What are our Learning Fears?

By Morten Leth Andersen

Why are our collective learning gears so important, and why have we most likely not heard much about them in our past?

One key reason is that the collective Learning Gears represents innovation in management practices, as they shape the agenda setting questions on our inter-play, and so our integrated practices to perceive and plan work, to focus our feedback loops, our standards of shared knowledge and our organisation of work.

Which senior let alone junior manager will openly and honestly confess, that our current management practices are not that effective, let alone how few managers are willing to experiment on their own practices, and so engage into the experiment the community within which they take a leading role – even fewer, right? So there we go…

The learning gears are special as they are the first management methods that focus explicitly on our collective learning and knowledge productivity, and so aim at organising and integrating flow of both seeking opportunity, creating possibility and making work flow to our customers without unwanted waiting time, and let that new focus affect our ways of working incl. jobs, meetings and metrics!

Hence they represent revolutionary – and to most managers upsetting – new realities as they demand a move to become humble facilitators of collective learning and knowledge growth, and so a significant move away from the naval-gazing-know-it-all-decision-making-bossing-around kings and queens of previous functional castles on the hill.

There are to me four key components of the collective learning gears for managers:

Make Knowledge Visible.
Understand what others do. The real work.

Visualise the Whole.
Remove layers and rules, and so increase quantity of power. Reinforce managers as integrators.

Flow First, Specialise Second.
Deploy feedback loops exposing consequence of our own action. Increase the shadow of future.

Be Fans of Emotions.
Kill in-difference – take out buffers and increase reciprocity. Reward asking for and giving help.

Consequently show willingness to stop all the Dilbert bullshit, and move the conversations of the organisation from plays at the success theatre to the real world of knowledge inclusion and impact. Non-sustainable learning gears are practically speaking behaviors of modern day management losers.

Learning Gear Shifting

Now, how to begin? How to shift gear from the gear we are currently in, to the one we find a better fit?

Teams, Service Streams and Business driving via learning gear 1 with the “specialised task focus”, have a problem they encounter all the time – they can never get enough people – the right people.

The gear shifting hence is about a learning focus on people, and so to hiring and firing practices – the entire “right time, person and place”-people management stuff we traditionally call human resources management.

This gear though gets stuck, when it comes to consistency of Service Quality. It just fluctuates too much as we as a collective have to re-learn the same stuff again and again. So we bring into play the use of Knowledge Standards and Service Streams.

The trouble however with our Service Streams is that they do not balance Demand with capable Supply. They just focus on stream lining how we ideally go from demand to delivery on 1 order. What do we then do when we get 100 orders one day, none the next day and 37 the third day, or orders are rather different from each other?

This balancing problem drives us to shift gear to learning focus on our demand intake by Service Classes, and Frontloading of human potential by Work-In-Process constraints.

Then the trouble of an uneven improvement to our service offering kicks in as we begin to realise how often we miss the boat on opportunities. We set in motion collective cycles of committing to and pulling in improvements from our new services intro system to our system of service.

Last problem we encounter is the dynamic nature of the problem of our customer which we are on the mission to help out on. How do we stay relevant as the evolution of the service problem happens?

Now our learning gets focused on the Life Cycle on our Customer problem – not our solution – and with it alternative Models of Service Business. Is it time to pivot?

But, what are the Benefits then of shifting collective learning gears?

Generally speaking, it matters a lot to change our perspectives on learning from something of individual nature, to something of collective nature. Well, it matters quite a great deal, in fact.

Fragile to Robust – learning gear 1 to 3
> improved transparency and collaboration
> higher level of trust and empathy
> basic understanding on what we are doing together
> improved quality of work and happy people

Robust to Agile – learning gear 3 to 4
> smooth flow and faster lead times
> reliability and predictability
> actionable metrics and disruptions weeded off
> improved service performance and happy customers

Agile to Anti-Fragile and beyond – learning gear 4 to 6
> re-configurable shared services, service orientation and flexibility in deployment of human potentials
> dynamic scheduling and hedging of risks to customers
> proactive ability to sense & respond on demand
> improved future prospects and happy business stakeholders

Relational Capability – Not Relationship Competence!

A way to trigger conversations on the need to change is to visualize the move on the benefits – essentially by making use of a scale to our level of inter-play – the relational capability scale.

The scale consists of 5 dimensions:
shared purpose
shared knowledge
mutual respect
communication – frequent and timely
– communication – problem-solving focused

Picture 1: Relational Capability, Inspired by Jody Gittel, The SouthWest Way

At the extremes it tells of a reality in which we either merely perceive our role to be pushing stuff and people around, or as a collective endeavor to get customers to their desired destinations. On time arrival matters more than on time departure by the way to highlight again the key differentiation in learning gear 5.

Picture 2: Assessment of relational capability

Ready Now to Drive for Impact?

Maybe to this we miss experiences – or some stories – on what it really means to learn as a collective, and so we need to have some sort of concretization on what it really looks like, which we can relate to.

I will offer 2 story example areas to look into:
– one from the world of projects, and
– another from the world of football (soccer).

World of Projects
Patterns of collective learning we all become somewhat conscious on every time we take part in the making of something new – in a project formation phase. Which inter-play routines will we deploy?

