When I embarked on the journey of learning teams with my organization, I was eager to explore new approaches to operational excellence. As a seasoned leader in my field, I understood the importance of embracing fresh perspectives and innovative solutions. I want to share my experiences with learning teams and their transformative impact on our organization.

Embracing External Facilitators: A Guided Start

Our learning team journey began with a facilitated session led by Bob Edwards and Andrea Baker. As a member of the management team, I recognized the value of having external facilitators who could maintain independence and deliver an unbiased message. Under Bob’s guidance, what initially felt uncomfortable, departing from traditional investigative approaches, gradually transformed into an open and constructive conversation.

Navigating the Messiness: Discovering Systemic Issues

Learning teams proved to be a departure from the structured nature of traditional investigations. Instead, they involved delving into day-to-day work challenges and gradually exploring systemic issues. It was a messy process, where multiple systems converged, revealing the intricacies of our operations. Managing emotions and embracing the non-linear nature of discussions became essential aspects of leading learning teams successfully.

Learning in the Midst of Chaos: Uncovering Influential Factors

Through learning teams, we not only uncovered system complexities but also gained a deeper understanding of the impact of personal backgrounds, stressors, and inter-team dynamics on our day-to-day work. This realization brought a new level of understanding, highlighting how various factors influence our work processes. As a leader, I had to be receptive to hearing and addressing concerns that may challenge our established practices.

The Healing Power of Learning Teams: A Therapeutic Experience

One significant event that prompted us to conduct a learning team was a process safety incident we experienced last year. We decided to compare the outcomes of a traditional analysis tool with the insights gained from the learning team. The value of the latter was profound. The conversations that unfolded during the learning team sessions acted as a form of therapy, helping our team members heal and grow. The language used and the emphasis on learning, rather than blame, facilitated a positive environment for constructive discussions.

Enriching Technical Incident Analysis: Complementary Perspectives

Contrary to misconceptions, learning teams complemented technical incident analyses rather than replacing them. We recognized that understanding failure mechanisms and conducting technical reviews remained essential. However, learning teams provided a broader perspective by uncovering contributing factors, constraints, and contextual insights that were often overlooked. This experiment validated the applicability of learning teams to technical incidents and showcased the power of collaboration and shared ownership.

Empowering the Frontline: Ownership and Continuous Improvement

The most significant outcome of learning teams was the empowerment of our frontline employees. Through learning teams, supervisors and practitioners took center stage, sharing their insights, findings, and recommendations. This shift in ownership and authority amplified the impact of the outcomes and fostered a culture of continuous improvement.


In conclusion, my journey with learning teams exemplifies the transformative power of embracing new approaches to operational excellence. Learning teams serve as catalysts for positive change, offering organizations an opportunity to uncover hidden insights, strengthen teamwork, and elevate performance. By recognizing the value of diverse perspectives and embracing the messiness of improvement processes, organizations can forge a path towards excellence and innovation. I am excited to see how learning teams will continue to shape the future of our organization and inspire others to embrace this powerful tool for improvement.