Concept Attainment

Reaching a Shared Understanding

Concept Attainment - Reaching a Shared Understanding

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Develop a shared understanding.

"Concept Attainment" is a simple group learning technique that helps you achieve a consistent understanding of important concepts and ideas.

It is particularly powerful where team members' judgment plays a large role in how they respond or make decisions and where consistency is important across your teams. By discussing examples and individual attributes of the issue being discussed, you can help your team gain a deeper and unified understanding of the issues they face, so that they solve problems in a similar, effective way.

Examples of where this is useful are:

  • In a customer support team: helping understand service standards and service level definitions so that customers get a truly consistent, good service, whoever they talk to.
  • In a customer service team: defining "complaint escalation" so that important issues only are escalated to senior management.
  • In a sales team: understanding the company brand so that team members consistently "deliver the brand" as well as specific products to customers.
  • With wine tasters: defining "taste vocabulary" so that team members describe and grade wine consistently.


The concept attainment technique is based on the work of Jerome S. Bruner, Jacqueline J. Goodnow and George A. Austin, as published in their 1956 book, A Study of Thinking.

How to Use the Tool

Use the tool in small team meetings of up to, say, 8 people. Your role as the team leader is to introduce the concept or approach you want to explore, and guide people through a productive discussion, using the following steps:

1. Define the Concept

As team leader, bring to the team meeting well-thought-through, written definitions of the concept. Make sure that you collate any pre-existing definitions, such as those published in staff manuals, corporate communications and so on. Present the team with these as the starting point.

2. Explore the Concept

Within the team, discuss what the concept means and how it specifically applies to the team. Unravel specific...

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