Small Team Learning: McDonald’s Jumps on Board

burgerIn the October 2012 issue of Chief Learning Officer, the article Super-Sized Learning caught my eye. Over the years, I have enjoyed reading about how McDonald’s continues to innovate around employee training under the “Hamburger University” (HU) name it coined in 1961.

The recent CLO article spotlights Chris Lyons who took over the worldwide learning and development function four years ago, after 35 years at the company.  His background in all aspects of the business made him a logical choice; HU continues to flourish under his leadership, according to the article.

What caught my attention is this: Even with a significant increase in the use of technology to deliver learning to employees around the world, Lyons affirmed that “…the core of learning remains with Hamburger University (which has) embarked on a redesign and a re-think of its in-person classroom experience.”

Redesigning the classroom

Lecture formats are passé. Today’s learning is increasingly collaborative and team-based, even to the point of rethinking the physical design of the classroom. According to Lyons, “…the company scrapped the traditional front and back of a conventional classroom. Desks morphed into tables with six seats around a large monitor, and each user at the table has the ability to plug in a laptop or other digital device as needed… three or four of these six-seat tables are interspersed throughout a room….”

Lyons goes on to say that the new classroom lets the instructor walk around more freely and interact with teams as they work on business case studies and simulations. “It’s really focused on that team interacting…and being able to work through business situations, business challenges together….. The team dynamic happens right there at the table.”  

Discovery learning’s unique power

Those of you familiar with Paradigm Learning’s discovery learning methodology know that our programs incorporate a number of key ways to create that “team dynamic” and engage learners—everything from stories, business models and game boards, to maps and guided facilitation. One of the most important techniques in our design arsenal is the use of small teams working together at stations or tables, usually as part of a larger group participating in similar exercises.

During our discovery learning sessions, learners interact with other learners, combining their knowledge and experience to achieve a goal. Small teams—generally two to six learners per team—explore, discuss, analyze, make decisions, challenge assumptions and accomplish other tasks. They actively learn from the experience as well as each other. This approach:

  • Protects learners in a safe environment (“I’m not alone in this activity”)
  • Encourages a feeling of personal accountability for their role within the team
  • Provides powerful peer reinforcement and feedback
  • Develops a stronger sense of overall commitment to the learning experience

The size of the team matters

McDonald’s appears to favor teams of six. This is often the team size we recommend for customized Discovery Map® experiences, where participants gather around a colorful, illustrated “map” and explore key organizational topics from multiple perspectives.

Our board games and simulations work best with even smaller teams. We recommend table teams of four for our flagship program, Zodiak®: The Game of Business Finance and Strategy. We caution facilitators—our own and those of client companies—that three learners can work, but five is too many. In teams of five, it’s easier for learners to disengage from taking part in the game and in making the decisions that are so vital to the learning experience.

Designing learning for teams

Bottom line: Small teams make for great learning, but there is no “one size fits all” formula. At Paradigm, we always design the learning from the ground up with the size of the team in mind.  In addition, we concurrently test the design and content to make sure the learning works from a team dynamic standpoint.

Let us know what you think about using teams in your corporate learning programs and your conclusions about the ideal size of those teams. 

Leave a Reply


one + = 5