How do you make Learning Teams successful?

Published by HOPLAB by Southpac International

A group of safety leaders discuss how to make Learning Teams successful

Without a doubt, Learning Teams are gaining momentum as a method for learning about the complexities of our operations from the field experts doing the work.

These facilitated conversations are beneficial for engaging and learning from frontline workers about how they adapt to everyday work conditions. That is, work done correctly. Learning Teams can also instigate transformative change within an organisation.

However, there are several factors that need to be present to make Learning Teams successful. While this list is not exhaustive, it highlights a few of the key elements that Learning Teams need in order to derive the most benefit.

A committed Sponsor

Simply put, a Sponsor is a leader, manager or stakeholder who supports a Learning Team. Generally, the sponsor supports the Learning Team from the outset and can be involved in selecting and inviting the participants to be involved. They are usually a manager or department leader, and their role is not to facilitate the Learning Team. A sponsor will rarely be involved in the Learning Team conversations as they happen.However, they often return to the end to participate in the wrap-up and review.

Sounds like an easy job, right? In our experience, the sponsor can be the difference between success and failure regarding Learning Teams. A manager who gets defensive or upset when they learn about the realities of work as done is not an ideal candidate. Notably, a sponsor must understand and accept the work’s messy and complex nature and have a solid commitment to the HOP principles – especially Response Matters.

An impartial Facilitator

A Learning Teams Facilitator can be any individual – either from within an organisation or externally – who guides the conversation and keeps the Learning Team on track. Depending on the size of the group and the theme of the Learning Team, one or two facilitators may be required. Contrary to what many think, a good facilitator doesn’t need to have knowledge of the work being discussed. The more important traits of a successful facilitator are someone who:

  • is a good listener
  • can encourage quieter members of the group to share
  • can identify themes as they emerge
  • knows when to change the direction of the conversation
  • maintains respectful exchanges between participants

Subject matter experts are generally not necessary. However, in some instances, they can be beneficial if the discussed areas require knowledge – such as legal or regulatory requirements.

It can be highly beneficial to bring in an experienced Learning Teams facilitator. Facilitation or co-facilitation by a member of the HOPLAB team allows for an impartial outside perspective, with the added experience of having facilitated Learning Teams across many different industries and working environments. Additionally, the added benefit of having a solid understanding of the HOP principles and desirable outcomes from operational learning.

A safe setting

Providing a safe setting is another element that can make or break a Learning Team. Firstly, for HOP and Learning Teams to affect real, positive change, the organisation must have psychological safety. Workers and participants involved in a Learning Team must feel they can speak freely and contribute their experiences to the discussion without fear of retribution.

Secondly, Senior or frontline leadership must be able to manage their response when they hear bad news or scary stories. For Learning Teams to be successful, it must be safe for people to share both in the Learning Team specifically and then for the organisation to hear the message and respond appropriately.

While we have heard many leaders and organisations say they can do this, the reality is less common. Learning Teams work best when leaders create the space for worker-owned ideas to improve and inform decision-making. In our experience, only some organisations are in a position to commence Learning Teams without first setting the conditions by working on the HOP principles. This is the pre-work to hear how work is done, learn from the process and empower their workers to lead change.

Read more → Can you do Learning Teams without doing the New View?

A structured approach

As with any activity in the safety realm, long-term success depends on the foundations on which Learning Teams are built into the organisation. Running a few Learning Teams here and there, or even running too many, can all hinder progress. It’s important to create structure around Learning Teams and set expectations with your frontline teams and management around the process and the outcomes. Additionally, having the appropriate resources within your organisation to maintain that structure is equally important.

There are several ways we can support organisations with successful Learning Teams through our training, resources and facilitation services.

What are you going to give up?

Lastly, what tasks or activities will you take away if you introduce Learning Teams?

It’s easy to add new tools and add more tasks to our beleaguered teams. But for Learning Teams to be successful, they need time to grow as a sustainable and viable tool for learning and improvement. This will only happen in a safe space. One not cluttered with too many procedures, tools, and activities.

In short, it is worth considering a de-cluttering exercise. This ensures that the time and effort invested in starting Learning Teams will benefit the organisation and those doing the work.

Ready to learn more? View our 3-Day HOP & Learning Teams Course.

The goal of the HOPLAB is to help organisations and individuals to learn and reflect

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