Barriers to Team and Organzational Learning

Barriers to Team and Organizational Learning

Recent events have had me thinking about team and organizational learning… that is, effective learning and the barriers that exist that may prevent it. When thinking about the subject, and researching it, I have come to deduce that everything is, in one way or another, related to team dynamics and institutional culture.

In the medical field, additional aspects come in to play – different medical specialists are experts in their discipline, but what happens when they are expected to work and learn together as a team?

When teams “are truly learning, not only are they producing extraordinary results but the individual members are growing more rapidly than could have occurred otherwise” (Senge, 2006, p. 10).

Team or organizational learning is a collaborative effort, a shared endeavor, in which both the organization and its members thrive. However, as can be expected, there are several barriers that can thwart it.

Besides issues such as learning anxiety, a fixed mindset, and a lack of psychological safety – of which you can read about HERE – some common barriers to team or organizational learning are a lack of accountability, trust, or leadership; ineffective or nonexistent communication; and the inability to successfully problem-solve.

“There is in each of us a propensity to find someone or something outside ourselves to blame when things go wrong” (Senge, 2006, p. 19). It is almost human nature to not want to be wrong or at fault; oftentimes we misperceive problems as being externally caused, rather than accepting responsibility for our role.

Additionally, in regard to trust and leadership, a study by Green and Ruff (2005) found that attendings that “cultivated an atmosphere of collaborative learning and academic inquiry” boasted good team dynamics, while those “who assumed an authoritative style supposed residents’ inclination to seek answers to their questions” (p. 179).


Some valuable interventions to increase both team building and learning are having a clear, compelling shared goal(s), an “enabling” team design (to include adequate resources, information, and rewards), and team leader behaviors (such as coaching, mentoring, and direction setting) (Edmondson, 1999, p. 356).

Additionally, creating high-quality relationships based on these shared goals, shared knowledge, mutual respect, and being able to learn from failures allows for an overall understanding of interrelated roles, especially in a healthcare setting. This generates critical thinking and learning amongst team members where they can create modifications to their norms, policies, and objectives through their reflections (Carmelli, & Gittell, 2009).

To improve communication, members should be good listeners, pay attention to nonverbal communication (such as body language, eye contact, hand gestures, and tone of voice), be friendly, confident, and empathetic (Doyle, 2020). When faced with a problem, ask what is causing the problem and go through the problem-solving process as a team first, before bombarding it with “solutions.” Finally, setting the following expectations up front can prevent a number of issues from arising later on (Dougherty et al., 2018):

  • Accountability – to the team or organization and to yourself
  • Openness – to discuss, debate, and make decisions
  • Outcomes – come from contributions from all
  • Facilitate – use each individual’s talents to your team’s advantage
  • Feedback – offer and receive in a way that positively influences team learning and performance


Carmelli, A., & Gittell, J.H. (2009). High-quality relationships, psychological safety, and learning from failures in work organizations. Journal of Organizational Behavior, 30(6), 709. Retrieved from

Dougherty, R.W., Wyles, C.C., Pawlina, W., & Lachman, N. (2018). “The team is more than the sum of its parts”: Implementation of charters to improve team dynamics in an anatomy course. Asia Pacific Scholar, 3(1), 6-14. doi: 10.29060/TAPS.2018-3-1/OA1050

Doyle, A. (2020). Communication skills for workplace success. thebalancecareers. Retrieved from

Edmondson, A. (1999). Psychological safety and learning behavior in work teams. Administrative Science Quarterly, 44, 350-83. doi: 10.2307/2666999

Green, M.L., & Ruff, T.R. (2005). Why do residents fail to answer their clinical questions? A qualitative study of barriers to practicing evidence-based medicine. Academic Medicine, 80(2), 176-82. doi: 10.1097/00001888-200502000-00016

Senge, P.M. (2006). The fifth discipline: The art and practice of the learning organization (Rev. ed.). New York: Doubleday.

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