That is the purpose of learning teams. The learning teams approach has been most recently popularized by Todd Conklin, Bob Edwards, and Jim Howe. According to Conklin, Edwards, and Howe, a learning team is a loosely structured group of workers from any level or levels within an organization that has been assembled to learn how a significant event happened. This group adheres to some key principles that ensure team effectiveness:
- The focus is not on finding someone to blame.
- Primarily interested in “how” an event happened. (Not why or who.)
- The primary focus is on what lessons we can learn from the context of the story of the event.
Learning teams were originally developed to improve operational learning and make it more effective. There is an important realization that workers have a more complete “contextual understanding” of how work happens in the field. A learning team can harness this understanding to learn more about what is really happening at the task level.
We need to try to learn about our systems—failures and successes—before we can make meaningful improvements in our operations. The very things that we do to keep each other safe at work are the very same kinds of things we need to do to be successful in everything we do.
I have seen these principles in action. When I was a supervisor, the best solutions we ever found were when we included employees in the information gathering and decision-making process. When frontline employees were part of the decision-making process, they had buy-in and saw the benefit of the solutions we were implementing. As a supervisor, it was so much easier to manage a system that was established with input from all levels of an organization and that considered the experience and viewpoints from frontline employees. Remember, frontline employees are experts on the frontline day-to-day context of how your operation works. The employee that offers a suggestion that is accepted becomes personally motivated to participate in the implementation of that solution.
That is the challenge that the learning team principles ask us to confront: Let’s get better, and let’s do it together.
David Hanson, CSP