Team Learning Model

Explore how learning in a team of business people enhances and embeds business learning.











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"Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's own ideas and responding to other's reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding" [1]

I believe that effective managerial and business learning involves small groups (teams) of business people sharing knowledge & experience and presenting, promoting and negotiating views. Here I explore this - first asking why is team learning necessary and second by describing what team learning provides.

Why is team learning needed?

Business management is not black and white
Management knowledge is not black and white. It is not even grey. Rather it is speckled and shaded with the differing patterns depending on the current situation and the perspective of the individual. So for managers, learning must be concerned with developing wisdom rather than just gaining knowledge and remembering facts. Wisdom that incorporates different viewpoints, allows business people to deal with a changing world and encourages thought outside the box!
Business management is multi-faceted and multi-functional
Today's business is holistic, the successful manager must wear many hats. He or she must understand the breadth of business across all functions - marketing, operations, finance and design. She or he must consider the effect of a decision on the customer (marketing), the process implications (operations), the financial consequences (finance) and the improvement issues (design). Working on a business simulation that involves running a total enterprise where fellow team members are from a mix of functions develops a holistic view.
The world is changing not just in the context of technological change but in what is regarded as good management and business practice. Change that means that tomorrow's business person must update and uprate his business model continuously and solve new and unforeseeable business problems wisely.
Working in Teams
Some 40% of a manager's working time is spent working as a member of a team [2]. Thus learning as a member of a team allows you to develop the experience and skills associated with team working and this is a key aspect of our simulations.

What does team learning deliver?

A variety of Knowledge and Experience
A typical group of business people on a business course will have different prior learning, knowledge and experience and working in a team of four or five provides a means of sharing this. (And this contrasts with university learning.)
Knowledge & Experience Sets [3]
Here we show individuals as coloured circles with overlaps that illustrate the difference in experience.

Knowledge Set

Business Experience Set

Students of Business (University)
For these it is reasonable to suggest that their management/business knowledge will reasonable and consistent. This is illustrated by the closely overlapping, large knowledge sets. However, the students' will have limited and similar business experience - illustrated by the overlapping, small experience sets.

Adult Business Learners (Training Courses)
For business people the situation is the reverse. Those who have a business qualification may have forgotten much of what they learned and for those that moved from another discipline in to management will not have management/business knowledge. This is illustrated by the small and diverse knowledge sets, However, in work and in life they will have gained considerable experience and this is illustrated by the large, diverse experience sets. As both their knowledge and experience sets are diverse this is a resource for learner centered learning and a challenge to the trainer.

Presenting, promoting and negotiating views
Working in a team forces participants to present, promote and negotiate their views. This is a process that forces the learner to think critically. From a cognitive psychology perspective, it forces restructuring of existing knowledge and the formation of new mental schema to organise the knowledge. This deep processing ensures assimilation of learning. Research [4] suggests that practicing by doing and discussion have retention rates of 75% and 50% respectively. And this contrasts with the lecture (5% retention rate) and audio-visual (20% retention rate).
Teaching Others
Sharing knowledge and experience while working in a team is, in effect, teaching others. Again the Motorola study [4] suggests that this ensures a ninety percent retention rate. Thus working in a team helps embed the learning and develops coaching skills.
Team Working and Team Building
Also, working as a team member helps build team working skills. Additionally, if the team consists of fellow workers, the process helps build the team and is particularly useful in building links in a diverse organisation. Also, if the fellow workers are from different functions or cultures, this diversity enhances learning as team members share viewpoints.
The team working process both recognises the expertise of the team members and allows them to direct the learning process. Both of these are needs of adult learners and hence are emotionally rewarding. (In contrast, for student learners [1], the ambiguity and uncertainty with this may be demotivating.) Also, managers working in a team generally see themselves as being in competition with the other teams and this motivates them. (Often, teams work through coffee breaks and into the early morning in an attempt to get a lead on the others - I remember on one occasion after reminding a team that it was time for coffee I was informed firmly "COFFEE BREAKS ARE FOR WIMPS" !) This increases the amount of learning delivered by a course.

[1] Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39(7), 3-7.

[2] Boston University Center for Team Learning (

[3] Hall, Jeremy J. S, B. (1995) Chalk and cheese? Executive short course vs academic simulationsThe Simulation and Gaming Yearbook Volume 3 Kogan Page London

[4] The learning pyramid, Motorola University, Creating Mindware for the 21st Century, Corporate University Xchange May/June 1996, Vol 2 No 3.

2002 Jeremy J. S. B. Hall

Most recent update: 19/09/11
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