I'm currently working in a team where we consult eachother and divide work. The team works quite well in my opinion. What we don't do is make short minutes or action notes and so it happens that we rediscuss what was already decided earlier on (everyone forgot). Or someone doesn't do what was agreed (forgot). It's interesting: isn't ending a meeting with action points and write them down and follow them up a lesson we all know? So why don't we do it in this case?
I've also worked in Kenya together with CARE-International on a credit program for female enterpreneurs in a rice area. This was in 1989 or 1990, south of Kisumu. An important principle was that NGOs (non-governmental organisations) are not good in managing credit programs because not thinking in business models and NGO workers are seen by farmers as 'friends' and 'supporters'. A different role than credit officer. So the program was sub-contracted to a credit institute. In 2007 (17 years later!) I visited an NGO in Ghana. They had learnt a lesson from their credit program: that they are not good in recollecting the loans because they are seen by the farmers as an NGO. So they thought of sub-contracting to a credit institute. But the damage was already done.
These kind of observations (I could make a much longer list!) get me thinking about collective learning processes and how difficult they are. The first example shows that there is more to the practice of working together than 'knowing' how it should be done. Probably the group is forming and trying to find a way of working together effectively with as little energy input as necessary?
The second example I think shows how difficult it is to learn collectively within a sector. And maybe that reading about something is not enough- you have to make your own mistakes first. It's like everybody is entitled to his/her own learning process. And if you've read this blog for longer you know I believe in the power of communities and networks to support collective learning. But what is then a collective lesson learned?
I really like the work of Nancy Dixon around these issues. She wrote a blogpost about the value of lessons learned not too long ago. She defines lessons learned at the individual level: "something I learned through an experience I’ve had that will cause me to act differently in the future" She explains the power of reflection in, for instance, after action review processes to stimulate learning and ends with the phrase: "The greatest value of lessons learned is for those who took the action". So should we simply lower our ambitions and talk about collective lessons learned? How easily we say, let's collect the lessons learned with the idea that it will contribute to collective learning. But for a collective learning process much more may be needed like sustained exchange of practices over a longer period of time.