Monday, June 2, 2014

The Learning Team: More Than Just a Pretty Face

I could rest easy, because now I had a team who was trained for critical thinking - not compliance.  My work was done.  - David Marquet

The first thing the audience noticed about the speaker was he needed a shave. It was during our local ASTD meeting in midtown Manhattan, his presence on the PowerPoint video contrasting sharply with the more polished presentation from Skillsoft's new
Can you locate a learning team... on your estate?
leadership development program. Still, being the author of one of the most intriguing books of all time, even the video image of this retired Navy submarine commander deserved the crowd's full attention. This, intriguingly, seemed to bring people further into his message, not away, and with more real intrigue... more real interest. Something about him just seemed authentic, something a little bit different that set him apart from the slick, prettier faced marketeers, those churning out close to 1200 management books each year, each one promising smooth sailing among the tides... or whatever else it would take for you to buy their book.

David Marquet, though, was obviously on no mission to maximize marketing. This rare gem had set out to maximize his own growth as an effective manager, along with anyone else who'd like to have a look, up periscope.

Submarines, I think, are just those kinds of work environments where the manager really needs to know what they're doing. There's no faking it there, and not much room for shooting from the hip or figuring it all out as you go along. Credentials may get you through the hatch, but after that, it takes the old cliche' of sink or swim to a whole new level... where mistakes made inside this environment can mean the difference between life or death for both the manager and dozens of their co-workers. How well you navigate the decisions and tightly-knit web of relationships inside that little pressure tube are under intense pressure themselves; how you respond and step up to the duty will determine your success more than any title you now hold. As we've quoted in The Citizen before, 

  "The proof of th' pudding's seen i' the eating."  -  Nicolas Boileau-Despreaux, 1672

The pudding, as Marquet would tell, came into full boil on his first day of service in his new submarine, by mixing a dangerous recipe of not knowing enough about the infrastructure of his newly assigned resource, yet moving full steam ahead with giving orders and relying on compliance... instead of cooperation. I'll leave the details for you to discover in his book or TEDtalk video, yet let's just say he had the mature sense to turn his own leadership style around as quickly as he realized the silliness of ego which got him into his jam in the first place; having an epiphany that others on his team may be the key to his workplace success, not himself. He knew the key to an illusion of being in charge would be to continue barking orders at everyone around him ~ and getting back all the wrong echos, or no echos. Yet, Marquet was smart enough to, instead, know how to turn the ship around and place power where it could do the most good for both himself... and the team mission.  Unshaven, or not!

Marquet's most interesting observation last evening, however, took this one step further and carried empowerment of others to its logical conclusion: giving others the tools to become a true learning organization, not simply a compliant one who will shut down at every opportunity, while having resented the degradation of simply being told what to do. He differentiated, simply, and effectively, between those teams which have training programs... where information is easily, quickly, and quite naturally forgotten, and those which have committed to being true learning organizations. At first, naturally, this sounds contradictory, yet carried out to its conclusion, rather easy to follow.

For more about the Ebbinghaus Forgetting Curve, click here.

Think now to your own estate team and the training ~ and the learning ~ which takes place: do you, for instance, have food safety training... once per year? How about table service?  Or, what about antiques and art conservation and handling? All good, we say, yet why curtail your events for learning at just once per year? Marquet's point of becoming the learning organization is to ingrain, instead, learning to such a degree to where these programs, themselves, are no longer even needed! The team, instead, makes each day a learning adventure, to be recapped daily, perhaps even at the staff luncheon... and even more frequently, at opportunities throughout the daily duties. 
Having training programs, interestingly, is suggested by Marquet as evidence that enough learning is not really taking place to make an impact on your team... and consequently, in your service to others. Learning must be applied, re-applied, and re-applied again, not as a training event, yet as a value within your team, your culture, and your service. Not needed is simply more programs of more training, which, all too often, only provide the illusion, or an attempt, for learning itself.

After the training... where will the learning go?

As you begin to think about how becoming a true learning estate team could benefit both your staff members... and the service to your principals, you can enjoy one of the Colonel's rather homely, yet wholly authentic presentations on how real managers can succeed with their teams, here.