Workplace Learning: Developing Effective Teams

In this E-Learning Curve Blog series on workplace learning, I’m looking at Constructivist approaches to organizational development. Last time, I discussed theoretical aspects of Bruner’s Learning Spiral; today, I will consider how this approach can be operationalized in real-world environments.

Now read on…

In his 1990 text The Fifth Discipline, Peter Senge describes the importance organizations place on teamwork:

Most of us at one time or another have been part of a great “team,” a group of people who functioned together in an extraordinary way — who trusted one another, who complemented each others’ strengths and compensated for each others’ limitations, who had common goals that were larger than individual goals, and who produced extraordinary results. …Many say that they have spent much of their life looking for that experience again.

(1990, p.4)

According to Klein and Eseryel (2005) “effective teamwork is a goal of every corporate manager” and “working in a cohesive team is an aspiration of most staff members” (p.12). They emphasize the “significance” corporations and individuals place on teamwork and that individual expertise is a “critical precondition” (p.13) of high performing teams.

Amy C. Edmondson (2003) found that expertise is a critical characteristic of effective team performance. In this context, we can say that one of the key functions of the corporate learning environment must be to support the development of individual expertise in order to create the  conditions for effective individual and (by extension) team performance and cohesion.

Other characteristics of effective teams include:

  • having a strong team identity and a shared knowledge that enables members to plan, anticipate, and execute
  • having members that compensate by stepping outside of their assigned roles in order to help the team; and
  • achieving situation awareness by diverging and converging, which is the process of actively seeking a variety of views from team members
  • converging the views into a coherent whole
Workplace Learning - Characteristics of a Cohesive Team in

Figure 1. Characteristics of high-performing teams (After Klinger, 2003)

Edmondson asserts that developing and supporting teams requires a variety of conditions, the first one being psychological safety. The organization must provide an environment conducive to taking interpersonal risks. She notes that in the workplace, individual contributors exhibit a desire to adhere to organizational and team norms and are “impression managers” (p.1). Knowledge workers are:

  1. reluctant to engage in behaviors that could threaten the image others hold of them
  2. that change involves interpersonal risk to a person’s image because change involves
  3. asking questions and seeking information which creates the risk of being seen as incompetent or ignorant (no one else is asking it, maybe I am supposed to know it)
  4. admitting mistakes and asking for help which could result in being perceived as incompetent
  5. reflecting and getting feedback which could result in being perceived as being negative (providing criticism might be perceived as disruptive).

Creating the conditions for psychological safety enables knowledge workers to engage in the interpersonal risky behaviors required for learning.

And I will look at how this can be achieved …next time.


Edmondson, A.C. (2002). Managing the risk of learning: Psychological safety in work teams. [Internet] Available from: http://www.hbs.edu/research/facpubs/workingpapers/papers2/0102/02-062.pdf [Accessed March 3 2017]

Edmondson, A.C. (2003). Framing for learning: Lessons in successful technology implementation. California Management Review, 45(2), 34-54.

Klein, G. (1998). Sources of power: How people make decisions. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Klein, J. Eseryel, D. (2005). The Corporate Learning Environment. [Internet] Available from: http://www.igi-pub.com/downloads/excerpts/159140505XCh1.pdf [Accessed August 18th 2017]

Klinger, D. (2003). Handbook of team cognitive task analysis. Fairborn, OH: Klein Associates, Inc.

Senge, P.M. (1990). The fifth discipline. New York: Doubleday/Currency.