Whether at the individual, team or organisational level, cumulative experience is at the core of learning. This is not a completely automatic process though. Typically learning depends on cycles of action and reflection. A key ingredient of these cycles is the stability of team membership – the history of working together plus the expectation this will continue in the future.
What about teams that don’t have a stable team membership? Think about surgical teams, consulting teams, software development teams, etc.
Dana Vashdi and team researched this question. The good news is that short-term teams or action teams can learn, but for this action team learning to take place certain conditions must be met:
- Focus should be on cumulative experience across rather than within teams – learning which is applicable in new situations and teams;
- Focus should be on team role behaviours rather than on behaviours of particular individuals – role behaviours are transferable to other situations and teams;
- Focus should be on guided brief-debrief experiences (guided reflexivity experiences) – as a substitute for natural learning processes in stable teams.
So, short-term action teams can learn if the focus is on cumulative experience across the many teams people are part of, if clear team role behaviours are in view and only if brief-debrief processes are in place. In hospital-based action teams the researchers found action team learning led to significantly shorter surgical duration particularly in more complex surgeries and significantly less complications in more routine surgeries (where this tends to occur).