Execution as Learning

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Amy C. Edmondson’s “Teaming: How Organizations Learn, Innovate and Compete in the Knowledge Economy”, offers a few key insights about teamwork that can help us all be more effective when it comes to building strong cultures that align people to the corporate strategy.

Most of us think of teamwork as a noun, Ms Edmondson changes our frame of reference by viewing it as a verb; it’s a dynamic activity determined by the mindset and practices of the group – not the design and structure of effective teams. It involves coordinating and collaborating, regardless of structure or industry. Indeed, she views it as constantly changing based on the shifting nature of the work – so teams can disband and reorganize if appropriately to accomplish their jobs. She is pointing to the process NASA used when it first developed its Matrix management system of using temporary project teams.

Within this frame of reference, one can ask then what is the team focused on. Every team is organized to execute, the question is for what purpose? Traditional approaches for on efficiency or effectiveness. The right answer, from a teaming perspective should be execution as learning: learning to team, and teaming to learn.  This means the focus is on the team’s activities and how well it uses them to learn. These activities include; Asking questions, Sharing Information, Seeking Help, Experimenting with unproven actions, Talking about mistakes, and Seeking Feedback.

The Execution as Learning perspective addresses all three of the contexts teams usually engage in:

  • Routine operations (e.g., how are we performing against target measures),
  • Complex operations in which new risks must be considered, and
  • Innovation operations in which they explore new opportunities.

In each case. the team must diagnose the situation, design a system for performing, act, and then reflect on what happened, why and what lessons can be obtained.

So the next time you’re ready to assign a project to a team, or you’re part of the team, think about the teaming process as a learning opportunity – and identify how that helps you do a better job now and in the future.  Then share the results, so we can all learn together!