Learn and Lead by Doing

Posted by on Feb 21, 2012

So much of what I’ve learned at Sain over the years is what I’ve retained from teaching others.

My mother always said, “The teacher always learns the most,” and that’s the strategy we’re taking with a new workshop for our team leaders we started earlier this month.

We’ve done this style of learning at Sain over the years. We’ve also brought in outside speakers for training sessions and workshops.  This is an OK approach, but it tends to be expensive if you want a really good speaker.

The typical seminar may produce a post-seminar high – but there’s often not much execution on what we learned.  We’ve seen very little results in changed behavior over time from a one-time seminar.

Now, our results are increased dramatically when people have to take responsibility for their own learning and have to facilitate the learning, put it into practice and then report back on what they’ve done since the last workshop!

This method is less expensive, and you get much better long-term results. This is a key element in our efforts to grow our business while saving money.

As we increase the facilitation skills of our organization’s leaders, this directly translates into more effective project skills we can deliver to our clients. Our primary business is consulting, which really is like being a facilitator in getting the client’s project done.

In 2012, we’re doing six, four-hour workshops throughout the year. That gives us time to really build relationships with each other, work on problems, go in depth on issues and tackle a book study. Collective Excellence: Building Effective Teams is the book we’re using.  At our first meeting we also reviewed a classic Harvard Business Review article, “How to Choose a Leadership Pattern.”

These workshops are designed to address a specific need at Sain – the need to communicate and work in a horizontal structure.

We have found that it’s easy to think of teams vertically, but less easy to think horizontally.

For example, within our different market areas, such as site engineering, there’s a group of people who are a team with a typical hierarchical structure.  But there is also a horizontal structure of team leaders who  work with each other.  Working vertically and horizontally is critical as we strive to operate the company as efficiently as possible while providing excellent quality and service..

In our first workshop, we covered topics such as:

  • Defining what a team is, the hallmarks of high performing teams and what has to be present in order for a team to function well and do its job.
  • Decision making models within teams – (Hint: this doesn’t always have to be purely democratic!) Sometimes how you go about deciding things depends on the type of decision itself, the amount of time a group has to function and the comfort level of the leader in empowering the team to make decisions.
  • Leadership style — We have a natural inclination to think our leadership style stays the same no matter what group we’re working with. It’s often reflective of our own personality. But to be most effective, we need to adjust our style according to the group.

As we continue the workshops, each team leader will chair a session that will allow them to take on the facilitator role with the group. This dual learning environment makes us learn the content itself but we also have to use the skills we’re learning about.

Becky White is the Vice President/Organization Development at Sain Associates, Inc., headquartered in Birmingham, Alabama, with offices in Pulaski, Tennessee and Mandeville, Louisiana. Sain is a site engineering, traffic/transportation engineering and planning and land surveying firm with experience in more than thirty states.

1 Comment

  1. The Importance of Leadership in Professional Organizations |
    January 29, 2015

    […] lead discussions and facilitate sessions, which is important to us at Sain. We spend a lot of time learning and leading by doing, which may involve facilitating and leading internal meetings and work sessions, so having […]

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