An easy place to start
If it’s all just a bit too much for your organization to take on all at once, I often recommend starting out by conducting a few learning teams or learning explorations. Pick an area that could use a little improvement, a particular pain point or problem, or simply choose a job or task that you would like to learn more about and give it a shot. Go out and use these operational learning mechanisms to render your workplace better, and to tell the story of normal work – of reality – up through your organization.
The use of the approaches to gaining operational intelligence are low risk and high reward – they are the perfect opportunity to demonstrate the viability and usefulness of doing things a bit differently.
Learning team basics
So, you want to conduct a learning team, now what? Before we examine the “how to” of performing learning teams, allow me to insert a warning here – something I have seen occur in many organizations. Do not overcomplicate the process or get too hung up on structure – a bit of the idea here is that these approaches are less formal, less rigid, less linear, and more open and real. Do not allow your organizational desires for uniformity and repeatability to stand between you and real learning. Avoid falling into the traps of over proceduralization, of seeking absolute control over the process, of killing learning and innovation via the application of strict rules. Avoid bastardizing this simple and immensely valuable tool into something that it is not – at all costs.
The most basic steps used to conduct a learning team can be described as 1) learn, 2) soak, and 3) solve. These steps are commonly expanded into five steps.
The five steps of a learning team:
Let’s take some time to explore each of these steps in greater detail...
After identifying the need for a learning team, you will need to take some time to adequately prepare. During this time, you should gather any supplies that you think will be needed (I am pretty fond of flipcharts), along with compiling any required information (such as event information, technical data, manuals, etc).
This first meeting of your team should only be about learning as much as you possibly can. At this point in the process, we should be purposefully avoiding diving into “fix it” mode. This sessions time should be dedicated to the team discussing and discovering how work actually gets done.
This reflection point is one of the more vital parts of the learning team process (Sutton et al., 2020), do not skip it. As people, we need time to soak information up and to allow for ideas and other information to bubble up to the surface. In practice, I typically separate the first and second meetings by about a day. Too much time between meetings results in forgetting or losing track of vital information or ideas – placing the meetings too close together does not allow for enough time to think. This time between meetings can vary – focus on trying to find “the sweet spot.”
In this second session, after a brief review of all that has been learned so far, you will begin to move the conversation towards improvement – taking all that you have learned from the first session and turning it into real ideas on how to render things better.
Now we begin to turn these ideas into actions that add defenses, remove error inviting situations, fix problems or pain points, and make things better. Whatever method your organization normally uses to track and complete actions will typically work here, just do not allow a burdensome action tracking process to dissuade people from using
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