Harnessing Team Intelligence in Team Learnin
Tiimiäly- opas muuttuvaan työelämään
Coming from a very traditional educational background, my experiences with studying and academics, in general, have been very monotonous. Learning has been about listening to teachers’ lessons and lectures, doing the assigned homework, and studying for exams. Ultimately, learning has been a by-product, not the primary objective. In other words, learning has not been something I’ve done to develop myself as a person, but as means to pass classes and proceed from one grade to another. However, my take on this has changed drastically during the last six months. For this, I have to thank the method of team-learning, which I will be reflecting on in this essay.
Because of my traditional background, team learning was a fairly new concept to me. I had only heard of it before and never utilized it in my studies except for occasional group tasks, which had mostly been positive experiences. Since these group tasks had often worked for me in the past, I figured that having team learning as my base for university studies is a great idea. And in hindsight, I think I was right. With good comes bad, though. This saying can be implemented to team learning very well – especially at the beginning of our studies with my team when we struggled to make the best use of the team-learning concept, which we are still constantly working on.
To help with this process of utilizing team-learning as well as I can, I’ve been reading a book called Tiimiäly (Team intelligence) by Ilona Hiila, Maaretta Tukiainen, and Ida Hakola. In the book, they emphasize the power of collectiveness and cooperation in a working environment. They define team intelligence as a principle, whose goal is to optimize the common good of the organization through the full potential and shared intelligence of the teams of employees. To build team intelligence in an organization, five skills are listed in the book: self-knowledge, common direction, allowing atmosphere, permission and responsibility to act, and enriching interaction. I believe these principles are something that do not only apply to work life, but also to learning environments like that of my team.
One big thing that has bothered me about team learning and traditional methods of learning/education is that when the two are compared, the traditional way is a much safer way to gain knowledge. When you’re listening to a teacher rambling about a subject they’re teaching, you can trust that they are a reliable source of information. The teacher has gone through years and years of education themselves and is well equipped and eligible to teach others about it. Whereas in team learning, you got to constantly be critical about the information a fellow teammate is giving out. This is dependent on their relationship with the subject, of course, but for example in my team’s learning sessions, I got to constantly be critical about the information I’m consuming. And it’s no one’s fault – the majority of the team is just equally inexperienced. This is something that I feel has been limiting my learning in Proakatemia compared to if I studied in the International Business program, for example. Gaining valuable knowledge and learning the right things related to a business degree can be very challenging in the team learning method if there are only a few eligible and reliable sources of information inside of the team.
What I believe the underlying issue to be in relation to this is, that within the team, we’re not yet entirely aware of each other’s skills and traits, and therefore are not able to utilize and learn from them properly. However, when my team and I are thrown in the deep-end – building a business – we collectively have to figure out what it is that we need to learn to succeed and proceed in our business and academic-related endeavors. And when we figure out what it is that needs to be learned and what we need to do, the people with the right tools will step up. According to Hiila & al., the earlier the necessary skills are identified, the easier it is for the team to operate effectively.
Common direction is a very important if not the most important factor that drives organizations towards success. Hiila & al. claim that common direction consists of a shared meaning and operational objectives. Organizations at different stages of development benefit from different goals and objectives and metrics set for them. For example, the common direction for our team has been pointed heavily towards building the foundation for a team enterprise. The operational objectives for this goal have been creating psychological safety within the group, setting a structure, deciding upon the values of the team enterprise, and taking legal measures to found the company itself. Our team has worked tightly together to reach these objectives, which have – during these six months -brought us closer and closer to having a solid foundation for running a business together.
However, something that I’ve experienced to be very challenging, is setting that common direction for the team when it comes to learning. Specifically, a direction that benefits everybody equally according to their interests and skillset. This is almost impossible, especially when the team is as large as ours. It’s also very challenging because the majority of the team is very inexperienced. Many of us just got out of high school and are in our first-ever bachelor-level program. But then again, as mentioned in the last chapter, the experience will come with time through a constant process of trial and error.
Maybe the real common direction in the team is learning what we need and want to learn. The team should support this by acting as a network – as a safety net – that affirms everyone’s experiences and serves as a pool of collected data and information.
For my team to venture out and head in the common direction we have set, a certain atmosphere must prevail. An atmosphere where one can work on their initiative, is not too afraid of making mistakes, and where conflicts are realized as part of the process. An atmosphere that allows for a strong experimental culture. Hiila & al. call this the allowing atmosphere.
