Mutual Learning

Team Work: LA Angels 2009

Challenging Conversations & Working Together


Over the past couple of months at work we have been exploring as a management team the concepts of mutual learning, challenging conversations and how we can work together better as a team.

This is important work for our management team as we don’t always work together cooperatively and at times don’t collaborate in a way that would bring a quicker and better outcome for the business. This has lead to a result in a staff survey where the teams don’t trust each other therefore don’t communication and definitely don’t work together. This is a situation that cannot continue at my work place so the management team has been asked to come together to devise ways of working together that will enable the middle and front line managers and team to do the same.

In preparation we have reviewed several articles on team work that I want to share with you here.

Katzenbach & Smith – High performing teams. I have already written an article about high performing teams that you can review. But the key point for the management team is that we are a real team, by no means a high performing team, however our direct reports collectively are a pseudo team which is the worst performing of all team. These types of teams are considered a team in name only and focus only on gaining the result for them and their teams. So if we aspire to becoming a high performance team we need to get the middle and front line managers to move beyond being a pseudo team towards a real team. This can be achieve by adopting the next set of philosophies.

Bill Noonan – Thinking habits. When we think we usually think about self, however, to become a high performance team we need to learn mutually. Noonan’s concept is that there are two styles of learning – being in control or mutual. To be in control we:

  • Assume we are right
  • See ourselves as more reasonable
  • Assign negative attributes & motives
  • Hold others accountable
  • Avoid upsetting situations

Whereas when we support mutual learning we embrace:

  • Assume we have partial knowledge
  • Grant legitimacy to other perspectives
  • Assume positive intentions
  • Acknowledge our role
  • Embrace learning

When we adopt mutual learning we will ask challenging questions, listen to people and learn together. When this occurs our people become more collaborative and we achieve better outcomes for the business.

The final article is Skilled Incompetence by Chris Argyris which is where our management team is currently positioned and as such so are our teams. Our business gives great weight to the concept of one team, team work and collaboration. So much so that if someone challenges another this can be detrimental to their career. My organisation is no different to a lot of others. What happens is that we avoid challenging conversations and develop work around that may not suit the customer, but does suit the internal processes! When we become skilled at this, according to Argyris, we become incompetent. The way to avoid this is to have challenging conversations in order to make honest decisions using the concept of mutual learning to listen, feedback and learn together in order to make the team high performing.

As you can see we have some way to go to get ourselves and our teams performing, but if we adopt these concepts universally we will be well on the way to some success.


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