“The more complex and unfamiliar the challenge we’re facing, the more important it becomes to test and adjust the underlying ladders of inference, beliefs, and filters we’re using to tackle it.” -Craig Weber Conversational Capacity: The Secret To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure is On
No matter how many great ideas, strategies and levers that we can string together towards organizational transformation, if leaders are unable to facilitate their teams through and towards the conversations, processes, structures, and environments that actually lead to that transformation, not much has or will change.
Which means that today’s leaders have to be willing to push their teams into much more uncertain and uncomfortable terrain, where our mental models, maps and bias’ are placed on reflective display. Where diversity of thinking and candor are natural and positive elements of the teams they engage and lead.
As Craig Weber adds, “The capacity to transform conflicting perspectives into learning gives a team an additional advantage that is invaluable in challenging situations where our old ways of thinking no longer fit the bill. People with different perspectives are able to generate not just more learning, but a deeper, more powerful kind of learning. They’re more agile, astute, and adaptive because they can deliberately double-loop learn.”
However, before we can get to what double-loop learning is, we should begin with defining both single- and double- loop learning.
According to Google,
Single-loop learning seems to be present when goals, values frameworks and, to a significant extent, strategies are taken for granted.
Double-loop learning occurs when error is detected and corrected in ways that involve the modification of an organization’s underlying norms, policies and objectives.
To add to that definition, Craig Weber shares, “Whenever there’s a gap between the consequences we intend and the results we achieve, learning is required. There are two very different kinds of learning we can employ. When things don’t work out as expected, the easy path is to simply circle back and adjust our actions (our strategy, behavior, or plan). This is called single-loop learning.”
Which means that single-loop learning is best suited to the routine, technical problems that are stretched across our organizational landscape. The issue with single-loop learning is that today’s leaders are seeing a big shift, from a decrease in the technical, routine problems to a heightening and growth of the adaptive challenges that are coming at them and their organizations in today’s turbulent and changing world.
To make matters worse, not only are teams and organizations struggling to engage and embrace more double-loop learning in their processes, they actually continue to engage single-loop learning as their go to response to these growing adaptive challenges they are now facing. Which is a concern, especially in a time when organizational transformation is often vital for the future and the mere survival and relevance of many, if not most organizations.
Or as Weber adds, “In adaptive circumstances, where the problem is poorly defined, no proven solution exists, and our old habits of thought no longer fit the predicament we’re facing, single-loop learning is grossly inadequate.”
In the turbulent times we are now living in, one of accelerated change that is unleashing a densely growing number of adaptive challenges, double-loop learning will be vital to our ability to question our assumptions, reflect upon our mental maps and models, as well as test our often unconscious confirmation bias’. Double-loop learning serves as a lens for ongoing review of, rather than blind acceptance of the assumptions of what we determine to be true.
Which means today’s leaders have to facilitate the spaces and environments where positive conflict and candor can be incorporated into engaging a variety and diversity of thinking and ideas that lead to greater capacity, especially in response to the adaptive challenges that now face our teams and organizations.
As Weber purports, “Holding our ideas, views, and perspectives more like hypotheses that need to be tested – a hallmark of more disciplined mindset – is conducive to double-loop learning. When we hold a view like a truth it makes it much harder to question it, much less correct it. But when we treat our thoughts, assumptions, and beliefs as suspect, it makes it easier to adjust or change them when they don’t pass muster.”
Our world has and is changing, often in a rapid and volatile manner. It is not enough for our behaviors to change in response, so must our thinking and the lens’ that drive that thinking, both individually and organizationally.
“Trapped on the hamster wheel of their outdated thinking, unable to adapt to the novel predicaments they face, a team that can’t deliberately double-loop learn grows increasingly ineffective in a dynamic environment.” -Craig Weber Conversational Capacity: The Secret To Building Successful Teams That Perform When The Pressure is On