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Applying the 4Cs Map to Enhancing Team Performance


“The illiterate of the 21st century will not be those who cannot read and write, but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.” - Alvin Toffler

Agile beyond IT

While Agile has been gaining momentum for more than a decade now, it still predominantly focused on IT projects. This is no surprise since Agile originated in the Software development domain. Agile emphasizes how we build products faster and with better quality however approaches such as the Lean Startup have emerged to address what should we build to begin with. Also, organizations such as ICAgile led by Dr. Ahmed Sidky (aka Dr. Agile) is leading this evolution as it continues to collaborate with Agile leaders across the globe to build a roadmap in disciplines other than IT.

I have always thought of agile as a map to help us get where we need to go quickly and reliably but if we don’t know where we are going to begin with, then it will be like running on a treadmill, you can increase the speed all you want but that won’t get you anywhere. So, whether you are looking to answer the question of ‘Are we building the right thing? or ‘Are we building the thing right?’, it comes down to building frequent feedback loops into the process. Frequent Feedback Loops are basically ways to accelerate the learning so that we can learn to unlearn and relearn on a regular basis as quickly as possible.

I recently delivered a number of sessions about Agile in the area of education. As I tried to draw parallels between developing products and education, I came to realize that the key is identifying the feedback loops needed to accelerate the learning process. 

Accelerating the learning process

Last year I attended Sharon Bowman’s 3-day ‘Training from the Back of the Room - Train the Trainer’ Workshop. It was one of the driving force behind introducing me to Accelerated learning. It changed the way I understand how we learn as adults and gave me much to think about when designing training not only for adults but also for children. Apparently the way we learn as human beings is the same regardless of the age and background. I am referring to some of the concepts of how the brain learns.

As I spent 3 days learning about countless concepts and techniques that are based on brain science, a thought in the back of my mind kept haunting me. It was about how can I take this not only for developing training but apply it to enhancing team performance. You see, no two learning groups are the same as Sharon would say and by extension no two teams are the same. This is why I cringe at the idea of enforcing standard practices across different learning groups as well as teams but that is a topic for another article!

Traditional learning has many parallels with the traditional way of doing work where you have to do all the planning for the course you are trying to deliver up front and then lecture your learners to death until you think they got it (Big assumption). It is the same way of building your project plan or all the work you anticipate to do up front. The concept of ‘plan the work and work the plan’. Ok, I admit that the thought of traditional vs. agile to me has moved beyond software development into education and other areas. I am especially concerned with the idea of trying to teach students everything they need to know early in their life from the time they enter school to the time they graduate from college. Only then they are hit with the reality that what they learned may be somewhat obsolete. Well, not only do they spend about 16 years of their early life learning, not only they spend that much time learning about things that could become obsolete by the time they graduate but they also learn about things that they will never use in their lifetime. It is the gold plating version of project management, only applied to human beings not a system.

The Accelerated Learning Manifesto

I have to say that each discipline or area of practice should develop a manifesto that align with their own values and principles. Inspired by the Agile manifesto, Sharon created the Accelerated learning manifesto which states:

  • Individuals and interactions over Traditional methods of instructions
  • Working brain-based strategies over adult learning theory
  • Learner collaboration over Rigid training design
  • Responding to change over Following a plan

Image Credit: Sharon Bowman

While the first and fourth value are the same as the ones in the Agile manifesto, the second and third values are different since they are addressing the instructional design and accelerated learning domain.

The 4Cs Map: A Brain-Based Instructional Design Model

So, I came to the conclusion that the hard work of whether it is developing a product, service or building a business is not the process in and of itself, it is the learning part and not only the learning but the ability to see clearly how the learners retain the information they were taught. Learners retention is key so that not only they can learn from the mistakes but not repeat the same mistakes. Henrik Kniberg, an Agile and Lean coach says it best in one of his articles when he said, “The only real failure is the failure to learn from failure”.
So, how can we accelerate learning and ensure that we retain what we learned? This leads us to the 4Cs Map which is a brain-based instructional design model that also apply to enhancing team performance. The 4Cs stand for Connections, Concept, Concrete Practice and Conclusion.

C1 -Connections

The first assumption that this model tries to tackle is that learners come with a clean slate. While this may be true about the topic introduced to them in the sense that they may be new or unfamiliar with the topic, they most likely can and need to make connections to:


  1. What they already know or think they know about the topic,
  2. What they will learn or want to learn,
  3. More importantly they need to feel comfortable with each other as a learning group,
  4. As well as the instructor or trainer who is offering the training.

One technique that could be used here is to do a standing survey. Have signs posted on different sides of the wall that reads, for example, “Know a little about the topic on the left, Know a great deal about the topic on the right”. Ask each participant to stand by the sign based on what they know about the topic. Finally, ask each participant to pair up with someone from the opposite group to be their learning partner throughout the class. Be ready to have each pair report back to the group at regular segments of the class.

This translates well when starting a new team or resetting an existing team. The team needs to establish connections to the purpose of the initiative they are embarking on, with each other (know about each others’ background, experience and what each of them bring to the table). Being comfortable with each other as a team is the concept of safety, a concept I learned about from fellow agilist Amr Elssamadisy. This is also the psychological space as Dan Mezick refers to it in his book the Culture Game.

