Imagine two kids on the playground, and they both dream of a career in the NBA. Both love basketball, are super motivated, and both decide they are going to practice for an hour every day to pursue their dream.
The first kid hits the playground every day to practice, leisurely dribbles and takes shots, and retrieves his own shots. If there are friends available, he plays a pick-up game. He never misses a day.
The second kid also practices every day, but he takes a different approach. A friend agrees to help him. He works on his dribbling, and works on shots from different parts of the court. His friend helps him retrieve balls and records which shots he makes and which ones he misses. Afterward, he talks with his friend on how he can improve.
At the end of six months, which of the two kids do you think will have improved more? Clearly, the second kid is much more likely to advance. In fact, the first kid may not improve much at all, despite the fact that the two spent the exact same amount of time practicing.
In their book “Peak – Secrets from the New Science of Expertise,” Anders Ericsson and Robert Pool introduce the concept of “deliberate practice,” a special type of practice conducted with the specific goal of improving performance.
Deliberate practice is done in four steps:
As you do repeat this pattern, you stretch a little each cycle, and thus you continuously improve. Ericsson and Pool have applied this training technique to elite athletes and musicians.
Can those of us that are not professional athletes or musicians use deliberate practice to improve our job performance? As business and technology leaders, can we use deliberate practice to build elite teams?
We absolutely can! Agile, iterative development frameworks such as Scrum provide a good base (at lucidLIFT, we’re building software that applies deliberate practice to software development teams). However, we can’t succeed without first making a few culture changes:
Deliberate practice can definitely improve team performance at work, and these are just a few ideas on how we can embrace it. I’d like to hear your thoughts. What have you done to improve results in your organization?