One of the characteristics of high-performance teams - those teams that consistently exceed expectations and achieve extraordinary results over time - is that they learn, adapt, and improve. The degree to which a team can learn determines their ability to develop new and existing capabilities, adapt to change, innovate and ultimately sustain high performance. The more 'learningful' we can make our team and work environments, the more likely they will foster high performance.
While learning is an important discipline to actively engage in at all times, the end of the year naturally lends itself to the consolidation of learning. In a learning context, consolidation is any activity that brings together lessons and learning that occurred during multiple different occasions to help enhance both understanding and memory for the learner.
In individuals, consolidation helps transition short-term memory from the hippocampus to the cerebral cortex for long-term storage. In teams, consolidation activities can have a similar impact by revising and reinforcing lessons learned throughout the year, and incorporating those lessons into team life such that they are not forgotten moving forward.
Here are four steps to help your team consolidate their learning and improve their performance.
As John Maxwell writes, 'Reflection turns experience into insight.' Reflection is core to the learning process. Hopefully, your team has been continually reflecting and conducting your version of an after-action review (AAR) on projects, processes, and periods throughout the year. I wrote an article earlier in the year about how to run effective AARs so I won't cover that here.
The best way to start consolidating your learning is by articulating all the lessons that have been learned throughout the year. It is also useful at this time of year for teams to reflect on their learning processes. Were there any lessons to be learned about their learning? Identifying these is the first step to intentionally improving these learning processes moving forward.
Once the lessons from throughout the year have been identified, the next stage is reviewing them. This review not only reminds the team of what they have learned but also asks, "have we really learned it?" As Zenger and Folkman write in The Extraordinary Leader, 'Real learning results in new behaviour.' If your team has identified and articulated a lesson, but not applied it when they have had the opportunity to do so, the lesson hasn't really been learned.
An excellent question to ask is, "What have we not learned?" In addition to identifying previously articulated lessons yet to be applied, it also prompts teams to seek out patterns where recurring problems persist. What does the team need to learn in order to prevent these problems from continually resurfacing?
Successful teams are intentional about integrating their learning into their ways of working. Having reviewed the lessons you've learned, how are you going to systematically apply those lessons to improve performance, exceed expectations, and achieve extraordinary results? Recalibrating team systems, processes, routines, and rituals to incorporate these lessons sets your team up for the year ahead.
As well as recalibrating how your team operates, this time of year can be a great time to recalibrate your learning perspective. Rather than just looking at the lessons you've learned in the past, consider what your team will need to learn in the future. How has the context within which your team operates (both external and internal) changed, and how does your team need to adjust? What do they need to learn? What do they need to unlearn? It is much easier for your team to look for the lessons and engage in the learning when you know what you are trying to learn.
One of the best ways to consolidate learning is to share that learning with others. French writer Joseph Joubert famously wrote, 'To teach is to learn twice.' When we teach others what we have learned, we are forced to communicate these lessons in our own words and in alternate ways that resonate with our audience. This itself deepens our understanding of the subject and helps encode these lessons in different neural circuitry in the brain. Additionally, it helps the rest of the organisation learn. It is by sharing our learning that we elevate others - which is one of the key characteristics of luminary leaders and teams.
What we all want to avoid as we enter into 2023 is repeating the same mistakes and having to relearn the same lessons over and over again. Taking the time to pause, reflect, review, recalibrate and retell the lessons we learned this year gives your team the best opportunity to consolidate its learning.
Anything big requires solid foundations. A solid foundation of consolidated learning provides a stable platform for peak performance.