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Wednesday, November 11, 2009

"Skilled Incompetence"

"Skilled Incompetence" is a phrase coined by Chris Argyris, a business theorist who taught at Harvard and is known for his work in the area of "Learning Organizations". I was reading some of his ideas on this phrase in my favorite management book, "The Fifth Discipline" by Peter Senge. Senge is commenting about this during his comments about "the myth of the management team".

Skilled Incompetence, according to Argyris, is the consequence of "teams full of people who are incredibly proficient at keeping themselves from learning". This is in reference to business teams who keep from learning because it's not "safe". The thing is, this problem is often present in any organization, be it business, volunteer organizations, charities.

What's one the main reasons for skilled incompetence? It's the culture. It's a culture of knowing instead of a culture of learning. It's a culture of protectionism, ensuring each of the group members look good, instead of a culture where it's OK to disagree and to make mistakes in the search for the best way to operate.

How many times have you heard (or even thought, yourself) someone say, "I don't agree with that idea, but I'm not going to stick my neck out..."? How many times would you love to be able to say what you are thinking and be in a dialogue where you and your teammates are free from fear of challenging the status quo and are allowed the freedom to truly brainstorm and create?

As long as business is good, skilled incompetence doesn't necessarily show or, at least, seem to get in the way, too much. However, when there's crisis or chaos, teams like Senge speaks about often fall apart.

Have you ever seen or experienced Skilled Incompetence? What, if anything, has the organization done about it? What can be done to rid teams of this malady?

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