Repetition Lesson 101.

Close to forty years ago on the first day of class, “Repetition is the key to learning.” was noisily written across the blackboard in white chalk by my high school biology teacher, Mr. Clark.

It’s the phrase that has stuck with me since.

He emphasized these six words throughout his class. At least once a week, and certainly before tests or quizzes we heard it again. And you know what?

It’s true.

You don’t learn much by doing something once. Complete the same task hundreds or thousands of times? That’s when you get good. Information sinks in. Muscle memory grows.

Things become second nature.

Mr. Clark’s guidance set his students up for success by pointing out that you need to constantly review the material for your brain to absorb the information. As a teacher, he can only present the material in a fun and engaging way.

It’s up to the students to do the work learning. That’s why the repetition idea was constantly driven home.

Ironically, to teach that repetition is the key to learning, Mr. Clark just repeated that phrase all the time. This many years later, I might not remember much about cytoplasm, but I certainly remember his teaching style.

This article is aimed at giving you a guided tour to set your shop up for success by outlining a plan on building a learning culture. Based on, you guessed it, repeating tasks.

I promise it won’t hurt your brain.

Repetition in Learning

With anything, there are four phases in a learning cycle:

Anxiety, Learning, Comfort, & Teaching.

Think about the employees in your shop.

Have you completed a skills inventory for your crew? This is simply listing all of the key tasks that each department uses, and grading your area employees on their mastery of that task.

When you identify the gaps in your crew’s expertise, it is easier to work out a plan to fill the holes.

What’s needed?


Beginners live here. Eyes are wide and palms are sweaty.

For a good many, the fear of failure prevents the learning journey from even starting. The debris of “What if’s” clog the brain.

“What if I make a mistake?”, is a strong driver to never start doing anything new.

For learning in your shop, are you tamping down that anxiety curve by creating a safe zone for people to acquire new skills?

This means that they are allowed to make mistakes. To go slow. Do-overs are always ok.

When they meekly ask, “Can you show me that again?” they don’t get a lecture or a joke pointed their way, they get another patient lesson.

Hint: You have to emphasize this point with your managers in your shop. Unbelievably, they are usually the last to understand how to teach well. They may need some coaching to make them into better teachers.

Just curious…are you providing that? And, by the way, the “I’m sure they are doing fine” management style doesn’t count.

Leadership matters.

No Negativity Allowed

People won’t ask for help if they are constantly being yelled at or made to be the punchline of a comment.

Instead, you’ll just have a quality control problem that won’t go away as your shop’s learning culture will be stagnant. Worse, the morale challenge will float through your shop like a depressing black cloud.

Don’t shut your learning down by amping up the anxiety.

You want calm.


It has been said that “A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.” That’s a lot of repetition.

It doesn’t happen though if people are too scared to lace up their shoes.

Help them out!

Paint the picture and verbalize how the training will go, what they will learn, and what the benefits will be. Talk about the problems they are going to encounter. Tell them that there will be mistakes and that it is part of the process of learning. Make sure they understand that they can ask questions, even if they asked that same one yesterday. It’s ok.

Be patient.


Here’s the stage where the magic happens. How awesome is it when someone doesn’t comprehend a subject at first, but then they start to grasp the concepts?

Things click into place.

Instead of only having one trained production operator, artist or salesperson, now you have two or three. And, you are still growing more.

Sure, they are fumbling around a bit, but they are learning. We were all newbies once.

Can you remember that far back?

What is going to fuel the education is the encouragement from your leadership team, staff, and even customers.

All the while your learners are knocking out the repetitions necessary to train. Remember, abysmally slow is better than zero.

Speed comes with practice.

The most important things to emphasize at this stage are quality and technique. Get them to understand the “why” regarding the steps needed for success.

For example, don’t just talk about squeegee durometer numbers, demonstrate how a 60 bends more easily than a 90. Let them flex it with their fingers or hands. Show them how a lower number pushes more ink through the screen but doesn’t work so well with detail.

Then, add in more downforce pressure to the squeegee. What happens? Demonstrate how to print when you sheer the ink through the screen and down onto the shirt with as little pressure as possible. What do you need to do that? How does screen tension help?

There should be a lot of interaction here. Good questions and solid answers.

“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?”

Practice, practice, practice.

A good teacher helps too.

Cross Training Is Critical Too!

Don’t forget, you might have some folks that have been with you for years. They need to learn too!

