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Training Your Teams

January 10, 2023

Organizations globally spend over $350 billion on training. However, according to a survey by McKinsey, just one in four believe the training they received measurably improved their performance.

In short, workplace training leaves a lot to be desired.

We work in a significantly more complex environment than ever before. Traditional IT roles are evolving into product innovation and process re-engineering roles. The old way of doing things — breaking down each project into a very specific set of tasks to build out an end-to-end stream of work — no longer suffices. And while leaders and managers may recognize this, they often expect people to navigate new ways of doing things, ways that look completely different from what they’ve been doing their entire careers, with the skills they already have.

The question becomes this: Is traditional function-based training still valuable when the environment employees are working in has changed so much and continues to change? If not, how do we train people the right way?

The value of training teams

In a world full of uncertainties, employee training becomes integral to building the organization's capability to work with uncertainty. The right approach empowers teams to problem-solve and innovate, to adapt to changing circumstances and meet rapidly shifting expectations.

Here are some of the benefits of training your teams to respond to uncertainties.

Training raises team confidence

Whether fresh out of university or two decades deep into their career, all employees have areas of weakness. There is always room for improvement, and a training program can raise any team member's skills to higher levels.

When teams develop more advanced skills, overall performance improves. In addition, training can give team members the confidence to back their expertise, step up, and take ownership of their work.

Training supports company growth

Improved performance raises the company’s bottom line, but that’s not the only way training can support company growth. Leaders within high-growth businesses can prioritize technical and soft skills that align with future workforce needs. When growth plans come to fruition, teams will already be equipped with the skills and understanding needed to continue operations and capitalize on new opportunities.

Training fosters employee satisfaction

A research project commissioned by Middlesex University for Work Based Learning found that 74 percent of the 4,300 workers surveyed believed they weren’t achieving their full potential because of a lack of training opportunities. Companies that invest in team training show their employees that they are valued and contribute to the broader success of the organization. This, in turn, increases job satisfaction and, ultimately, employee retention.

Three elements of team training

All businesses are people businesses, and investing in your people is key to delighting your customers and maintaining a competitive edge today, tomorrow, and for years to come. However, your approach is the crucial difference between a waste of time, money, and effort and a training program that delivers real, measurable benefits.

The right approach nurtures and develops not just individuals but teams from three distinct angles: skills, experience, and team consistency. Let’s discuss these elements in more detail and explore potential delivery methods.


Skill training focuses on the practical and technical knowledge required to complete job duties. Even in today’s fast-changing workplace, ignoring skills is a bad move. Front-end developers, project managers, database engineers, business analysts, architects, you name it — they all need the highest, most up-to-date skills possible to realize ideas and bring visions to life.

A skills matrix can be a useful tool in identifying gaps and weaknesses within your workplace and revealing where training resources could make the biggest impact. A skills matrix feeds into a broader skills audit that examines an employee’s capabilities in light of their role. Generally, they are performed as a self-guided survey, a one-on-one interview, or a paired collaborative discussion. Insights gained can then be used to pinpoint skills gaps, develop training needs, and shape personalized learning and development programs.

Skills matrices and audits do more than uncover areas where talent is lacking. They shed light on potential, allowing you to map a rough sketch of how your workforce might evolve over the short and long term.

Delivery methods:

  • Self-directed learning: This empowers employees to take control of their own learning. Goals might be set by the employee based on their on-the-job experience or by leaders who have created a skills matrix. Learning activities might include courses and reading.
  • Learning Management Systems: Employees work through training programs and guided learning journeys at their own pace.
  • Coaching and mentoring: Employees are paired with a more experienced team member, who coaches and mentors them. The employee might observe the mentor at work to better understand how they approach various problems and tasks.
  • Classroom training: Led by an instructor or facilitator, this real-time delivery method brings a group of people together in person or virtually.


Training that improves and develops an employee’s technical skills teaches them to do something in a predictable way. If X happens, and they respond with Y, the outcome will always be Z. However, reality is rarely predictable, and unless a team is adept at pivoting their ideas and approaches, they will struggle to perform. This is where experiential learning — also called problem-based or project-based learning — comes into play.

Experiential learning teaches teams to respond to uncertainties. It fosters soft skills like adaptability, communication, compromise, creative thinking, active listening, time management, critical thinking, and negotiation. It’s the magic sauce that allows teams to understand the foundational principles that help them solve problems and innovate.

The nature of Agile ensures experiential learning happens continuously, even automatically. Consider short iterations of work. Teams are making small changes and quickly validating them. They’re learning from rapid feedback. It’s a process that allows them to improve every day, and once teams are comfortable, they will run with it and grow faster than you could imagine. That in and of itself is something wonderful to witness.

This process can only unfold when there is a short feedback cycle and a sense of safety in making mistakes, and it’s a leader’s responsibility to nurture a culture that celebrates rather than scolds curiosity and experimentation.

