Are "Teams" a meaningful unit of learning? LO13389

thomas petzinger (
Fri, 25 Apr 97 02:42:38 UT

Replying to LO13363 --

Stever Roberts had a very nice post on teams which he ended by posing
several questions. Though I am neither an academic nor a practicioner I do
see and write about teams in action and would like to take a stab at
answering his queries based on some recent reporting at a Lucent Corp.
manufacturing plant in Mt. Olive, N.J.

snip: "What does it mean for a team to have learned something? Where is
the locus of that learning? (If it's in "the relationships between the
team members," then which relationships are we talking about, and how do
relationships store the learning?)"

A team learns by receiving and evaluating information, either from the
outside or within. This need not necessarily involve relationships. I saw
a case where a production worker had worked out, entirely on his own, a
new assembly flow that increased output in his team by 33% with a 25%
increase in staffing. (The worker, BTW, demostrated the validity of the
concept by recruiting workers from other teams with no management
involvement.) So while the new process--and the new relationships created
thereby--do reflect the learning, it came into being purely as a
consequence of individual thought.

Ultimately, the workers who had been recruited to demonstrate this concept
migrated to other teams, where the new practice may or may not have been
adopted. In those cases, new learning came in from the outside.

Though learning is certainly created through relationships, I don't see
how it can be "stored" in those relationships, except to the extent that
people relate to one another differently as a result of it! The "locus" of
learning is people's heads; how can it be any more complicated than that?

I will add that because this particular plant is ISO 9000 certified, every
process change must ultimately be shared with everyone else touched by
that process and recorded in the law of the plant. This occurs through
electronic exchange. Thus the learning is also embodied in a relational

snip: "If I had a "learning" team in front of me, side-by-side with a
non-learning team, how would I tell them apart?"

The learning team would change its actions from time to time, one hopes
for the better more often than not. The other team would not change.

If anyone would like to see this Lucent piece I would be happy to send it
by e-mail (after I return from a foreign trip late next week).

Tom Petzinger

Thomas Petzinger Jr.
new e-mail address:
"The Front Lines"--Every Friday in The Wall Street Journal

"The arms of consciousness reach out and grope, and the longer they are,
the better. Tentacles, not wings, are Apollo's natural members."
--Vladimir Nabokov


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