning and development opportunities don’t always have to be an upfront power-point session on a specific topic. Analysing the root causes of successes and of challenges may actually identify team skills and knowledge ‘gaps’ which then can be added into the team development plan with future development sessions and learning events created in order to fill these ‘gaps.’

Key Points:

· Teams that learn together develop quicker towards high performance.

· Make sure that regular team meetings have built in time for learning and development.

· Don’t just fill the agenda with ‘updates.’ Make sure successes are communicated and the specific reasons behind the successes are highlighted. Do similar with challenges – build in team sessions that allow a full analysis of the root causes behind the challenges.

· Always have a team development plan which contains all the key development areas that all the team members should be developing and putting into practice.

· If regular team meeting agendas are truly that busy with ‘business critical’ items then create space through dedicated learning and development meetings whereby dedicated time can be put aside. Consider both virtual and physical meetings and make more use of the virtual technologies now available. Not all learning needs at to be a half-day or full-day physical meeting. An amazing amount of learning can be achieved in 1–2-hour virtual sessions.

· Make sure you manage the expectations of external meeting ‘contributors’ and keep them to time. Don’t let them take over the meeting agenda and as such take time away from any development time you have put on the agenda.

If the team is to get to that true high-performance level, then it does need to ensure that the skills and knowledge of all the team members are constantly and consistently developed. A crucial way to do this is to ensure that all successes and challenges are analysed, the root causes identified, and that pro-active action plans are put in place.

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