Learning together

I'm reading a brand new book, The Extended Mind, by Annie Murphy Paul. It is an example of the type of book that has been published in the past few years that is terrifically useful for managers and leaders, even though these books don't come from the traditional MBA-finance-and-strategy model of business publishing.  In my view, these writings are FAR more useful to first- and second-line leaders.

I am finding that The Extended Mind is packed with research-based, practical information for leaders who invest time in it. One example is on the idea of developing groups that work best together. Most managers focus nearly all of their attention on individual performance plans and individual development plans. But, as Paul says:

Our emphasis on individual achievement, and our neglect of group cohesion, means that we are failing to reap the rich benefits of shared attention and shared motivation.

Group cohesion is much more than just having a social hour after work or an icebreaker at the beginning of a long meeting. Instead, one of her suggestions is that "people who need to think together should train together – in person, at the same time." She goes on to say that:

Research shows that teams that trained as a group collaborate more effectively, commit fewer errors, and perform at a higher level than teams made of of people who were trained separately.

Often, training happens these days in individualized sessions in a person's free time – that is, outside of work hours. By default, this training happens alone, and often at the worst time of day for retention.

Time during the work days is too often filled with mandatory meetings and review sessions, hopefully along with some actual productive work. However, not having time dedicated to learning together risks a team and a leader getting stuck in a rut – doing the same things in the same ways. Over time, these teams fall behind others who are experimenting, innovating, and building better skills.

A wise leader who wants to improve skills and performance for the teams that she is responsible for will find a way to prioritize learning together.

Checkpoint for leaders: In your last team meeting:

  • How much time was spent learning new skills and ideas, and figuring out how to apply them in your work?
  • What specifically did the team learn to do?
  • How was the new learning applied – if it was applied at all?
  • What effects – positive or negative – did you see from the new learning?
  • What would a group development plan look like for your team?

And finally:

  • What learning will be happening in your next team meeting?

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn

Dale Rebhorn is a teacher and student of leadership.
Madison, Wisconsin, USA