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Summary

We need to be skilled to honestly assess how skilled we are.

If you find yourself working with people who believe they’re good at what they do, yet you think differently, then read on. Much has been written on the Dunning-Kruger Effect. As a brief recap, a rudimentary knowledge of a subject can lead to an inflated view of one’s knowledge on the subject.

A similar effect can also occur when people have amassed significant amounts of experience, but lack a wider frame of reference. For example, this happens when people have only been in one company and have been there for some time. We simply don’t know what we don’t know.

Adding to that when people are busy, not having much perceived time to pursue professional development opportunities, the appetite for learning can also be diminished.

So what can we do about this?

A rather effective way to address this is by inviting people to reflect on their proficiency based on active comparisons to role models, not necessarily only individuals but also companies, or communities.

The quickest progress can be made in raising the level of proficiency when people get curious about their own level of proficiency and then actively seek guidance.

In this episode, we’re covering trickier situations too, giving you many options to try out in order to support those whose perceived proficiency doesn’t yet match their actual proficiency.

Please enjoy this deep dive in mentoring and coaching approaches and let use know your experiences in the comments.


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Full Transcript

- "Hello, hello. 

This episode is all about competency and finding out how good we actually are. It has been quite a few times in the last few weeks and months that I got to work with people where there was a concern about the actual proficiency, the actual competency that was displayed, and I look forward to sharing some thoughts with you on where this comes from, how it is affecting the work that is happening, and what to do about it. 

So without further ado, let's get into it. 

Alrighty, welcome, welcome, welcome. This is Team Genius Live, episode nine. 


In this episode, it's all about competency. It's all about how we can ultimately break out of a pattern where we think we are at a certain level of competency but that is not necessarily so. 

There were several different studies done relating to this, and one of them is about driving, and if you were to rate yourself in terms of your driving proficiency, how good a driver actually are you? Then it turns out that more than half the people rate themselves as above-average drivers, significantly more in fact, and that is a statistical implausibility. It's just not possible that the majority of people are above-average drivers. I myself have considered myself to be a pretty decent driver, and then I had a few accidents, and that helped me to reset my appreciation of how good a driver am I, and ultimately helped me to adjust my driving, certain things that I've been messing up with, and I have been accident-free since then, but it took that time of drastic learning. 

Luckily, no one was ever really harmed in those accidents, it was always just the car, mine or the other driver's car, that had a bit of a bump, but still, it took that type of a drastic learning experience for me to work out that I am not as good of a driver as I thought I was, so now I'm driving more cautiously, and I'm also checking in with myself whether I'm in a good condition to drive, and if possible, then I ask somebody else to drive, most of the time my wife, who is actually a good driver, and much better than I am, certainly . But now, the the reason I mentioned this as an analog to what we're exploring is because it helps us hopefully relate to something that we have some sort of connection with. 

Most of you watching this may be driving or have driven a car before. But, of course, what's more interesting to us is the application of this type of concept to the world of work, to product development, service development, in the organizations that we're employed with or that we're engaged with. So where does this type of thinking come from? So it is very natural for us to, once we've reached a certain level of proficiency, to believe that we are good at what we're doing. There's this old progression, if you will, from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to unconscious competence to conscious competence, and that... We were not quite ready for that. I'm not quite sure why we went on there . So that, in itself, is a... I'm just gonna check to make sure that we don't have the same issue again. Okay, it should be fine. That is an aspect that also draws into what we're covering here. 


The other reason why this could be coming about is that we're stuck in an echo chamber.

We're in one organization, and it's particularly strong as a pattern when we are in just one organization. We have not seen anything else. We might have learned about how things are done, and the issue that comes with that is also reminding me of how I learned about product development when I was back in Austria, and there I went from customer services into marketing, and from marketing into product management, and in that transition, I learned from people whom I respected. They were my frame of reference. I learned the ropes from them, and I thought this is how it's supposed to be done. 