Take that embroidery operator and teach them to screen-print and vice-versa. Get the customer service rep experience checking in goods in receiving. Have your production managers all learn to ship or learn to burn screens. Artists learn to run the DTG printer or heat press. Your receptionist learns to invoice customers. Sales staff learn to set up and register jobs on a press. Press operators learn to mix ink and match a Pantone color.

Will your staff balk at that idea?


But here’s what you tell them: “You don’t get paid by the hour, you get paid by the value you bring to the hour.”

This training is an on-going, planned exercise. Nobody is exempt.

When everyone is learning something new, with repetition doing the tasks, the culture of your company will shift.

One of my absolute favorite things has always been getting people trained in skills that they didn’t think they could acquire. Then over time, some people will actually end up being better with the new skill than what they were originally hired to do in the first place.

On the other hand, the people that don’t want to learn or are incapable of adjusting will stick out like a sore thumb. This is the zero-growth employee you might consider replacing.

That’s how you get to the next level.

Evaluate your staff and raise the bar on performance expectations.


Comfort is the attainable goal. In comfort, you have speed. Quality too.

Your newly trained staff has achieved so many repetitions with the skill that it becomes almost second nature to them. They know exactly what to do, and have the muscle memory programmed into their job.

This won’t happen the first time out. Or the second.

To get to comfort, people need time in the driver’s seat doing the task. It’s the repetition that makes this happen.

So, if you have a cross training program set up with an end date and then the person never gets to perform that skill again, they won’t have comfort.

They will have the basic knowledge but will still fumble around a bit if seven months later they have to pitch in. That might be ok. But maybe not too.

Comfort is achieved through constantly doing the task. Don’t forget that after the cross training is over, cycle in some time to keep doing the skill. This keeps the knowledge fresh.

We’re All Still Learning

People still learn at the comfort level too. Comfort in the task allows for thinking a few moves ahead.

When you are comfortable with the information you can suggest things for improvement. You know what’s needed.

This is why owners or managers that don’t have a comfortable grasp on the day-to-day shop operations make so many wrong moves. They simply don’t have the comprehension that well-seasoned staff members with skills possess.

For this reason, it’s imperative that they ask questions and truly listen to their skilled staff.

You can’t make effective decisions by ruling from the corner office without knowing what’s going on.


This is the ultimate level.

It means you possess the skill at such a high level that you can teach others. Like the comfort level too, it also means you are constantly learning.

You know what you don’t know.

Also, when you teach others you will discover new things about the subject or even remember some basic points that will help you. It is amazing.

I’ve found that really good teachers often make the best managers. Looking to build your leadership bench strength? Identify the best coaches for your team.

There Are Only Four Things To Remember

With teaching tasks in your shop, there are only a few things to remember:

  • Tell them what they are going to learn
  • Show them how to do it.
  • Let them do it.
  • Review the results. Repeat.

Another great tip is to break down any task into the 10-20 key steps it takes to do it well. Create this document and have your team review it for accuracy. This becomes your shop “way” of doing any task in the building.

It’s your standard.

This is what your staff will use to teach others, but it also becomes a handy guide for learners to use if they get stuck along the way.

As I mentioned before, it is crucial that your teachers in your shop are given the expectations on “how” they are coaching the material. Not everyone is a born teacher, so sometimes this can become a problem. Paint the picture for your coaching team on patience, delivery, testing, humor and other pertinent details.

Get the Party Started

To move the needle in your shop with building a learning culture, you simply just have to get started. That’s usually the hardest part.

Want to learn more? Watch this video: 5 Point Plan for Better Trained Shop Employees

The Rule of Three and Why It Matters

Do you have at least three people competent in every key task in your shop?

What’s lacking?

Identify and match the people with the core skills you need to satisfy the Rule of Three.

For each person, scrutinize the skills that they possess currently, but also imagine the skills they could develop. Where do they fall on the Anxiety, Learning, Comfort and Teaching traits outlined above?

Assess your team and elevate their skill set. Set training goals and work out a plan to achieve them. That skills inventory assessment really works.

You can do it!


“I hated every minute of training, but I said, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.” – Muhammad Ali

“Excellence is an art won by training and habituation. We do not act rightly because we have virtue or excellence, but we rather have those because we have acted rightly. We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then is not an act, but a habit.” – Aristotle

“Training is everything. The peach was once a bitter almond; cauliflower is nothing but cabbage with a college education.” – Mark Twain

“We do not rise to our level of expectations. We fall to the level of our training.” – Archilochus