Are "Teams" a meaningful unit of learning? LO13392

Len Tischler (
Fri, 25 Apr 1997 01:24:43 -0400

Replying to LO13363 --

> 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?

I like your questions. I believe that the problem is not in the
issue of team learning and is not as deep as it may appear. Perhaps this
whole process of learning in teams is relatively new, just beginning to
evolve. The first, baby steps mostly involve learning to be more
efficient and to work better together, but still to do much as we were
doing before. Thus, in a sense, nothing much appears to be learned from
the perspective of your questions. However, if this is just the first
steps we are seeing, then there is a possibility that deep learning will
occur once we learn how to learn as groups.

You might remember that deTocqueville in 1830 was amazed and
marvelled at how Americans worked together in volunteer groups to do
things for their communities. Elsewhere voluntary work had always been
done individually. Only recently we are seeing team work in our formal
organizations, also. Let's give it time. The evolution from industrial
age to the new (knowledge??) age is probably a 50-100 year process or
longer, and further evolution will occur even after we have fully entered
the new age. Let's not judge the baby by adult standards yet.

.....I guess that I would judge a learning vs. a non-learning team
by their respective levels of new ideas and behaviors over time,
controlling for type of tasks.

.....I love your question about the "locus" of learning. I would
think that that depends on your perspective. If I view the team as part
of an organization, beholden to the organization, and the organization is
its larger reality and the focus or purpose of its learning, then I would
think that there would have to be a central locus of a hierarchical type,
as you hinted at. If I view the team and organization as composed of
individuals who are indivually trying to spiritually evolve, and the team
and organization as some of the means for that evolution, then the
organizationally embedded locuses we might normally imagine are probably
imaginary and meaningless; the locus can perhaps be seen as either in each
individual (distributed locuses) or as at a Nature or universal level. If
we view the world politically or as sociologists, I would suppose that
there could be a sense in which the locus is embedded in the larger
society of which the organization is a part.

....Another thought about teams: Fr. George Schemel at the
University of Scranton, who has worked with many managmeent teams and
boards of directors, has found in his experience that teams are very
delicate. He beleives that subtle but important changes occur when a team
member is absent from even one meeting, or when team membership changes
even by only one person. I think he would say that a team changes its
nature (and therefore the way it learns and perhaps its locus) as it
changes its membership even temporarily. Since most teams in work
organizations are constantly changing team membership, almost from meeting
to meeting when you include absences, we might not even have enough stable
teams upon which we can generalize about any aspect of team life or

Do any of these thoughts help?



"Len Tischler"<>

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>