Team Learning
Senge: Chapter 12
THE FIFTH DISCIPLINE
The Potential of Wisdom Teams

Bill Russell’s Experience of Alignment
and Synergism
– His play would rise to a new level
– He would be in the white heat of
competition, yet not feel competitive
– Every fake, cut and pass would be
surprising, yet nothing could surprise me
– Like we were playing in slow motion
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Prepared by James R. Burns
Alignment

A necessary condition for
EMPOWERMENT
– Empowering non-aligned individuals
worsens the chaos and makes managing
the team even more difficult

For Jazz musicians, it is called “being in
the groove”
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Prepared by James R. Burns
Alignment and Synergism
Meetings will last for hours, yet fly by
 No one remembers who said what, but
knowing we had really come to a shared
understanding
 Of never having to vote

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Team Learning: A definition
The process of aligning and developing
the capacity of a team to create the
results its members truly desire
 It builds on the capacity of shared vision
 It also builds on personal mastery
 Knowing how to play together
 Teams are the key learning unit in
organizations

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Prepared by James R. Burns
The Discipline of Team Learning
The team’s accomplishments can set
the tone and establish a standard for
learning together for the larger
organization
 Has three critical dimensions

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Three critical dimensions

First, there is a need to think insightfully about
complex issues
– Teams must learn how to tap the potential for
many minds to be more intelligent than one mind
Second, there is a need for innovative,
coordinated action
 Third, there is the role of team members on
other teams

– A learning team fosters other learning teams
through inculcating the practices and skills of team
learning
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February, 2000
Prepared by James R. Burns
The discipline of team learning
Is a collective one
 It is meaningless to say that “I,” as an
individual, am mastering the discipline
of team learning

– In the same sense that it is meaningless to
say “I am mastering the practice of being a
great jazz ensemble.”

Involves mastering the practices of
dialogue and discussion
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Prepared by James R. Burns
Dialogue and Discussion
Are potentially complementary, but most
teams lack the ability to distinguish between
the two
 Teams must learn how to deal creatively with
the powerful forces opposing productive
dialogue and discussion

– Argyris: defensive routines--ways of interacting
that protect us from threat or embarrassment,
but which also prevent us from learning
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Skills!!
Dialogue
Inquiry
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Discussion
Reflection
Prepared by James R. Burns
Defensive postures
Systems thinking is especially prone to
evoking defensiveness because of its
central message, that our actions
create our reality
 The problems we perceive are caused
by our actions, not by external,
exogenous forces outside of us

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Practice
The discipline of team learning requires
practice
 Teams do not practice enough,
generally
 A great play or great orchestra does not
happen without practice
 Neither does a great sports team
 Such teams learn by continual
movement between performance and
practice

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The State of Team Learning
TL is poorly understood
 We cannot describe the phenomenon
well--no measures
 There are no overarching theories
 We cannot distinguish team learning
from groupthink
 There are few reliable methods for
building team learning

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Need for Team Learning
Has never been greater
 Complexity of today’s problems
demands it
 Actions of teams must be innovative
and coordinated

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Skills Underlying Team Learning
Team Learning
Personal
Mastery
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Shared
Vision
Prepared by James R. Burns
Systems
Thinking
Werner Heisenberg
Science is rooted in conversations
 Cooperation of different people may
culminate in scientific results of the
utmost importance
 Collectively, we can be more insightful,
more intelligent than we can possibly be
individually

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David Bohm
A leading quantum theorist
 Developed a theory and method of
“dialogue” when a group “becomes
open to the flow of a larger intelligence
 Quantum theory implies that the
universe is basically an indivisible whole

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Bohm’s recent research on
dialogue

A unique synthesis of the two major
intellectual currents
– systems or holistic view of nature
– interactions between our internal models
and our perceptions and actions

Reminiscent of systems thinking which
calls attention to how behavior is often
the consequence of our own actions as
guided by our perceptions
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Bohm on the PURPOSE OF
SCIENCE
not the accumulation of knowledge,
since all scientific theories are
eventually proved false
 Rather, the creation of mental maps that
guide and shape our perception and
action, bringing about a constant
“mutual participation between nature
and consciousness”

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Bohm’s most distinctive contribution
Thought is “largely a collective
phenomenon”
 Analogy between the collective
properties of electrons vs. way our
thoughts work
 Leads to an understanding of the
general counter productiveness of
thought