They made an impression on me as being very competent and successful at what they were doing, so I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, and this was basically how good it could be, or how good it should be, and only after over several years of trying it, I worked out that the issues with that way of working, for me it was 10 years before I worked out a significantly different way of developing products, and moving from one large organization in Austria to an even larger organization in the U.K., all still part of the same group with T-Mobile International, and then taking a few more steps of different contexts and learning how things are done differently. So when we're in one context and we are in a reinforcing cycle of inputs, that is where this pattern can be allowed to persist. 

Another thing is, depending on how we're practicing at the moment and how we're setting our goals and achieving our goals, we can once again reinforce that we are good at what we're doing, because the goals that we're setting we achieve most of the time, ergo, we must be good at what we are doing. So the systems that we're creating for ourselves are also creating feedback loops that let us know that what we're doing is useful, is productive, is helping us achieve our goals. So these are some of the examples of how we are creating this reinforcing feedback loop that tells us, consciously or subconsciously, that we are good at what we're doing.


And within this frame of reference, it could certainly be confirmed that, yes, we're good at what we're doing. 

However, this is where we then start to look at the frame of reference for our competency, because we are creating our own frame of reference, and we're staying within a certain frame of reference, so if that is all we know, and if that is all we seek, then as far as we are aware, we are creating this bubble, this echo chamber, and reinforcing that perception that we're good at what we're doing. And once we go outside of that and increase our frame of reference through different contexts, through other means that we'll go in shortly, it would still potentially be good, but that doesn't necessarily mean that it's great, or as good as it could be. 

So before we jump into what you could do about widening your frame of reference or helping other people that you're seeing who think they are really competent and great at what they are doing, and you know, because you have a different frame of reference, that it's not as great as it could be, what you could do to inspire more curiosity about how great they could be. So before we go there, let's think about the impact. So the impact of such an echo chamber or such a constructed feedback loop that reinforces the perception that these people are good, the impact is that, actually, they will continue to get the same type of results.


This type of thinking is often coupled with a lack of desire for continuous improvement also, because we're good the way that we are, there's no need to improve. 

So that means that it's, once again, another factor of this self-reinforcing pattern, of this feedback loop, of this echo chamber that exists there. So one of the impacts is that it's not getting better. Another impact is that the type of results will tend to remain the same. Another impact is that when unforeseen things happen, there will be very little resilience or preparedness to meet those new challenges that are out there. 

So those, especially how the world is going, things are continuously getting more challenging and more complex. They already have been for quite some time. It's just that not everybody really is taking time to think about how complex everything has gotten, and how interdependent everything has gotten over time. So it's quite important to work out with the people, and if you find yourself, perhaps, also being stuck in one of those bubbles, to consider what the impact is. The results that you're getting right now, if they are satisfactory, who knows how much better they could become if the frame of reference for the competency was widened and made more intricate with different perspectives of competency out there. So, usually, it not only affects resilience, but it also affects the level of results that you are achieving. And I think there is no need to look for more impacts because those two, on their own, are already quite significant, so that might, in their own right, provide some motivation, some stimulus, for thinking about what we could do to come out of this pattern. Now, coming out of this pattern can happen in various things. 

The reason I was inspired to cover this topic in this episode is because over the last few months, as I was getting more back into work after the initial impact of the global pandemic and needing to attend more to family, I had an opportunity to contact, or be in contact, with a few different organizations, and as I tend to invite, every type of training should always be opt-in because people who come tend to be more motivated to actually be engaged and to learn rather than just to be there because they have to be there, and that makes a more engaging and fulfilling experience for those who are participating. However, with that also comes, then, the likelihood that some certain people are not opting in because they think they are too busy to join the training.


However, the busyness tends to be a reason that they choose that is likely to be accepted, but is often coupled with, well, I don't really see what I could learn from there. 

This is something that I've been doing for years, so, ergo, it's not for me because I already know how to do that. And given the context, given the frame of reference and their perspective, I can appreciate how they could think that, but that is exactly what we're talking about here. Yes, they may have been practicing what they've been doing for quite some time. 

