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5 Prerequisites for Continuous-Learning Team Culture in Your Business

Working harder won't help your business thrive unless the team learns from every challenge.

By Inc.Arabia Staff
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No matter how hard you work as a business leader or entrepreneur, you can't sustain consistent results without an equally hardworking team, each with a learning mindset. In fact, in my experience as an executive and a mentor to entrepreneurs, sustainable results require a balance between hard work and learning, for you and your team members. Therein lies the challenge.

Most business leaders I know have found this balance for themselves, but many find it an order of magnitude harder to achieve and sustain this balance within individual teams and throughout the organization. I believe this difficulty stems from the historical use of results-only metrics in measuring performance and rankings, without including learning measures and achievements.

I see these issues addressed well in a new book, The Performance Paradox: Turning the Power of Mindset Into Action, by Eduardo Briceño. Eduardo is a global pioneer in cultivating growth mindset cultures, and he provides case studies and specific guidance on how individuals, teams, and organizations can overcome this learning and hard work challenge.

Here is my interpretation of his top five foundation requirements for building great learning teams, with my own insights added:

1. Establish team trust, relationships, and purpose. 

The best way to establish trust is being open, asking questions, listening to the answers, and giving candid feedback. Get to know your team members personally to deepen your relationships. Communicate a purpose that gives people a good feeling for helping others and doing good for the world. 

For example, Blake Mycoskie, founder of Toms, garnered trust from his team by effectively communicating a higher purpose of helping the needy by donating a pair of shoes for every pair sold. He found that the returns were far greater than the cost.

2. Empower team members to initiate change. 

Make sure your team members feel that you are always willing to listen to new ideas, and never penalize or reprimand them for thinking outside the lines. Encourage change and highlight the learning that always comes from failures. Celebrate small successes often with informal positive feedback.

Amazon and Jeff Bezos credit much of their growth and success to supporting unsolicited business "experiments" from anywhere in the organization. Bezos highlights the learning garnered from failures as well as successes from these experiments.

3. Communicate challenges and objectives transparently. 

A team shielded from the realities of business cannot help you make decisions. To cultivate a learning culture, you need to expect some discomfort on both sides. Over time, you will get used to sharing and team members will respond in a constructive way, and even overcome conflicts.

Another advantage of open communication and transparency is your ability to attract and retain the right kind of talent in your organization. Most HR departments say that hiring and retaining the right team members for every role is one of their biggest challenges.

4. Create a culture of team psychological safety. 

Fear of being judged as incompetent or insecure is a common and major hindrance to the effectiveness of teams. People need to feel able to talk about mistakes, as well as successes. Your challenge is to define norms of behavior and expectations for contributions, in both positive and negative situations.

As an example, Google spent years studying how to make their teams more effective and concluded that their single focus on team members' psychological safety was the prime contributor to their success. You can start by showing empathy for each individual.

5. Encourage people to solicit feedback frequently.

When all your people are waiting for feedback, it means they assume all feedback will be critical or negative. You want the team to seek feedback as positive and powerful learning opportunities. Make it frequent and broad, both inside and outside the internal team, to reinforce a sense of confidence.

As a leader, you are the role model for seeking feedback, by asking your teams regularly for feedback on your own performance. Make it a point to really listen to their input, not be defensive, watch body language, and follow up by making the changes suggested.

You will quickly find that learning teams are more collaborative and productive in normal times, and especially when facing challenges that require change and innovation. Avoid letting them fall into the performance-only trap by shifting their focus from simply doing to learning while doing. Help them improve their skills and discover new career options while doing higher-quality work.

Photo Credit: Getty Images.

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