Are "Teams" a meaningful unit of learning? LO13390

Stephen Wehrenberg (
Thu, 24 Apr 1997 21:45:14 -0400

Replying to LO13363 --

Stever inquires:

> Teams don't seem to reflect this structure. The teams I've seen and read
> about which could be called "learning teams" really aren't changing their
> output very much. Most of them are changing how quickly they achieve it,
> or how well they work together. Possibly, they stop bickering quite so
> much. And most team building activities I've seen involve team
> coordination or things like "trust." But they hand-wave the questions on
> my mind:
> 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?)
> If I had a "learning" team in front of me, side-by-side with a
> non-learning team, how would I tell them apart?
> Any ideas?

How provocative! To challenge the team as a tangible entity is, in this
day of team supreme, heresy!

Good for you.

I don't think it is accurate to say that a team learns. Individuals learn
through the processes you outline, and then some; organizations can learn
by capturing a history of decisions, their context, and their results.
Teams are made up of individuals, but when the individuals are not there,
there is no team there.

Perhaps a related question or two will further provoke:

Does a team have emergent properties?
If so, a team is a system.
Is a team a system?

If that's true, why don't we think of and talk about teams as if
they were systems? Is the collection of single celled critters that make
up a Portugese-man-of-war a system? I think biologists refer to it as a
colony. Is a colony a system? Are teams colonies?

Must have been a rough week. Sorry.


Stephen B. Wehrenberg, Ph.D. 
Chief, Forecasts and Systems, US Coast Guard;
Administrative Sciences, The George Washington University
"Life is a jam session."

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