However, that doesn't mean that there's everything already at a superb level of mastery and proficiency done there. In fact, if coupled with the background that the current context, the current organization, is the only one that they know, it is likely that they don't really know everything that there could be about how to practice and be proficient in the current role. So while training initiatives, training opportunities, training workshops, should be opt-in, it is a possibility that the outcome will be that some of those people will opt out because of this. So what can we do about that? Well, prior to the training experience itself, we could do something smaller, because if the training is the first opportunity that they have about that, then they look at it and say, well, this is one day, or two days, or three days out of my schedule, or in virtual, it might be spread out into half days. Before that is coming, there could be a case for a Q&A about this upcoming training opportunity, and this Q&A would satisfy several purposes. 


One is to first of all draw real life challenges that the potential participants are considering, and one hour is easily justifiable, right? 

So what are some real life challenges that they are experiencing?And another one, and another key purpose of this type of Q&A beforehand is that they get the reassurance that this will be leveraging their real life challenges as scenarios in the actual training, which is always something that's really valuable, because then it makes it more practical, more applicable, more tangible. 

The other one is also to help to seed this concept of the frame of reference for competency. If you are, once again, with only one organization, and have practiced your craft there, maybe they are world leaders, but if they were world leaders, then they would invest in staying in the top X of their field, and that usually comes with ongoing, continuous improvement, ongoing learning and development, deliberate practice, and opportunities for continuous pursuit of mastery. So seeding the thoughts that what is coming in here is not the same that they've been practicing but something that is informed by someone who has had practice across contexts, across multiple organizations, even in the same industry where's there's a huge variance of proficiency is in itself a great idea because however good somebody thinks that they are today, how do they know how good they actually are? What do they compare that with? 

If they compare it to their own performance, great, but if they compared it to the performance of somebody of equal level of potential but backed by experience across organizations, contexts and fields, that is usually something where there is a lot more appreciation for nuance, for different options of doing things, and for different drives of really staying at the top of the field. So this upfront Q&A is something really good that from this learning, I am now recommending clients to build in. It's also an opportunity for the instructor, or a teacher, or a mentor, or a coach, to come in and introduce themselves to the potential participants, and already start forming a relationship and forming rapport. And I, for my part, will include that, even on a complimentary basis, beforehand, to make sure that we're actually really a good fit. So this helps both sides to make sure that what I have to offer is a good fit for what the organization is looking for, and what the participants are looking for. 


So that is one thing, if you are considering training with somebody, to explore that I think will be tremendously helpful. 

Another strategy for helping people to widen the frame of reference, and the influences, and the different perspectives within that frame of reference, and another option is to offer links to video content in their... A colleague of mine is doing Thursdays with TED, I think she calls it, where she sends out a relevant video from TED to the community of practice, and said, "hey, I found this video this week based on what we've been discussing recently. Have a look, maybe this is something for you." So this provides, again, something from outside of the current context and brings it into the current context of work and helps for people to consider what else it could be, from outside, in order to start thinking about, oh, maybe there's more to what we're used to that could be relevant for us. So that's an easy thing to do. 

Another one would be to find a selection of relevant podcasts, a selection of relevant meet-ups, all those things are available for free, and they tend to be with shorter timeframes that are available there, that you could also include like that. So, again, if that's something for you where you're thinking, actually, I've been so busy lately, and I've been focusing on all our internal things. I haven't had much time to really develop myself, but maybe there's something to this. Maybe there's another way. I've actually been struggling with this particular thing. Let me find out, maybe there's something else there. And I don't need to remind you of the search thing called Google where you can tap in the current challenge and find out what did come from there, which also is a very easy first step, okay? So podcasts, meet-ups, simply Googling the thing, there are many great blogs out there relevant to the wonderful work of product development and service development, and doing things this way. 


Something that will take a little bit more effort, well, compared to these, significantly more effort, is what is commonly referred to as communities of practice.

 So if you don't already have a community of practice in your organization, and you're not familiar with that, let me give you a little bit of a rundown. Community of practice is a community that is started by the people, for the people in a particular craft or practice. So in your organization, that might be a scrum master or a team development community of practice where all the practitioners in that craft, scrum masters, Agile coaches, et cetera, would come together, and there are some people who volunteer to take on the the production, creation, the ongoing work that's related to not only starting but also then running the community meetings. They tend to be every two to four weeks. In some organizations, I've seen them run weekly, should not be less than monthly, then there's not really enough momentum, but two weeks, three weeks, four weeks, something like that, would be quite useful. 

