written by Joern Bock Chief Operating Officer
The art of observation – how we learn together
The art of observation – how we learn together
May 18, 2020 | Categories: News & Trends, Agility & Project Management
About the author Joern Bock Joern Bock Chief Operating Officer

The world will change ever faster in the future – sometimes even abruptly, as the current situation illustrates. Suddenly, remote teams are the “New Normal”. In my last article, “Working in times of Corona: Seize the opportunity, observe teams, learn from practical experience”, I asked you to observe your teams and learn from them. This learning does not work as it does in school. It takes place through perception, reflection and exchanging information within the team about what is observed. Learning also occurs through recognizing patterns and dealing with them. This is the only way to create knowledge within an organization, which can later be applied and help the organization to move forward. For this reason, we founded a Remote Learning Group at the beginning of the Corona crisis to observe the consequences of remote work and to gain valuable insights from this. 

AOE is not only a Learning Organization, but also an Agile Organization. This means that we can adapt quickly and flexibly to changes in the environment.  On the one hand, we are experiencing the current situation during the Corona crisis in the same way. On the other hand, AOE has always seen itself as an “On-Location Company”. We believe in the importance of face-to-face communication, in the social bonds of a group, in collaboration and mutual support. We have invested a lot of time and energy in creating the right environment for this in our offices. Now, we are in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, all employees are forced to work from home and we realize that our knowledge of well-designed work environments and meaningful organizational processes is no longer sufficient.

Joern Bock
Learning takes place through perception, reflection and exchanging information within the team about what is observed. It also occurs through recognizing patterns and dealing with them. This is the only way to create knowledge, which can help an organization to move forward.
Joern Bock
Chief Operating Officer
AOE

Fortunately, together with our friends from soul.com, we have long been traveling the path in transforming from a company to a community. An essential part of this transformation is the ability of an organization to learn, expand its knowledge, and apply it in a meaningful way. From soul.com we have learned that learning always begins with a “Learning Question”: What do I want to understand or what do I want to improve? This is why the Learning Question is of paramount importance to our organization. I would like to illustrate this with an example. Right at the beginning of the COVID-19 quarantine we asked “How much remote work is important for the future success of AOE?” An exciting field of observation and at the same time a excellent opportunity. However, is there really a learning process behind this question? We can’t observe today what will be a reality in many weeks’ time. The way the question is formulated does not invite us to explore, to observe. Rather, it will inevitably lead to a debate for or against remote work. And the co-learners will arm themselves with arguments for their own position rather than look at the situation with open eyes, curiosity and impartiality. However, we do not want to strengthen our own position, but instead learn new things, encounter surprises and sharpen our view for the undiscovered. The decisive factor here is to detach oneself completely from one's own interests. In this way, bias or prejudice take a back seat, one approaches topics with curiosity and the attitude of an explorer. A “Learning Question” must therefore be formulated in such a way that it invites exactly that. 

Often, however, one cannot formulate a Learning Question at the beginning of the learning process. Alternatively, one can only name topics that can be observed well and that indicate a creative tension. To identify these, we asked ourselves several questions: Where do we see potential for change and what advantage would we have if we could resolve this creative tension? Why is it important that we deal with this issue right now? Which energies could we release or what would happen if we had more knowledge about this field of observation? How could we use this knowledge in the future? In addition to the many organizational issues, for which solutions are of course also needed, the observation fields and the Learning Questions that follow represent the real potential for the further development of our organization.

Viewed in this manner, it is not important that one individual should arrive at a groundbreaking insight. The growth of a company or the development of social skills only comes about when a group learns together, observes together and exchanges its findings. Thus, knowledge then really becomes knowledge that is available to the entire organization and from which it can benefit and develop.

The correct Learning Question will give us room for creative, playful – as well as serious – and profound considerations. At the moment, however, we are still at the very beginning. We are in the middle of a learning journey about Remote Work that we cannot foresee or plan. With pleasure we will continue to take you along our “travels”. Stay tuned for the next stop on our journey…