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Building Future Fit Teams: Using reflection as a team development tool

I love this quote by Eric Hoffer. It resonates with me because by harnessing the power of a reflective learning process we can embrace the future with confidence regardless of the uncertainty.
Although there is uncertainty about the extent of change we are facing and what skills need to be developed to embrace our future world of work, there is one thing we can be certain about. This certainty is that the key to our survival will be our ability to learn and unlearn quickly.

To learn with this agility means that we need to shift learning out of the classroom. Each one of us needs to own our own learning. As leaders we are responsible for directing our teams learning. We can do this through a process of Reflective Learning whereby we use our everyday work related and contextual experiences as the basis of our “learning material.”  As leaders we need to encourage our teams to focus on developing reflective learning processes to ensure a continuous cycle of experience; reflection; learning and unlearning. This builds a learning agility within our teams that will defiantly pay off in the near future.

This week I would like to delve into what it means to be an Agile Learner and how we can develop our own and our teams learning agility through implementing a reflective and reflexive learning process.

Let’s first look at what it means to be an Agile Learner?

The Agile Learner has the ability to adjust their behaviour in light of new information or changes. They have the ability to adopt new ways of doing things and try new things in response to changes in their environment. It is being able to work effectively in a dynamic and sometimes unstructured environment. (Adapted from:

What sets the agile learner apart from the rest is their ability to reflect on their experiences and make adjustments (learn) based on their reflection and apply what they have learned to new situations.

According to Vicki Swisher, senior director of intellectual property development at Korn Ferry and author of Becoming an Agile Leader.  “The agile learner enjoys and deals well with ambiguity and complexity and doesn’t accept the status quo. These are attributes needed in virtually every 21st century organization.”  However the concern here is that research undertaken by Korn Ferry shows that agile learners generally make up only 5% of employees. (in Pat Galagan

Although it seems disheartening that only 5% of employees are “natural” Agile learners, we know that this is a skill that can be developed through practice. Yet we should not underestimate the effort required as it involves having to unlearn some of our hardwired characteristics like openness, curiosity, and our ability to embrace change.

One way in which we can encourage our teams to become more learning Agile is through implementing a regular practice of Reflective learning.

A reflective learning process is underpinned by the belief that through reflection we are able to increase both the volume and quality of what we learn. We learn to think critically, we make meaning. Both are key to transformational learning.

A process of reflection encourages us to look at what worked or what didn’t and why. During this process we suspend judgement which enables us to consider ways in which we could apply what we have learned to other situations and what the consequences of those may be, how we could do better next time, what the outcome could have been had we chosen a different course of action etc.

It opens us up to the idea of experimentation and being change fit because we are less concerned with the outcome, instead choosing to focus on the process of learning.

There are many models for reflective learning. Some noteworthy ones include Kolb’s Learning Cycle, Gibb’s reflective cycle, and Bains 5R’s framework. One method that I am particularly fond of, as I have found that it yields great results for even the most learning resistant, is Johns’ model for structured reflection.

Johns’ Model for structured reflection is a great model to use when we are still new to the process of reflection. As we have seen with only 5% of our workforce being agile learners it would therefore be applicable to the majority of us.

This model encourages us to “Look In” and “Look Out” and focus on the learning as opposed to the outcome. Johns’ model puts forward a series of questions which leads the individual through reflective process. Each question can be asked several times in order to identify and reflect on the key learning outcomes.

The table below presents the series of questions you can work through and encourage your team to work through as they practice building their reflective learning capacity:

·         1) Write a description of the situation:
·         2) What issues seem significant
·         3) Aesthetics ·         A) What was I trying to achieve?
·         B) Why did I respond as I did?
·         C) What were the consequences for myself and others?
·         D) How were others feeling?
·         E) How did I know this?
4) Personal A) Why did I feel the way I did within this situation?
5) Ethics A) Did I act for the best?
6) What factors were influencing me?
7) What knowledge did or could have informed me?
·         8) Reflexivity A) How does this situation relate to previous experiences?
B) How could I have handled this better?
C) What would have been the consequences of alternative actions?
D) How do I feel now about the experience?
E) How can I support myself and others better in the future?

Encouraging your teams to engage in a reflective learning process allows them to develop their learning agility. Through this process they develop and refine their capacity and capability for continuous learning. They begin to own their learning, moving it out of the classroom into their everyday experience. Through this process we are able to transform the “Learned” into the “Learners” and equip ourselves to thrive now and in the future.

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  1. Rodene Dye Rodene Dye

    Thank you for an engaging and practical read Kerryn. Your article has clearly reminded us that reflective practice that is entrenched in an action learning process is a powerful means for both individuals and teams to adopt towards changing their thinking, behaviours and actions for improved and sustainede performance. The learned practice of being able to “hold up the mirror,” so to speak and once acquired through interventions such as coaching or learning spaces/partnerships becomes a powerful tool for individuals and organisations to flourish amidst constant change.

  2. Hi Rodene, thank you for taking the time to leave a comment. I fully agree with what you have said above.

  3. Syd Boston Syd Boston

    Hey Kerryn – thanks for the above!
    I would add that reflection gives us an opportunity to return to the learning points and to tackle the learning content critically, in 3 steps:
    • Returning to a learning experience or event.
    • Attending to our feelings about that experience.
    • Evaluating the experience.
    When learners are encouraged to complete these steps, remarkable things happen! They figure out what the new knowledge or skill means, how it relates to them, and how it can help (or hinder) them in the future. So the learning becomes their own! Reflection accelerates learning and makes the learning stick. And it’s the best chance you’ll have of encouraging learning to transfer to the workplace.

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