And the community should be run almost similar to a team, just with a fleeting, with a variable membership, if you will, a community will have its ebbs and flows like every human system does. If you want to learn more about this, then Emily Webber has written a book about it. It's about this thick. It really has a great starter for you, available to either get started with this or reinvigorate a community of practice that has lost a little bit of momentum or steam. It does require effort, but it's also hugely, hugely, hugely beneficial, and a great way for you to continue your mastery internally. So I mentioned the team-related one. There might be another one for engineering practices, another one for design, or whatever it might be, really relevant for you as an organization. And the one shout-out. 


The least successful communities of practice were those started and mandated by managers, so that is something that I would advise against. 

If you are a leader for an organization, and this has not come up in your organization, then you could simply share this concept with the others, and say, "hey, people, if this is something that you would like to start, feel free to go ahead. This will ultimately help you, and if it helps you, it will help the teams, and if it helps the teams, it will help the organization, so that is an investment in learning and development that I, as the leader of this organization, am perfectly happy with. Please feel free to start them, and if you want me to help you in some way, let me know how I can help. But you have my support in kicking this off." So this is a much better recipe for success than saying, "hey, I'm now going to start a community of practice for you, and you're all mandated to come." Those types of starts are correlated with lower success chances for communities of practice. Just a little side note in there.

So those are the key things that I think you could explore in order to increase the chance of people who currently think they're good but are not as good as they could be to widen their appreciation and gain curiosity about how good they could actually be. And with that, I have something else that I would like to share, very relevant to this. As you may or may not know, I am very grateful that I get to run courses, and I'm now also almost done with the accreditation process for one of my own, which is a systemic coaching for deep Agile coaching course, and that is going to be accredited by ICAgile to meet the objectives for the ICP-ACC, which is the ICAgile professional for Agile coaching. But those types of courses are a little bit more time intensive.

So mine, for example, is five half days, and comes with a significant budget investment that you may be super interested in, but the organization might not sign off on the budget, or you might not feel like you have the time to go onto one of these bigger things, although I do hope I get to see you in one of these courses at some point, but what I'm talking about today is something that can support you every single month in your pursuit of mastery, and I call it the Monthly Learning Club. It's not quite ready for launch yet, but essentially, it's gonna be two hours of live training every single month. It actually will go every four weeks is what I'm thinking about now, so depending on how the year goes, you would probably have 13 occurrences of this, two hours each, including practice and Q&A time. Coming with that is also, in case you cannot join the live cast, access to the last three months of the recordings from these sessions, plus, in addition to that, you also get invited to a monthly Ask Me Anything alumni video call. So this is the current high-level composition of this thing. It's time-friendly, it's budget-friendly, and I am working on launching this now. If you are interested, go to the URL for adding your name to the list, and that will be listed in the show notes below in order for you to click on very shortly. 

So check it out, and put your name on the list if it sounds like something that would really help you. A little bit of learning every month for continuous pursuit of practice and mastery is absolutely great for people to continue to improve their service to your team and organization, and to the people. So that's it for this time. I hope this was helpful for you. If that is the case, please kindly let me know with a Like. If you have any requests for topics for me to cover on future episodes, feel free to cover them in the comments, also. And once again, I would also like to invite those of you have wonderful stories to share about teams and organizations to join me on Team Genius Live for a conversation and share some of your key insights on what challenges you faced, and how you overcame them, and just similar to what we did in the last episode with Ben Maynard. Ben, once again, thank you for joining. It was a great conversation that we had there. 

So with that, I would like to thank you one more time for watching this video, and hope to see you in a future episode. So with that, I am tuning out. 

Thank you very much. All the best for the practice with your team."

==end of transcript==

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About the author 

Georg Fasching

A leadership team development specialist, International Coach Federation - Professional Certified Coach, with global product management experience since 2000, employing Agile & Lean since 2010, Georg Fasching guides leadership teams to delighting their clients, fulfil their people, and improve their prosperity.

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