Learning and developing team competencies
Some time ago I wrote about psychological security and, just as I did then, I will start off by sharing a quote by Amy Edmondson, who developed the concept of psychological security more than twenty years ago. “To achieve excellence in a complex and uncertain business environment, people need to work and learn together”.
Thanks to agile methodologies based on small, empowered, and self-organized teams, teamwork has become the default way of working in many organizations. However, this is completely different in the field of team learning, where a lot of work is still to be done. Although knowledge is more accessible now than ever before, the process of acquiring knowledge and competencies in teams is slow. Too slow.
It's a common misconception in most teams that the development of team competencies is the responsibility of a manager or HR department. In these VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity) times, teams have to take responsibility for their own growth and progress. All other stakeholders need to support this process and help teams on their journey of becoming better and more productive.
The effect of mindset on learning
World-renowned psychologist Carol Dweck spent 30 years studying mindset and how it affects our lives. She defined two distinct mindsets.
Fixed mindset - based on the statement “Intelligence is a fixed thing, and you can’t change it. You are either born with or without it.”
Growth mindset - based on the statement “No matter how intelligent you are, you can always get better, sometimes even much better.”
Intelligence can also be replaced by talent. For example, a talent for playing the guitar, a talent for marketing, or a talent for playing basketball. A flexible mindset doesn’t claim that everyone can become Luka Dončić, but rather that you’ll get better at basketball if you train it.
Everyone is somewhere on the scale between these two mindsets. At one moment we are closer to one, and at another time we are closer to the other. Which mindset is accessible to us in a particular moment can greatly influence how we learn, cooperate, admit, or hide our mistakes.
Nowadays we would like individuals and teams within an organization to have a flexible mindset, which means they would strive to improve. They would have a desire to grow their competencies and keep learning new things, they would make mistakes in the process but would also admit them. On the other hand, individuals and teams with a fixed mindset place a lot of importance on looking good. They often miss out or even avoid opportunities to learn, progress and develop their competencies because it is important to them that others think they are already very good. And consequently, they don’t need to get any better.
This fixed mindset is especially prevalent among teams. Teams with fixed mindsets dedicate a lot of time and energy into looking ‘good’ rather than improving and actually becoming better teams.
Satya Nadella, CEO of Microsoft, sums this up nicely in his statement that a person with an “I will learn everything” attitude will always be better off than a person with an “I already know everything” attitude.
The state of competencies within a team
Companies always try to build teams by bringing together the right people, so that the team as a whole has all the competencies necessary to achieve its set goals. But how do you know which competencies overlap among team members and which competencies are absent from the team?
The easiest way of finding a solution to this problem is to carry out an exercise called a competency matrix. On a board, draw a two-dimensional matrix and ask the team what competencies they would need to successfully achieve the set goal. Write down all the competencies they list on one dimension. On the second dimension, list the names of all team members and let them assess themselves on how good they are in each of the listed competencies.
For self-assessment of different competencies, the following scale can be used:
- I am an expert at this
- I am good at this
- I don’t know this
- I don’t know this, but I want to learn.
You will be left with something resembling the following.
All team members openly discuss what has been shown in the matrix and together agree on how to fill any knowledge gaps as quickly and efficiently as possible. We want the whole team to take responsibility for what has been agreed upon.
For example, the above matrix method reveals that a team lacks knowledge in the field of accounting as no team member is good at this competence. The team must agree on how to acquire accounting knowledge as soon as possible. We also see that Maja is an expert in legislation and that the others would like to gain knowledge in this field. It is advisable for the team to agree on how Maja will pass on some of her knowledge to other colleagues.
Learning in teams
Teams need to take responsibility for developing necessary competencies and establish their own way of acquiring knowledge to speed up the process of learning for each individual member and the team as a whole. There are numerous ways successful teams go about this. Here are just three examples:
#1 The team can arrange to meet for one hour every first Wednesday of the month during which one team member shares his knowledge with the rest of the team.
#2 If team members don’t have time to study, they can agree to meet every first Monday of the month for a lunch-and-learn session. Team members stay together during lunch and listen to a colleague’s lecture on a particular topic.
#3 At CorpoHub, we call our learning meetings ‘desserts’ as we want these meetings to be short and sweet. Every time one of us reads a good book or article, attends a conference, or learns about something new, they convene a short meeting and share their knowledge with the others.
In the previous century we placed most value on efficiency and almost forced people to become I-shaped, meaning they were experts in only one area. Nowadays, with the desire of innovation and impact, we build diverse teams to direct people into working and learning together. Consequently, team members are becoming more and more T-shaped. What do we mean by T-shaped? The vertical line in the letter T represent the depth of one’s knowledge and experience in one field, while the horizontal line represents one’s ability to cooperate and the breadth of their cooperation with experts from other fields, and the use of knowledge in fields outside their primary field.
By speeding up the learning in T-shaped individuals and teams you will strengthen collaboration and communication between team members and separate teams, demolish silos and increase employee agility which will improve your organization’s chance of survival. Namely, years less predictable than an earthquake await us.
The article reflects the opinion of the author and not necessarily that of Mikrocop.