Sacha Joyce from Cirrus looks at agile team learning

Agile team working is something that many organisations are embracing.  In my last post, I looked at how team meetings can be more agile. At the heart of this is a learning mindset.

Team learning is something I explored in detail as part of my recent dissertation for an MSc in Occupational Psychology. The research identified four themes that can help teams maximise how they learn. This post will consider the first two, which relate to how colleagues learn together, in a way that is internal to the team. My next post will consider the final two themes which relate to team learning activity that is directed externally, across the enterprise.

Discipline in reflection

We need to create time and space to reflect on our work. This helps us to make sense of what is happening and to extract learning that can be taken forward.

My research highlighted the struggle to balance a focus on tasks with creating time to reflect and take stock. When we are busy and under pressure, opportunities for teams to reflect can be seen as ‘non-essential’, even a distraction. This is a missed opportunity when trying to support agile team working. Managers need to assess the appropriate balance between task and reflection activity in their context and recognise that unless their team feel that both are important, a ‘heads down’, task focus will prevail.

Agile teams won’t leave this to chance. They will ensure they have clear opportunities for reflection, as part of their formal or informal work activities. These discussions will be framed with purpose, a sense of urgency and often time restricted.

Valuing contribution

I often think about teams as precious, mini ecosystems bursting with diverse experiences, ideas and solutions, which can contribute to more agile ways of working. Deloitte’s 2018 Human Capital Trends report reference the team as ‘the new hero’. This potential can be wasted if the environment around them does not support and value their contributions.

There is a great deal of research to demonstrate how open communication and psychological safety are important for teams to reflect and learn. My research builds on this by highlighting the importance of how individual team members feel about contributing.

Agile teams are curious, proactively seeking input and ideas from their colleagues. They also take collective responsibility for sustaining an environment that supports this. However, it would be naïve to think that all team member contributions or ideas will be consistently high quality. Agile teams will recognise when quality is at risk and refocus their discussions back to the core purpose.

The two themes of applying discipline to reflection and valuing contribution from colleagues are straightforward on paper, yet often overlooked in day-to-day work. In my next post, I will look outwards and explore how we learn with other teams and across organisations.

Keen to improve team working in your organisation? See how Cirrus can help.

Discover more about The Agile Leader by Cirrus CEO Dr Simon Hayward.

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