To Build a Resilient Team, Develop These Experiential Learning Skills

Recent events have just about everyone asking, how can I make myself and my team more resilient in the face of change?  Whether it’s big unexpected disruptions like we’re facing now with the COVID-19 pandemic, or simply the fact we live in an increasingly fast and unpredictable world, it’s difficult to imagine a more pressing question. 
While there are lots of people talking about change, and there are plenty of tools and frameworks aimed at helping us navigate it, there is a noteworthy lack of focus on the foundational skills that make us resilient in a changing world. These are fundamentally, I will argue here, experiential learning skills
After all, our ability to skillfully respond to change is equivalent to our ability to keep adjusting our ways of thinking and acting in the world—to let go of old patterns that no longer serve us and allow new patterns to emerge through a process of continuous experimentation, reflection and learning through our daily experiences. 
So what are these fundamental experiential learning skills, and how do we develop them as individuals, teams and organizations? 
To begin, we’ll organize these skills into 4 categories: one for each of the four AVID Learner Personas™. These personas correlate to the different stages of the the Experiential Learning Cycle developed by David Kolb (and more specifically, his learning styles). We’ll explore these connections in a later post—for now, we’ll use these personas to outline some fundamental skills related to experiential learning (below lists are not exhaustive). 
The AVID Learning Personas™ and the Experiential Learning Cycle
Actionist Skills 
  • Managing time & attention
  • Managing commitments
  • Managing tasks/projects
  • Managing relationships
  • Emotional intelligence
  • Communication
  • Collaboration
  • Leading/managing others
  • Cultural literacy
Visionary Skills
  • Observing self and others
  • Recognizing patterns
  • Sensing/imagining possibilities
  • Sensing gaps and tensions
  • Communicating values/purpose/vision
  • Storytelling
  • Setting intentions
  • Asking questions
Investigator Skills
  • Thinking about thinking (metacognition)
  • Identifying cause and effect relationships
  • Critical thinking
  • Conducting research 
  • Analyzing data
  • Media literacy
  • Engaging with experts or mentors
  • Engaging with/building theories or models
  • Organizing/deconstructing/reconstructing information
Designer Skills
  • Making decisions
  • Setting goals
  • Planning
  • Illustrating potential solutions
  • Pitching ideas and influencing
  • Creating hypotheses
  • Designing experiments/prototypes
It’s also worth noting that these are also what we could safely call futureproof skills. Not only do they allow us to keep learning and building new skills as new demands arise, but they give us the tools to grow into the roles that will be most difficult to automate moving forward. 
Most of us have developed certain personas, and their associated skills, over other personas. In other words, we tend to specialize in certain areas. Our specialization is the result of a number of factors, such as our personality, educational background, professional background, and others. Different people, roles, and fields tend toward developing different personas and skill sets. 
As we’ll also explore in more detail in a future post, specialization often leads to getting stuck in the experiential learning cycle. This usually happens when we come up against undeveloped or underdeveloped skills, and we fall back into areas where  we feel most confident and comfortable. This state of being “stuck” decreases our resilience—we’re not moving through the cycle and adapting, learning and evolving like we could be. 
How can we best support the development of these fundamental skills on our team? 
The first step is to support individuals to build an awareness around their own strengths and weaknesses, as well as their existing skill gaps. 
Which of the personas do you feel are most developed for you personally? Which are least developed? 
As we become more conscious about where we tend to get stuck and the skill gaps that are preventing us from moving through the cycle, we can create Personal Learning Plans that strategically target these specific skills and guide us to develop them through deliberate practice. As leaders or L&D professionals, we can facilitate this process by guiding our teams through a reflective process of assessing current skill levels and gaps, and providing them with templates for creating their plans. 
We can also create spaces for individuals to share their plans, learning goals and insights from their experiences with one another. This may include, for example, digital groups, a time slot during regular meetings, a physical bulletin board or wall, or some combination of these. When done right, this can create the accountability and social pressure necessary to motivate people to keep pushing themselves and to follow through. It can also help team members to get to know one another better and identify opportunities for supporting each other.
Because these are skills that come ultimately through practice rather than just engaging with information, it’s useful to frame this ongoing process as a lifelong Personal Learning Practice. With this, it’s also important to develop a shared vocabulary around these personal practices that allow individuals to reflect and share their experiences with one another. The AVID Learner Personas™ represent one tool for building this vocabulary (much more to come on this tool and how it can be used to frame the Personal Learning Practice). 
Other methods of supporting individuals in this way include developing structured challenges to facilitate practice, peer coaching, and mentoring (such as facilitating connections between those who are strong with certain skills and those who have set goals to develop those skills). 
We find ourselves living and working in a world that is shifting under our feet—only as skilled experiential learners will we be able to maintain our balance and keep moving forward. Stay tuned for more on how you and your team can become more resilient in the face of change and skillfully navigate your way into the uncertain future.  

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Tom Palmer