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Learning to play soccer without a team

Wouldn’t that be utterly remarkable: learning to play a team sport without a team? You wouldn’t want to inflict this punishment on any team player: "Come Pete, let me train you to play soccer against yourself, so you’re well prepared for next weeks’ match”. It is so absurd, so strange and at the same time it’s daily practice within our companies and institutions.


When I was writing this blog, I was thinking about Jane, a mortgage consultant in one of Holland’s banks. She meets with her clients in a lovely office, booked and prepared by her colleague Bert, a financial assistant. Together with Bert she starts every day by reviewing their preparations for the upcoming meetings: ‘are the dossiers in order and in the IT system and - just to be sure - do our recommendations fit the clients needs?’. Of course Jane feeds back all meetings to Bert to update the dossier, so they’re able to send out quotes to their clients. Before dropping the quotes off in the mail, Bert and Jane meet up with their team leader to review their compliance to the mandated procedures.

What can you deduce from this example? Although our mortgage consultant is an expert, she’s a team player at heart. A perfect striker you might say, who simply can not score without her midfielder Bert and her coach, her supervisor.

Let’s follow our mortgage advisor to another aspect of her job. Jane is taking time to learn and develop. It’s simply mandatory under Dutch law. Jane is required to regularly update her knowledge and skills, and she happily obliges, since she simply loves her job.

Has Jane, in any of the many courses she has followed, ever jointly learned with Bert, or their supervisor? Never: ever.

Here is where learning and development in our enterprises and institutions is completely at odds with daily work practice. Our daily work is a rapid fire sequence of collaboration, team work, feedback and continuous improvement: both with regards to the application of knowledge and the joint use of skills. How can we expect to train these systems, these enmeshed teams, when we only focus on individual learning and development?

To stay in metaphor: we’re training Jane, and Bert and their supervisor to play soccer, without their team. That’s simply impossible in sports. So why should it be commonplace in our companies and institutions?

What are your experiences in this regard? Do you know of any good practices in knowledge intensive institutions like banks where team learning has become commonplace? I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Also read my blog about learning to ride without a bike

Tags: high impact learning

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