The team that learns together, grows together

I watched an inspiring movie last week called ‘The Good Life’ about the plight of a group of Sudanese children displaced by war and their journey to resettlement in the US as young adults. It was a very moving story and I recommend watching it, but the thing that caught my attention at the end was an African proverb they showed:

“If you want to move fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Having just completed a day with a client leadership team with a huge job on their hands this quote was extremely relevant. They completed an enormous amount of work together in last week’s session and a similar session held in January, but the conversations we had after all of the operational stuff was done was a further step on their journey together as a team.

The leader of the team hired us to help them develop their ability to operate accountably and to create an environment of accountability in their organisation to support high performance. At our last session the group created three agreements with one another so the first test of their progress in being accountable was a review of the status of these agreements. Had they disappeared for people? What was happening in terms of their honouring those agreements? What were they learning about themselves and their team?

These conversations were obviously nowhere near as comfortable for the group as the operational conversations had been as they required vulnerability, which can be challenging when you are amongst your peers. Despite the discomfort the braver in the group lead the conversation and opened the way for others by being willing to speak up about where they had failed with their agreements. With each person’s sharing the space of the group shifted and the possibility of them learning and growing together emerged.

Learning takes being willing to go outside of your comfort zone, particularly as a leader. Herminia Ibarra, Cora Chaired Professor of Leadership and Learning and a professor of organisational behaviour at INSEAD writes in the current HBR issue on The Authenticity Paradox: “In my research on leadership transitions, I have observed that career advances require all of us to move way beyond our comfort zones. At the same time, however, they trigger a strong countervailing impulse to protect our identities: When we are unsure of ourselves or our ability to perform well or measure up in a new setting, we often retreat to familiar behaviours and styles. But my research also demonstrates that the moments that most challenge our sense of self are the ones that can teach us the most about leading effectively.”

When a leadership team can move together into those challenging moments they can go very, very far and in less time.

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