This is needed for team members to share their concerns and exchange ideas. Also, the team members need to connect with the servant leader of the team be it the project manager, the scrum master or the agile coach.

Just like we did a standing survey at the class example. We could use the same technique to align the team on the objectives of an initiative. For instance, post a sign with the objectives, a sign to the right of the objectives that reads, “I understand the objectives of this initiative” and another sign to the left of the objectives that reads “I need more clarification on the objectives of this initiative”. Ask the team to stand by the sign that is more aligned with how they feel. Finally, ask each team member to pair up with someone from the opposite group and explain their understanding of the objectives of the initiative. This is then reported to the whole group and validated with the vision team until a shared understanding is reached. This understanding is visited at regular intervals to ensure that the team is meeting the objectives.

C2 -Concepts

The second assumption to address is conveying information to learners by showing powerpoint slides will help learners grasp the concepts being taught. We don’t need to go far to test this assumption, just think about the last time you enjoyed sitting through a class watching powerpoint slides flashing by and most importantly what you took away.

Learners take in new information in multisensory ways: hearing, seeing, discussing, writing, reflecting, imagining, and participating in short, quick review activities.

One of the techniques used here is pair and share. Learners pair up and share what they know about the topic. This is then shared with the rest of the group so that learning is validated by the group as well as the trainer who chimes in to correct any inaccurate information.

This also translates to how the agile teams plan their work. The team in collaboration with the business representatives or Value teams as introduced by Dr. Sidky, come up with the features needed to align with the vision (objectives) of the initiative, they break down the vision into smaller chunks of work or slices of value.
Those slices of value are recorded on index cards (hearing, seeing, discussing and writing) and then laid out for the whole team to review and discuss what it entails to deliver each of them (imagining). As the team starts to work together, they meet on a daily basis to check on how the work is progressing (participating in short, quick review activities) and by the end of the timebox they established, they go over how things went and what can be improved in a retrospective (reflecting).

C3 -Concrete Practice

When you think of acquiring knowledge instantly and applying it right away, the matrix movie comes to mind where you download the knowledge and skill of doing something new into your brain and you are good to go. Unfortunately, in real life things work differently. There is usually a gap between understanding a new concept (acquiring knowledge) and applying this knowledge (practice). To understand the level of mastery, check the concept of Shu Ha Ri. The idea here as we mentioned in the beginning of this article is to identify feedback loops so that we can accelerate the learning process. So, now that we taught the concept it needs to be applied using concrete practice. This in turn reduces the gap between acquiring the knowledge and applying it. It also gives us an indication (feedback loop) that the learner understood the concept. In this step, learners actively practice a skill using the new information, participate in an active review of what they have learned, or teach the skill or new information to others.

One technique that is used here is teach backs. After the concept is learned and shared with the participants, they spend time teaching each other what they learned. This reinforces the learning for the participants and help them better retain the information. Sharon Bowman summarizes this as, “when we teach, we learn; when we learn, we teach”. It’s a natural cycle of human learning that affects every moment of our lives, because the human brain cannot help but learn, she continues.

Let’s assume the team decided to use SCRUM. Getting the team to understand the framework may involve training (acquiring the knowledge) but the learning does not take place until the team starts practicing SCRUM by doing it on the project.

Team members not only learn by doing but also by teaching others. One of the practices in software development in agile based on extreme programming (XP) is pair programming. In this practice, two developers work together at one workstation to write code. One of them writes code while the other observes then they switch roles frequently. This doesn’t only help in catching errors earlier but also help accelerate the learning across the team.

C4 -Conclusions

The most challenging part of training is retention. How do we find out if learners retained the information they were taught? This is where the conclusion comes in as an important and critical step.

In this step, learners summarize what they have learned, evaluate it, celebrate it, and create action plans for how they plan to use it after the class is over.

One of the techniques used here is learning logs. This is a written summary of what participants learned and how they plan to use it. Writing is an important aspect of retaining information and taking notes in an organized fashion as well as explaining to others what was written make information easier to retrieve.

Agile principle #12 states that: “At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly”. This is similar to one of the most important meetings agile teams do which is the retrospective. Notice how learners need to create an action plan for how they will implement the knowledge they acquire. Similarly, an output of a retrospective is a list of action items that the team plans to use for the next iteration.

In summary, becoming a high performing team requires continuous learning which is key to not only being agile but staying agile. As we explore ways to enhance team performance, we need to look beyond continuous learning and explore ways to accelerate the learning applying learning models like the 4Cs map of Connections, Concepts, Concrete Practice and Conclusions. The ultimate goal is to reduce the cycle time between acquiring knowledge and practicing it. The 4Cs is one of the tools to help do just that.

For more information about the 4Cs techniques and other accelerated learning concepts, visit

About the Author

Salah Elleithy is the Managing Consultant and Learning Facilitator for SparkAgility a training and consulting company with a focus on enabling agility and enhancing team performance. Salah has supported agile adoption initiatives in the Private and Public sectors as a Project Manager, Business Analyst and Agile Coach and Facilitator. He has a burning passion for enhancing team performance using a systematic approach based on The Lean Startup and Agile methodologies. He is also the organizer of Agile NOVA and has been a volunteer with a number of communities including PMI-Agile COP, Agile 2014 and ICAgile. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or follow him on twitter (@selleithy).

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