A while ago I had the opportunity to work with a team where almost everyone was focused on the desire to learn. They were all sharing their ambition to grow and develop themselves, it was impressive.
However, while working with them things were less evident. Some of the active ingredients of learning were missing. There was little willingness to share ideas and opinions and when it came to reflecting on themselves, they were much more focused on others. The learning they had set out to do was about receiving instructions and information they could apply.
What was appearing was their anxiety to be found saying something wrong or found to be performing at a level below their ambition.
The ideas they shared were often quite general to avoid being pinpointed on details that might not be adequate. What they were trying to do, was to show as much rational competence as possible while seeking to avoid any risk of losing, that is found making an error.
When asked to define their next step, something they would take with them and work on, hardly any of the participants decided to take up an idea and implement it. That was true for the leader just as much as the team members. It was their way to stay in control of their future performance.
Whenever a bit of tension seemed to appear, the team was trying to shift away from negative feelings by highlighting how useful the information or experience was. In doing so, they were actively seeking to step into something positive while seeking to appear as rational as possible.
In essence, they were using an approach that was preventing them to step into the uncertainty of learning. An uncertainty that would have led to experiencing negative feelings of failure or being surpassed by others. And naturally, the existing uncertainty was establishing an anxiety to lose control of the situation, thus reinforcing the desire to stay in control and within their comfort zone.
In such a context, an open inquiry is almost impossible. Consequently learning is hard to achieve.