The difference in performance comes to shore, when we are conscious of the learning gears down the line, and so help integrate them into our inter-play practices from the beginning of our project.

However when practices of inter-play are not shared nor made conscious to the project team, or there is no project leader around to educate us on them, we do not approach our project as a tactful knowledge growing endeavor to our system of service.

Instead it ends up as the usual rat race for each project member to do tasks on time, and we get all the surprises caused by task procrastination, and last but not least the knowledge created leaves immediately as the project dissolves. After a while decision makers ask again into now being the right time to start a similar project as the first attempt did not work out.

We may even be in denial of such experiences, and believe so much in our individual hero mindset, that we institutionalize it in our project delivery language – we are pragmatic and flexible go-getters.

World of Football (Soccer)
Let’s then go back to first grade, and the football (soccer) field. How does the team play the game? What are the inter-play practices?

Right, we see individual learning in action. All kids chase the ball in one big swarm. They all try to get and move the ball to the net of the opposing team. Only one or two succeeds. This is learning gear 1.

Next, let’s go to 4th grade. A real team now exists, and we see it in action by the way the team members are focused on passing the ball to each other and communicating with each other. Though still a great deal of dribbling is occurring. That is learning gear 2.

About the beginning of teenage age a next leap occurs. Football is now no longer as individuals to hold onto the ball or to communicate and pass the ball around. It is about running, running patterns and creating space a knowledge system of football. We are capable, and we surely grow as a team. That is learning gear 3.

As we get into senior years at high school a divide begin to occur between the great football teams and the rest. In great teams there is a sense of timing. They simply make each other better, by making conscious, and use individual strengths and limitations to collective advantage. That is learning gear 4.

Last piece in the story of football is on our choices of play, and so the speed in which we use emerging opportunity or defend against imminent risks coming our way. It is about how we proactively seek out opportunity to influence the game based on our collective strengths. We strategize and change. We are anti-fragile. This is learning gear 5.

Then you may say – yes Morten, that that is not all is it, there is a gear more, is there not? Indeed there is. At the end of the day: what is the mission of football, really?

It is to win tournaments right, and as the saying goes – great players win games, and great teams win tournaments. Hence not only what do we do in the game, but also what we do between games is crucial.

Teams that win the big tournaments besides mastering the 5 learning gears explained, have a 6th gear to pull into between games. We observe that they are keenly focused on advancing the mental atmosphere in the team and so growing a superb sense of belonging, and so an atmosphere of risk taking for common cause. It is about being effective in seizing the day.

Based on this extra gear essentially a very young English team made it to the semi-finals in the world championships of 2018, and this is how France played on all strings to become the world champions. That is learning gear 6.

Principles of Change

Still not ready to move? Well then there are some principles of change to consider. The ability to recognize collective learning gears, let alone shift gear is not coming about by coincidence.

Picture 3: Principles of Change

First lever is always the creation of necessity, as any culture will fight back on someone trying to fiddle with it. So the necessity has to be considered valid in the culture, and so it is key to find and deploy ways that will work in our culture – be it by real leaders taking accountability or by colleagues pushing back by saying no more bull shit, or both at the same time. Burning desires and Burning platforms tend to make us move.

Second piece is an educational phase on the possibilities of another way of operating, and essentially what it will help the individual, team or business achieve. It is about growing an appetite for the possibilities in a different play.

Third piece is on the first experiences of the new practices and the comforting cheering up on the efforts to change. In this third phase of growing the new practices, eventually some teams will stick out and their leadership will be recognized. Around them the new learning gear will be accepted.

From these teams emerge therefore also as a fourth piece the leaders of the future. Leaders that help us enter the world of imagination and what could possibly be an even greater reality.

Picture 4: Worlds of Play

In the days of the old Material world – say the 1950’s or so – we lived in a world of scarcity. Material has the property, that when you start using it, then it changes its value properties, whereas if you keep it in your raw material inventory as it is, it keeps roughly speaking its value. This meant a natural drive towards keeping stock on materials and controlling their usage. It was a world of Time considerations.

In the days of the modern Knowledge world – say the 1990’s or so – we live in a world of abundance. Knowledge has the totally opposite property to Material, in that as it gets shared its value grows, and when it gets used we go through the roof in terms of impact.  This means there is a natural drive towards seeking connection. It is a world of Timing considerations.

In the days of tomorrow of the Imagination world – say 2020’s or so – we live in a world of consequence. Imaginations free us from the dogmas of the past, and they grow in value as we test them in reality. This means there is a natural drive to experiment. It is a world of Creational considerations.

That is where I will end before finishing up with the list of all the bullshit learning excuses we may use as a bullshit bingo reference.

Learning Excuses

All models are wrong, some are useful, and at the end on our Learning Fears, we may just be left with Learning Excuses, and hence all the good old status quo driven political game plays.

If that is the case, is it then time to have that hard look into the mirror – is it time to move on?

What happens to these contexts of power play is namely that we always in the end loose to the emerging future, and our reputation will anyway be trashed by historical perspectives, today even more so than in the past.

Playing safe is playing future offensive!

Picture 5 : Learning Excuses

Leave a Reply