You may be familiar with the following model of task challenge and learning:
Comfort Zone: Tasks are easy and comfortable and pleasant–little learning occurs.
Challenge Zone: Tasks are complex enough to push the boundaries of one’s thinking and skills and maintain active engagement–lots of learning and growth occurs.
Panic Zone: Tasks are far beyond current abilities, anxiety and fear take over and people become overwhelmed and shut down–little learning occurs.
Students of educational psychology may recognize some parallels to the Zone of Proximal Development.
|I’ve seen several other names for each of the three levels:|
|Comfort Zone||Boredom Zone|
|Challenge Zone||Risk Zone, Stretch Zone, Learning Zone|
|Panic Zone||Chaos Zone, Danger Zone|
I’m a fan of this Comfort/Challenge/Panic model and frequently use it as an internal check on the things I’m doing. When I’m in my Comfort Zone too often, I seek tasks that push me more. When I’m in my Panic Zone, I seek support (and learn to avoid what got me there in the first place).
I was recently in a the first meeting of a yearlong conversation about race and diversity at my university. To start off, the facilitator led a necessary, but otherwise un-noteworthy chat about group norms (well within my Comfort Zone).
Then, she presented the comfort/challenge/panic model of learning (cool, but still not really pushing my thinking).
Then, she guided a jump into my Challenge Zone!
She linked the norms conversation with the comfort/challenge/panic model: “these group norms are what will keep us in the challenge zone as a group.”
Whoa. Mind blown.
We didn’t get to dig into this as the group, unfortunately (do we need a norm for when/how to “parking lot” ideas?), so I’d like to explore a bit more here, and get your thoughts.
The underlying theory seems to be that a group functions better and more learning occurs when people are in their Challenge Zones and that well-designed and well-implemented norms enable people to spend more time in their Challenge Zones.
This certainly seems plausible, but I have some more questions:
- Are well-designed and well-implemented norms necessary and sufficient to keep the group in its Challenge Zone?
- Is it necessary and sufficient for a group to be in its collective Challenge Zone in order to have optimal dialogue and optimal learning?
- How do personal Challenge Zones relate to group Challenge Zones? (Can a group be in its Challenge Zone while only some members are in their Challenge Zone? Is it possible for each of the group members to be in their own individual Challenge Zones, but the group as a whole is not?)
I’m curious to hear your thoughts on Q #1-3 above!
As an added twist, what happens if we replace “group” and “learning” with “team” and “performance?”