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Team-based learning reviewed


Title: Team-Based Learning
Author: Howard Hills
Publisher: Gower
Date: 2001
ISBN: 0 566 08364 7
Price: £42.50
Format: Hardback, 176 Pages

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This is a very thorough book, in that it seems to pick up a wide range of concepts that have relevance for teams and learning. This is a mixed blessing - on the one hand it means that there are many ideas but on the other hand I was not always sure if there was enough information to apply them.

For example, the author mentions Belbin's team roles, Tuckman's forming, storming, norming, performing (which he attributes to Belbin), Myers Briggs, Cattell's 16PF, SHOCS (copyright Holst Group), Verax (copyright Human Synergistics), various learning styles models, Situational Leadership, NLP and transactional analysis. Even left brain-right brain gets a mention. The amount of detail given for different concepts varies - for example, there are 9 pages for the 16 PF, although the layperson would not be able to administer this test - and less than a page about SHOCS, which presumably the reader would have to purchase to use.

There are also several models that have been created by the author, including:
FAME - a team needs feedback, achievement, motivation and expertise;
TRUST - team-based learning involves trust, respect, understanding (of personalities), spirit (as in team spirit) and teams (which seems to mean building relationships quickly and breaking them readily to move on);
PART - effective learning requires us to engage in the steps of planning, activity, review and theorize.

In addition to the mnemonics, the author proposes:

  • 4 stages of groups: razzmatazz (when everyone is excited); grousing; confusion and performing - these need situational leadership styles respectively of directing (which to me did not seem appropriate for an excited team), coaching (again, I wonder about this while they are grousing), supporting and delegating;
  • 4 categories of high performance behaviours of good leaders: clear objectives but flexible to events; non-hierarchical; inspires confidence; achievement oriented;
  • 2 barriers to team-based learning: Competition and Perfection;
  • 5 roles of the leader: Instructor, Enabler, Participant, Parent and Charismatic Leader - with the last two never being appropriate; a list of barriers to team based learning: competition; lack of openness; paternalistic approaches; distance (not meeting enough); reliance on opinions; silo working; task delegation (instead of sharing tasks); and lack of understanding of the learning process.
  • Although it is of course the title of the book, it took me a little while to get used to the notion that we were concentrating on team-based learning rather than team performance. ".... not all high-performing teams practise
    team-based learning; for the latter everyone acquires new skills and every task can be done by more than one person." and, in differentiating between good teams and teams that improve ".... the former may have one weakness
    but the latter share tasks and learn in the process."

    I was also a bit disappointed with the nature of the examples. These included the Scouts, a pit stop, a yacht race, fell running, Apollo 13, hill walking/orienteering and gardening. I am not convinced that lessons from
    activities such as these, where participants tend to be highly motivated to take part in the first place, can be applied to employees who come to work because they need to earn a living. I would have preferred something more
    business focused - the book sleeve says the author has experience in banking, defence research, aerospace, nuclear industries - and mentions projects in Lloyds TSB and Price Waterhouse Coopers.

    And my final quibble is that much of it reads as the author's opinion, rather than research-based information. The ideas may well work but there is little in the book to prove it. Yet one of the barriers to team-based learning listed by the author is "reliance on opinions". I would have like to see far more evidence of how the concepts have been tested in the real world of organisations.

    So, on balance, a book with lots of ideas that you can apply if you are already partly familiar with them, or a book that will stimulate you to go off and do a lot of learning as you explore further some of the concepts.

    Reviewed by Julie Hay, Chief Executive of training consultancy A.D. International.


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