2 Little-Known Obstacles to Team Development

Prabhaker Panditi - Two Little-Known Obstacles to Team Development and How to Overcome Them

Team Development  challenge

For organization to grow, teams and leaders should constantly learn. However, it is not as easy as it first appears. Studies show that most of us routinely overestimate our knowledge and skills. We ignore negative feedback, overestimate our positive traits, and notice only what we want to notice. In 1999, David Dunning and Justin Kruger of Cornell University conducted experiments that demonstrated this cognitive bias. Dunning Kruger Effect, as it is called, implies a tendency for individuals to rate their skills much higher than what they are in reality.

Organizations face a grim reality: they want to develop people, but those who need development most are the ones who think they are ‘already up there’!

Stages of development

The first thing to recognize is that individuals move through various stages while developing a skill or competence:

Unconscious incompetence

Individuals in this stage do not recognize that they lack the competence or skills. This stage is analogous to Donald Rumsfeld’sunknown unknowns.”

In  this stage, people don’t know what they don’t know!

Conscious incompetence

Real development starts at this stage. Individuals recognize their lack of competence. This mere awareness is sometimes powerful. Given the right environment and opportunities, this can propel people into the next stage of development.

Conscious competence

Individuals in this stage have learned this skills. However, they use these consciously, noting each step carefully. This requires a person’s full attention to avoid mistakes. To know what this stage feels like, think about the time you first learned to drive.

Unconscious competence

This is the stage of mastery. Repeated use or practice of the skill makes it almost second nature. Individuals use the skill with ease. Think about any expert in sports, business or entertainment for a demonstration of this phase.
Wasted training money Organizations often make the mistake of diving headlong into leadership and team development programs. They underestimate the combined force of Dunning Kruger Effect and Unconscious Incompetence. People attend the programs but promptly resume their earlier habits. Money spent: yes. Results achieved: no.

The Solution

There’s a better way. The first goal of organizations should be to make people ‘aware’ of the deficiencies or developmental needs to move people beyond unconscious incompetence. Otherwise, the cognitive bias blocks any new information. Once this happens, any further efforts to impart knowledge only gets superficial commitment. That is why direct feedback in the initial stages often does not work.

Awareness should be spread subtly: showing examples of good leadership, inviting great leaders as guest speakers, using informal opportunities to discuss about a particular skill. In fact, if it looks serendipitous, the impact will be greater!

Once people become ‘aware’ and move beyond the initial stage of learning cycle, direct discussions and feedback about the developmental needs also will be more effective.

Some caveats

  • Once the ‘awareness of incompetence’ is achieved, teams and leaders will be ready to move to the next stage. Even at this stage, making the training or coaching too broad leads to failure. Complex skills need to be broken down into smaller, meaningful units. This fosters faster learning, greater sense of progress and higher retention and use.
  • Desired competencies should be seen as developmental needs and not as tools for punitive measures. Otherwise, anxiety overtakes the learning spirit, and will lead to negative consequences, often exactly opposite to those intended.
  • It is also important to develop trust through genuine commitment and sincere appreciation of ‘efforts’, not just progress. People grow at different pace. Comparisons are often detrimental.
  • Whether it is training, coaching or mentoring, one should be sensitive to feedback from the participants. Learning does not progress linearly. There will be stages where individuals may get stuck or make progress slowly. It is important to be patient and persistent.
  • Direct feedback about the developmental needs can always be combined with the above approaches. As long as leaders are aware of the potent

The great thing about organizational learning is that it is contagious. Once some teams start to develop, others will follow. Organizational learning becomes a habit that keeps its knowledge ever fresh, likea red, red rose.”

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