How to fuel the engine of team performance

This is a really simple thing to do that can make an INCREDIBLE difference to the long term performance of your team.

I often hear “We’re a learning organisation” but sometimes when I test this, that’s not actually what I see on the ground. Here’s my test – Look at the operating rhythm of your team, i.e. what are the regular meetings and interactions of your team? This includes regular team meetings, huddles, quarterly meetings etc.

Now ask if learning is in any way built in to this operating rhythm? Regularly? If not, then you have a really significant opportunity. Because learning is THE engine of performance for any leadership team. Without it you stay at steady state, making incremental gains when individuals learn on certain projects. Learning together is what is needed in today’s world of systemic change.

Think about it in the simplest of terms. I can do the same thing a thousand times but unless I’m actually looking for ways to do it better, I’m only going to improve by accident or because of external forces. If I learn on my own I only learn about me, but not about the connections. The real increases in leadership team performance come by working on the connections and not the nodes.

So what can you do to build learning into the very fabric of what you do?

Well there are big things and little things. Here’s an example of a bigger thing that you can do maybe monthly. Replicate what the armed forces do and undertake an After Action Review on a recent project. These sessions ask five questions:

  1. What did we intend? (20% of the time) 
  2. What happened? (<10%) 
  3. What can we learn about it? (25%) 
  4. What should we do next time? (40%) 
  5. What should we do now? (<10%) 

You can download a template and see an example here.

It’s important to remember that an AAR is not about individual performance but to look at how the team performed. It’s essential not to assign any blame.

A little thing to do is build this question in to the end of things you do as a team or sub-group: “What went well and what would make it even better next time?” (Notice that we’re not looking to find fault but focus on strengths and making improvements – even better.)

This worked for me when I worked with a new colleague to deliver a series of unfamiliar leadership workshops. We agreed up front that we needed to learn how to work well together. We also wanted to improve and develop the new workshop content. Every lunch time and at the end of every day we asked this question and built learning into our rhythm. We turned into a great pairing and the workshop was soon a real hit. 

This simple question is easy to build into a rhythm. The AAR is often found to be more of a challenge as you have to carve out the time for it, and maybe book a facilitator. However, the long term impact on learning, and therefore team performance is major.

Many thanks for reading this post. I hope you found it useful and productive. If you did, then please do share it with your network. Thank you.

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