Building Mastery within your Team in 3 Steps

Have you struggled to build the necessary level of mastery in your team to achieve your goals? In today’s workplace, we are all forced to do more with less. When a new hire is made, the soonest we can bring that person to mastery the better. But realistically, it takes years (I hear 10,000 hours is a rule of thumb) to create mastery in some occupations. 10,000 hours?! Ouch. That’s a lifetime at one company these days.

Is it possible to speed that journey? What can we do? Training, training, training, yes. But that isn’t enough. You can teach a budding artist about composition, perspective, and color, but even if the artist understands those concepts, it still takes years, if not decades of practice before that artist is a master. What I find fascinating is seeing a person working at that “master” level. What I see is creativity. The master is skilled at what they do, but way beyond that, the master brings a level of creativity to their work that simply can’t be taught in an outright sense.

Therein lies the challenge of moving a new employee forward. We only have so many seats on our bus. Often we simply can’t afford to hire additional people to build a foundation for two decades from now. We need that mastery now.

There seems to be an answer in mentoring – like the way a grandfather might encourage a child to fish or paint. The image of a grandparent is one that brings a level of patience and understanding in knowing the child must experience failure in order to learn and grow. One learns far more from failure than they do success. Mentoring allows for those failures to occur rather than prevent them. I still have a vivid memory seeing my 3 year old run his toy dump truck full speed down a concrete path only to stumble and land – skidding – on his bare knees. Maybe a hysterical amount of screaming might have gotten him to slow down, but what about next time? Ultimately as I watched him barreling forward I knew he had to experience what was going to happen. Despite watching that pain, I knew I had to let it happen for him to learn.

So here’s my three step plan which is currently working for me. I hope it helps you:

  1. Educate. Embrace the knowledge and skills that are in house. Tap into those resources in meaningful ways for training and educating your newer contributors. In my case I have “hash” sessions where the “masters” walk through a process map of the material in an engaging, question/hypothesizing manner. More on that in another post.
  2. Mentorship. Create ways to allow your newer contributors to experience as many failures as possible. This is where the learning happens. It’s only through their actual participation in the material where the ultimate learning is going to occur. But create an environment where it’s safe to fail. Nobody wants to let a customer down, so put up checks in place to protect your product.
  3. Repeat, encourage, and support. Repeat educating and mentoring. Encourage creative thinking and failures. Support the resource needs of the business and allow for the patience required; it may be quicker to point straight at the solution for a beginner, but that short circuits the learning.
Photo credit: Alex Rio Brazil

Photo credit: Alex Rio Brazil