Experience as Master Teacher

By October 10, 2018Learning, Teams

When it comes to learning from experience, nimble teams practice zero waste. Every success and failure becomes grist for their shared learning mill.

Nimble teams use reflective critique to extract the priceless lessons learned from every experience on the success-failure continuum.

The significance of reflective critique is that if we don’t learn from failures, we create unconscious incompetence and repeat them. If we don’t learn from success, we create unconscious competence and can’t intentionally repeat them because we aren’t completely and accurately clear on how we caused our own success.

Shared reflection in experience grows the team’s capacity for alignment and agency.

In reflective critique, three questions extract wisdom for future scenarios.

What happened as planned and not?

Nimble teams are skilled at being proactive, mindfully anticipating opportunities for success. Here, the team discoveries the kinds of anticipatory questions that would better prepare them for future scenarios, even when the landscape is richer in unknowns than knowns. When the future is largely unknowable, shared curiosity makes preparation possible.

What went well and why?

It’s vital to acknowledge everything and anything that was useful and what team strengths supported things working. This is especially true when we largely experimented and improvised our way into success. The more conscious teams become of the strengths supporting their progress and success, the more adaptive they are in future scenarios.

What else would we do?

The team considers anything they didn’t like or find useful and consider all the things they could do or try differently in the future. This perspective prevents a culture of blame and defensiveness that creates a fixed mindset and makes teams learning disabled. Engaging a growth mindset, this conversation leverages the team’s creativity and agility.

The power of these questions is in how they engage every perspective and personality at the table. Whatever everyone’s experience was, the team’s shared learning is enriched by each contribution and consideration. Unlike the usual critique sessions that divide and demoralize the group, in reflective critique, people feel included, heard, respected and valued in the process.

These simple questions engage the team in shared learning at the conclusions of key projects, significant events, achievements and survivals, setbacks and surprises, quarterly reviews and weekly huddles.

Teams new to these questions benefit from diligent facilitation to keep everyone engaged and focused on them. They are designed to create a space of emotional safety that brings out everyone’s best thinking. It’s useful to start with more discrete and positive team experiences, working toward more complex and emotionally charged scenarios. Having everyone take turns facilitating adds to the engagement potential.

In little time, the team becomes more skillful in the process. Every experience becomes their master teacher.


About Jack

In my late twenties I had the good fortune to have mentors who were practice leaders in what was then called the Human Potentials Movement. They inspired me to help organizations and communities realize their potential in ways they never imagined. It became clear this was the core gift that would shape the past 40 years.