Getting started with Learning Teams

So you’ve heard about Learning Teams and want to bring the benefits of Operational Learning into your organisation. But it’s not as simple as asking a group of people to talk about how work happens. Here’s what you need to introduce Learning Teams successfully.

Learning Teams are a valuable method of Operational Learning if they are run with the proper planning, support and purpose. In fact, incorporating Learning Teams without a foundation built on HOP principles could do your organisation more harm than good.

While the idea to introduce Learning Teams may come from anywhere – including frontline workers, supervisors or managers – it’s important to first define why you want to start Learning Teams, and determine how the outcomes will be managed. In most organisations, this requires commitment from leaders and managers who must also be comfortable hearing and learning how work is really done (the Blue Line) as opposed to how it is supposed to be done (the Black Line).

When to use Learning Teams

A Learning Team could be prompted by an accident or event, interesting successes, an audit or review, or to understand normal work. In our experience, the best results are achieved when Learning Teams are focused on normal work – away from the challenges and pressures associated with a negative event. When starting out, it’s important to start small, with a manageable scope and commitment to the follow-through process.

And, like everything, there can always be too much of a good thing! While the benefits of Learning Teams will quickly be realised and organisations will often see an increase in demand for more Learning Teams from the frontline workers involved, it’s important to stick to a sustainable schedule and follow through on actions in a timely manner.

Who should (and who shouldn’t) be involved?

Once you’ve determined the need for Learning Teams, the next step is identifying who will be involved. The Learning Teams structure involves facilitators, participants, a sponsor and scribe – and each role is as important as the next. Choosing the right people for the right roles can take some trial and error. Facilitators require training and need to be impartial, as well as exhibiting skills in both guiding the conversation and letting it flow. Not everyone is suitable for this role, and the best facilitators can often be the most unsuspecting.

Similarly, it is not ideal for managers or supervisors to be involved in a Learning Team with their direct reports. Participants – those frontline workers who do the work every day – need to feel comfortable sharing what they know without fear or concern of any repercussions. An impartial environment is critical to creating that safe space, and the Process Facilitator is responsible for sharing the outcomes with relevant leaders or managers after the session.

Southpac International's Learning Teams Guide is a free resource designed as an introduction to the Learning Teams method of operational learning

Steps for introducing Learning Teams

There are a number of ways you can begin the Learning Teams method within your organisation. Here are just a couple of examples.

The Pilot Approach

  • Senior safety leaders commit to HOP or Learning Teams Pilot within one department or region, beginning with 1 hour HOP familiarisation training for senior leaders
  • All staff involved in the pilot complete 1 Day HOP Fundamentals training, from regional leadership to frontline supervisors and business support staff
  • Staff directly involved in the pilot implementation complete 3 Day HOP & Learning Teams training
  • Once the Process and Session Facilitators have been identified, run a number of Learning Teams in selected areas, then integrate action outcomes into existing safety and continuous improvement systems

Familiarise and Build Capacity

  • Safety staff attend a public 3 Day HOP & Learning Teams Course, and pitch to senior leadership for support in further training and implementation
  • In-house training is delivered to a wider cohort, followed by Learning Teams and Field Insights facilitated by an external resource, working closely with the safety team to integrate to the organisation’s operational systems
  • Capacity is continually built in-house by establishing a Process Facilitator role, supported by external mentoring and training
  • Identified Session Facilitators receive ongoing coaching and development via co-facilitation and a Facilitator support network

Get started with a Learning Teams Pilot 

Looking to introduce Learning Teams in your organisation? Talk to our team about facilitating a Learning Teams Pilot.

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