The Best Teams Train themselves: Night Vision to Browsers.
Prior to deploying to Afghanistan as a young platoon commander the Commanding Officer of the Battalion called all the officers in for a chat. This chat was his view of the world and how we needed to approach the next 12-18 months.
As a Battalion based in Belfast and miles from a decent training area and generally lacking in training support one of his key messages was that we have the experience and knowledge, and therefore it was going to be upto us to training ourselves.
So we did, each platoon and company took this message to heart and we turned our camp into a deployment training centre, the old stables became a close quarter battle centre. The scruffy bit of land at the end of the football pitch got turned into a Counter IED and ground sign training area. We had late starts and trained through the night to get ready for night operations, some teams went to the extent of issuing night vision to all the guys 24/7 and turning off all the lights during dark hours. This forced each soldier to become highly competent and ready to operating at night with night vision devices, a number of depth perception related injuries occurred initially but soon the lads had learnt to adapt the way they moved around buildings. The benefit was not realised in bottom line figures but in survivability on the battle field.
The lack of resource was overcome through a bit of graft, experience and creativity. This is part of the reason the British Army is so effective.
So What Dave? We know you were in the army bore off...the point is enterprises and businesses today are busy, we fill our time with client work or meetings. Any training that does happen is delivered poorly via click through online training or even worse mandatory powerpoint slides. The point I'm making is one of ownership and recognising that if people are given time and space to training and develop themselves the business will see returns on this investment they could never have imagined.
Parts of Google do this, we see it manifested in their 20% of time allocation that employees can use to work on personal projects. To those who work outside of IT/tech , the way you learn in IT is basically through doing in a safe sandbox or development environment. So this 20% of time is Google's version of allowing staff and teams to train themselves with night vision equipment at night.
One of the notable outputs of Googles approach has been the Chrome browser that we all try to use because it's the best browser out there. In fact it's so good that the new Microsoft Edge browser is actually powered by Chromium. Chromium being the Google led project behind Chrome.
So this is my challenge to heads of departments/managers, how are you creating space to allow your teams and individuals to train themselves? How are you allocating budgets to promote this culture?
In my place of work our cloud team has a modest budget to play with and test concepts in our own cloud environments. This is an invaluable space to ensure we can do what we are preaching to our clients. You want some fancy cloud technology or service to help streamline a process, well we've probably tested that service out, broken it, tried again and got it to work, we've taught ourselves.
Crucially in today's technology landscape new services are coming online so quickly it is very hard to keep up, its even harder for a consulting firm such as the one I work for to display 'Delivery experience' of a service that is only 6 months old. So having this space to 'play' with new services and constantly update our knowledge is vital!
Moving away from tech, allowing your team's time to work on self chosen projects is an opportunity for them to self govern and apply good project management and use the tools your clients or your senior stakeholders expect you to be using. So it's an ideal place to allow junior members of staff to grow and take responsibility without risking business processes or reputation.
So an investment of time to allow your teams and individuals to train themselves , break things and learn is likely to be a great investment.
Now What? 3 habits and policies to adopt to promote a self learning team...
Allocate a % of time per month that teams must use for internally self-decided projects, and hold team managers accountable for using that time but crucially not for the output of that time. This will require trust and very quickly identify the good from the chaff...
Create an award scheme for the best internally delivered project that displays certain attributes. These attributes could be 'delivering business efficiencies' or even better something like 'displays outstanding innovation' the latter enabling teams to think outside of the 4 walls of your business and actually solve a problem they want to solve rather then having to focus on the business needs.
This isn't just important for the indians, the chiefs need to do this. If a CTO actually understood kubernetes, containers and microservices architectures my job would be alot easier and crucially I think the business would benefit. So enabling the C-suite to develop in a failure free zone would be a really achievement. I'd go as far as saying that the C-suite should probably be the focus of point 1. Develop the leaders and the rest will follow....
Good luck, remember the greatest asset a business has is its people (closely followed by its data) so enable your people to fail, learn and grow is a crucial cultural step to building a successful team that can innovate and improve your business and crucially bottom line.