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Bohm’s contribution, continued

“our thought is incoherent… and the
resulting counter-productiveness lies at
the root of the world’s problems”
Prepared by James R. Burns
More Bohm

As electrons, we must look on thought
as a systemic phenomena arising from
how we interact and discourse with one
another
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Dialogue and Discussion
Suspending assumptions
 Seeing each other as colleagues
 A Facilitator Who Holds the Context of
Dialogue
 Balancing Dialogue and Discussion
 Reflection, Inquiry and Dialogue

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Dialogue and Discussion
Their power lies in their synergy
 No synergy without an understanding of
their distinctions
 DISCUSSION--like a ping/pong game
where the topic gets hit around

– subject is analyzed and diagnosed from
many points of view

Emphasis is on winning--having one’s
view accepted by the group
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Prepared by James R. Burns
More Dialogue and Discussion
A sustained emphasis on winning is not
compatible with giving first priority to
coherence and truth
 To bring about a change of priorities
from “winning” to “pursuit of the truth”, a
dialogue is necessary

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Dialogue
From the Greek, it means “through the
meaning”; “meaning passing or moving
through”
 Through dialogue, a group accesses a
larger “pool of common meaning” which
cannot be accessed individually.
 “The whole organizes the parts”

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More Dialogue
Purpose is not to win, but to go beyond
any one individual’s understanding
 In dialogue, individuals gain insights that
simply could not be gained individually
 In dialogue, individuals explore difficult,
complex issues from many points of view
 Dialogue reveals the incoherence in our
thought

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The Purpose of Dialogue
To reveal the incoherence in our
thought--three types of incoherence
 Thought denies that it is participative
 Thought stops tracking reality and just
goes, like a program



We misperceive the thoughts as our own,
because we fail to see the stream of collective
thinking from which they arise
Thought establishes its own standard of
reference for fixing problems
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Incoherent thought
Thought stands in front of us and
pretends that it does not represent
 We become trapped in the theater of
our thoughts
 Dialogue is a way of helping people to
“see the representative and participative
nature of thought”
 In dialogue, people become observers
of their own thinking

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Suspending Assumptions
[HOLDING THEM IN FRONT OF YOU]
 Difficult because thought deludes us
into a view that this is the way it is

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Seeing each other as Colleagues
Necessary because thought is
participative
 Necessary to establish a positive tone
and offset the vulnerability that dialogue
brings
 Does not mean that you need to agree
or share the same views

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Dialogue, Colleagues, and
Hierarchy
Choosing to view “adversaries” as
“colleagues with different views” has the
greatest benefits
 Hierarchy is antithetical to dialogue, yet
is difficult to escape in organizations

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Dialogue, Colleagues, and
Hierarchy
People who are used to holding the
prevailing view because of their senior
position, must surrender that privilege in
dialogue, AND CONVERSELY
 Dialogue must be playful--playing with
the ideas, evaluating and testing them

Prepared by James R. Burns
A Facilitator Who “Holds the
Context” of Dialogue
In the absence of a skilled facilitator, our
habits pull us toward discussion and
away from dialogue
 Carries out many of the basic duties of
a good “process facilitator”

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Prepared by James R. Burns
A Facilitator, Continued
But the facilitator is allowed to influence
the flow of development simply through
participating
 As teams develop skill in dialogue, the
role of the facilitator becomes less
crucial

Prepared by James R. Burns
Balancing Dialogue and
Discussion
Discussion is the necessary counterpart
of dialogue
 In discussion different views are
presented and defended, which may
provide a useful analysis of the whole
situation
 In dialogue, different views are
presented as a means toward
discovering aPrepared
newby James
view
19 February, 2000
R. Burns

Dialog Vs. Discussion
Dialogue established the view that leads
to courses of action
 Discussion leads to new courses of
action without establishing that new
view
 Teams that dialogue regularly develop a
deep trust that cannot help but carry
over to discussion

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Dealing with “Current Reality”:
Conflict, and Defensive Routines
An overbearing, charismatic, and
intimidating posture
 Craig Bean: his experiences at TI and
why TI does not today own any share in
the huge personal computer business
 Is there a conflict between alignment
and being open to dialogue???

