Want Your Group to Learn Faster? Press Pause


When you get down to it, every group on the planet is wrestling with the same problem: how can we learn better? That is, how do we build the skills to succeed in a fast-changing landscape?

When faced with this problem, our normal instinct is to press the accelerator — to do more. More professional development, more seminars, more online learning, more workshops. But one of the most effective tools in this area is also the simplest: the subtle skill of pressing pause. That is, stopping so your group can reflect on where you are, and where you want to go. 

When I visited highly successful groups for The Culture Code, I saw this all the time. It often took just a few minutes. Leaders had a habit of stopping and asking big questions: What are we doing well? What could we do better? What are we going to do differently next time?

Here are some ways I’ve seen groups do it:

1) After-Action Reviews, (AARs): This is a tool used by SEALs teams, among others: a quick huddle after an event to create awareness consensus around three questions: what went well, what didn’t, and what the group should do differently next time.

2) Pre-flight, Mid-flight, and Post-flight meetings: IDEO uses these as a way of creating team check-ins at three key moments in every project: before, during, and after. The focus is often on asking big questions around the team’s functioning: are things going the right direction? What have we learned about the project, and about each other?

3) Daily Huddles: quick, more informal gatherings to get everybody on the same page and to create awareness of shared problems. Teams at Google are particularly good at this one. When everybody shares the biggest challenge they are working on, the group gets smarter.

The deeper key is to recognize that most of us have an allergy to anything that doesn’t feel like progress. That’s why pressing pause is hard to do, and also why it’s so important. So don’t think of it as a pause. Think of it as a group version of mindfulness — a quick path to shared clarity and awareness.