In addition, leaders can introduce safety nets or environments that enable teams to learn by way of experimentation and practice new skills away from the lifeblood of their work. Learning Dojos and Hackathons are two examples:

  • Learning Dojos are dedicated learning environments that allow teams to explore their craft and master new skills. They are intensive and hands-on, like a supercharged incubator, and encourage teams to apply their new knowledge to problem-solving relevant to their current project.
  • Hackathons are concentrated design and development events that bring together programmers and other people involved in software development (interface and graphic designers, project managers, product managers, etc.) to collaborate on software projects. Highly motivating, fun, and full of energy, teams gain more experience with a new tool or technology, which they can leverage in a current or future product. In addition, teams typically develop new tools or automated processes, which can boost productivity back in the office.

Delivery methods:

  • Iterative hands-on practice: Within the context of Agile, an iterative approach to learning is essential for teams to access feedback fast, allowing them to learn as they work.
  • Role-playing and structured events: Learning Dojos, Hackathons, and similar formats allow teams to build soft and technical skills without sabotaging their real-world projects.

Team persistence

Teams that learn together perform together. It sounds simple, but it requires a significant shift in thinking. Instead of focusing only on uplifting and upskilling individuals, dedicate efforts to building up teams and improving their capability to work together. Adopt this mindset, and your organizational delivery capabilities will begin to change for the better.

So, why emphasize the importance of team persistence? Because the moment you break up a team is the moment you erase all previous experiential learning. This isn’t an assumption, but a proven phenomenon.

A study by University of Oxford professor David Upton in collaboration with software services firm Wipro examined more than 1,000 development projects involving 11,376 employees. Using personnel records, the researchers determined which employees had worked together before and to what extent they were familiar with each other. Then, they assessed the teams’ performances using metrics like the number of software defects in the products they created and whether they met deadlines and budgets.

The results revealed that familiarity leads to improved performance:

  • When familiarity increased by 50 percent, defects decreased by 19 percent.
  • When familiarity increased by 50 percent, deviations from budget decreased by 30 percent.
  • Familiarity was a more accurate predictor of performance than the team members’ or project managers’ individual experience.

So, consider how your training approach supports team persistence and enables team members to learn, grow, and develop as a unit.

Delivery methods:

  • Group training: Group training sessions allow teams to grasp new skills and technologies and work through the learning curve together.
  • Knowledge sharing forums: Employees can pass their knowledge and experience to others on their team through formal and informal knowledge sharing forums, like Lunch & Learns, centres of excellence, or discussion boards.

Who is responsible for team training?

Training is not always an isolated activity organized by one person or one department. Instead, effective training is embedded into everyday tasks and procedures. Within an agile workplace, everyone plays a role in the continuous and iterative learning process. Here’s how:

  • The organization is responsible for funding training activities, including access to resources, employee time, and other related expenses such as travel.
  • Leaders are responsible for building a culture that values learning. They introduce safety nets that empower team members to take risks and learn from their shortfallings without punishment.
  • Product Owners, who can be thought of as the CEO of a product, are responsible for building learning teams. They model learning and shape a work environment that promotes employee development through experimentation and knowledge sharing. They provide space to learn and ensure learning activities are applicable to the project’s success. They also want to see the results of learning initiatives.
  • The Scrum Master is responsible for the team’s mindset. They make sure that learning activities are a part of the Sprints and provide support to individual team members navigating the learning process. They also make the growth of the team visible over time.
  • Team members are responsible for engaging in learning activities and applying learnings to the project at hand. They are also tasked with the active prioritization of learning.

Effective training starts with a goal

Effective training incorporates all three elements listed above, but it is also purpose-driven and goal-oriented. So, start with the end in mind. Focus on the outcomes you hope to achieve. Consider why you are seeing the need to develop a certain capability. What results are you looking for? In six months or a year from now, what capabilities will your organization need?

Keeping these answers top of mind ensures training decisions — and talent decisions more broadly — are made for the right reasons, and not because it’s the flavor of the month or something you read on LinkedIn.

Training teams in an Agile context

Agile delivery methodologies empower teams to work in harmony with today’s uncertain market and rapidly evolving user expectations. It doesn’t fight against the unknown or the ambiguous but embraces the process of discovery and learning.

Your training approach must do the same thing. It cannot ignore the realities of the modern workforce by focusing solely on skill-building. While skills are important, training must also incorporate experiential learning while prioritizing collaboration and team consistency. It must examine the capabilities of groups rather than individuals and celebrate experimentation rather than punish mistakes. With these protections firmly in place, teams have the confidence to disrupt, innovate, and produce exceptional products that solve real-world problems.

If you are ready to move your organization to Agile and reshape your approach to training within this new context, we can help. Agile is a mindset, and a genuine agile transformation requires commitment and buy-in from every level of a company.

At IncrementOne, we develop tailored consulting and training strategies that propel your organization toward Agile success. To learn more, schedule an appointment today.

Interested in becoming a catalyst for positive change in your organization?