Building this atmosphere is something my team has taken big leaps in already during our journey. This can be seen especially in the way we communicate. I remember how in the beginning, a clear “honeymoon phase” was very distinguishable. Whenever we had discussions in workshops, for example, everyone was just nodding their heads and agreeing on everything and anything. Of course, some people spoke out, but approval was the status quo. If small conflicts started to occur, they were never really dealt with. They were just ignored and left to develop in the background. After months passed by, however, things started popping up. The conflicts within the team grew so big that, eventually, they were impossible to ignore. Our team was like a kettle that was about to boil over.
Only by confronting the issues within the team, were we able to solve this issue. We finally understood that suppressing your thoughts and not voicing them does more harm than being outspoken and that conflicts are part of everyday business. The best way to deal with conflicts is to deal with them straight away and not let them build up behind the scenes. We also learned that being able to say what you think is a very vital part of building psychological safety in the team. The faster we get comfortable with dissenting opinions and views, the sooner we will be able to work as a professional and effective unit. Psychological safety, however, is not something that the team has by default. First, it must be created, and then it must be maintained. This can be done by, for example, nonviolent communication.
PERMISSION AND RESPONSIBILITY TO ACT
Permission and responsibility to act is the fourth team intelligence skill mentioned by Hiila & al. Permission to act means that team members are aware of their ability to make decisions and act independently without having to fear reactions from their colleagues or management. If we as a team decide to host workshops about, for example, specific marketing and sales techniques, we don’t have to fear that TAMK staff will intervene. Permission can also be viewed as freedom. Responsibility to act, in turn, means how the team – and the individual members of it – take responsibility for a common goal and its advancement. So, if we decide to host workshops about marketing and sales techniques, we must make sure that they are high quality and educational.
From the beginning of our studies, we have been told that with freedom comes responsibility. This is heavily tied into the entrepreneurial scheme of things, and the fact that without the responsibility, there is no permission/freedom of self-directiveness. According to Hiila & al., when someone acts independently, it has required for them to get a concrete authorization. Even though this may be true in a hierarchical environment, this is not how they operate in a self-directed team such as ours. The method of team learning and the supportive organization around us enables – often even pushes us – to operate independently. A big part of it comes down to trust. We trust that each member is aware of the direction in which we are trying to head and does their best to promote the development both by their own and team’s initiative. Of course, everyone is expected to report back and be transparent, since without them the team learning aspect might lack.
Enriching interaction is the fifth and last team intelligence skill set, which also works as the foundation for the development of the previously mentioned skills. The accelerating pace of change in today’s working life emphasizes the importance of interaction skills. Hiila & al., even argue that the pace will only get faster and faster in the future. This pace of change will be also impacting the way we approach learning in organizations in the future.
Even though we’ve been very fortunate to be able to attend courses and avoid telecommuting for the most part, the pandemic has added tons of challenges to our learning processes. We’ve had to work within the frames set by restrictions which have made it almost impossible at times to have all members of the team in the same physical environment simultaneously. This of course has taken its toll on the dynamics of the team. At the beginning of our studies when Covid-19 was getting worse and more people attended classes remotely, a lot of frustration could be also sensed. Those who were able to be physically present kept forgetting to include the online participants in dialogue and got often annoyed by the awkward technical interferences. Online attendees, in turn, felt like outsiders and even a little discriminated, having continuously been left out. Nowadays, though, working in a hybrid environment has become very smooth and we’ve made it work well. In fact, most if not all our workshops and meetings are run in the hybrid format.
Not only has our interaction improved in telecommunication, but also other forms of communication. In addition to having normalized conflicts like previously mentioned, we have also increased the amount of feedback we give within the team. Feedback is necessary for development, or at least something that speeds up the learning process. I’m happy to see that it has become a part of our learning within the team. Though, giving feedback is a skill itself that needs to be learned and mastered for it to be beneficial and appropriate. If the feedback is not constructed well enough, it can have negative effects.
Reflecting on the learning of my team made me realize how far we’ve already come as a team and how much learning there has been happening both on a team and individual level. For the longest time, I felt like I haven’t learned anything valuable, and that the concept of team learning isn’t working for me as well as I had expected. Sometimes I even felt like the team was some kind of extra weight that I had to carry around while trying to learn. However, having gotten familiar with the principles of team intelligence, I realize that I lacked the vision and appropriate skills. There is beauty in team learning – you just need to utilize your team’s intelligence to unlock it.
Hiila, I., Tukiainen, M., Hakola, I., 2019, Tiimiäly. Opas muuttuvaan työelämään. Keuruu: Otavan Kirjapaino Oy