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Great Teams vs. Mediocre Teams
A team that is continually learning is the
visible conflict of ideas
 In great teams, conflict becomes
productive, inducing the need for
ongoing dialogue
 Argyris: the difference between great
teams and mediocre teams lies in how
they face conflict and deal with the
defensiveness that invariably surrounds
conflict
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2000
Prepared by James R. Burns

Defensive Routines
Entrenched habits we use to protect
ourselves from the embarrassment and
threat that come with exposing our
thinking.
 Form a protective shell around our
deepest assumptions
 Forceful, articulate, intimidating CEO’s
 Cannot be seen

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Defensive Routines



In some organizations, to have incomplete or
faulty understanding is a sign of weakness or
incompetence
IT IS SIMPLY UNACCEPTABLE FOR
MANAGERS TO ACT AS THOUGH THEY
DO NOT KNOW WHAT IS CAUSING A
PROBLEM
To protect their belief, managers must close
themselves to alternative views and make
themselves uninfluenceable
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Prepared by James R. Burns
Defensive Routines
Defensive becomes an accepted part of
organizational culture
 We are the carriers of defensive
routines and organizations are the hosts
 Defensive routines block the flow of
energy in a team that might otherwise
contribute toward a common vision

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A Shifting the Burden Archetype
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The Missing Link: Practice
Team learning is a team skill
 A group of talented learners will not
necessarily produce a learning team
 Learning teams learn how to learn
together
 Team skills are more challenging to
develop than individual skills
 Learning teams need practice fields

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Learning How to Practice
Two distinct practice fields are
developing
 1) Practicing dialogue



so that a team can begin to develop its joint
skill in fostering a team IQ
2) Creating learning laboratories and
microworlds

computer supported environments where team
learning confronts the dynamics of complex
business realities
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Prepared by James R. Burns
Necessary conditions for
Dialogue Sessions
Have all members of the team come
together
 Explain the ground rules of dialogue

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Necessary conditions, cont’d

Enforce those ground rules
– if anyone is not able to suspend his
assumptions, the team acknowledges that
is now discussing and not dialoguing

Make it possible for team members to
raise the most difficult, subtle and
conflictual issues essential to the team’s
work
Prepared by James R. Burns
John MacCarthy’s Example
Memo

Session is the first in a series of
DIALOGUES
– to help clarify assumptions, programs,
responsibilities
– not to make decisions as much as to
examine directions and the assumptions
underlying them
– to be together as colleagues
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Prepared by James R. Burns
The conflict between R&D and
Marketing
New Product Development
 Two different strategies--make or buy

– R&D took the MAKE view
– Marketing took the BUY view
– No meeting of the minds
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Results of the DataQuest
Dialogue
A 30-year first was healed
 The end-run that marketing had been
doing to augment product lines was no
longer necessary
 R&D and Marketing learned that they
really wanted to work together, under
one coordinated new-product
development plan

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Team Learning and the Fifth
Discipline

All of the tasks of management teams
involve wrestling with enormous
complexity
– developing strategy, shaping visions,
designing policy and organizational
structures

Too often, however, teams confront this
dynamic complexity with a language
designed for simple, static problems
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Prepared by James R. Burns
Team Learning and the FD,
Continued
This accounts for why managers are so
drawn to low-leverage interventions
 We see the world in simple obvious
terms and implement simple, obvious
solutions

Prepared by James R. Burns
Solution
A new language for describing
complexity
 Traditional languages--financial
accounting, competitive analysis, total
quality, and Shell’s scenario methods

– None of these deals with dynamic
complexity very well at all
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Solution, continued

Instead, consider the systems
archetypes
– These offer a potentially powerful basis for
a language by which management teams
can deal productively with complexity
Prepared by James R. Burns
System Archetypes
When used in conversations about
complex, conflictual issues, the objectify
the conversation
 The focus in on the structure, the
systemic forces at plan, not on
personalities or leadership styles

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Prepared by James R. Burns
System Archetypes, Continued
Makes it easier to discuss complex
issues objectively and dispassionately
 Without a shared language for dealing
with complexity, team learning is limited

Prepared by James R. Burns
Benefits of using the System
Archetypes
Common understanding of possible
structural causes
 A way to easily communicate structure
and behavior

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Prepared by James R. Burns
Copyright C 2000 by James R.
Burns

All rights reserved world-wide. CLEAR
Project Steering Committee members
have a right to use these slides in their
presentations. However, they do not
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