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Team Learning vs. Individual Learning

By Steve Kane Updated on July 24th, 2020

Gemba Academy has been helping people gain proficiency in Lean and Six Sigma through Green Belt and Black Belt certification courses for several years. These certification courses have always included one-on-one coaching via phone or video chat.

We added a Lean Practitioner certification in 2020. Like the belt certifications, this is a self-paced online learning experience combined with personal coaching and a practical application element. This course requires participants to apply every concept learned for the purposes of developing proficiency.

The Only Genuine Knowledge is That of Actual Experience

Participants make improvements using specific Lean tools. Trial and error have proven to be a more valuable learning experience than finding success right away. Reflection after failure deepens understanding that initial success couldn’t possibly provide.

Teams Tend to Perform Better Than Individuals

The Lean Practitioner course is different than the belts in that we encourage teams to go through it together. This includes working together to make improvements, documenting the experience, and reporting out to management. There is no exam that would require individual achievement.

While some organizations prefer to have several participants go through the course as individuals rather than as a team in order to maximize the one-on-one coaching benefits. Teams are coached together: all team members receive coaching in a group.

Other organizations prefer the team approach. While the team members share the coaching experience, they gain the benefit of leveraging each team member’s strengths while also performing with a higher degree of accountability. It seems that individuals are more likely to take advantage of the self-paced aspect of the courses. Teams, however, tend to keep the momentum up by holding each other accountable for meeting specific targets and milestones on schedule.

Our Observations of Teams and Cohorts

Gemba Academy is experimenting with a cohort of Black Belt candidates. They are individually responsible for passing the exam and also for an improvement project that will allow them to demonstrate proficiency with Six Sigma tools and concepts. The cohort is self-paced. The difference between their approach and the typical individual’s is related to setting and achieving goals. The cohort receives weekly coaching sessions as a group. They review their progress to date, reflect on and discuss learning material, and learn from each other’s questions. The cohort reviews upcoming learning material and tasks. They agree to a target or goal for the coming week and discuss strategies for achieving the goal. They then complete their work on an individual basis.

Another organization is sending a variety of participants through the Lean Practitioner course in waves: the executive team, senior managers, followed by supervisors and individual contributors. The idea is that the more senior participants will have experience with the course content and assignments that their direct reports are going through at any particular point, allowing for a higher level of support from within the company. The participants in this organization are positioned to learn and achieve significant process improvements quickly with the energy of their direct teams combined with the experience and support of the senior teams. Additionally, learning is deepened when senior members are able to coach junior members.

The Lean Practitioner team members watch videos and consume other content as individuals, but the work at gemba is entirely a team effort.

Teammates Don’t Let Each Other Down

Teams  tend to be more assertive with what they think they can accomplish than individuals. They move through the learning content more quickly and have a deeper learning experience, which ultimately leads to greater proficiency and confidence in practice. Team members don’t want to let the team down. They find a way to work through, over, around, or under any obstacles that might prevent them from reaching their goals. Individuals seem to be more likely to accept an obstacle delaying accomplishment.

Future Analysis

Gemba Academy collects data related to certification course progress and completion. The team or cohort approach to certification has only recently started.  When we’ve have several more teams complete these courses we’ll be positioned to conduct an analysis that will either confirm or refute the hypothesis that teams tend to complete certification course more quickly than individuals.


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