What is a learning organization?
Most people working in modern companies, engaged in mental work, that is, creates, organizes and applies knowledge. To remain competitive in these conditions, it must become a learning organization. This term refers to an organization whose employees are constantly involved in the process of personal and collective learning and professional development, mastering and testing in practice different models of thinking and approaches to problem solving.
According to the report of the International Stanford Research Institute, training organizations have three main characteristics. First, they have clear goals, a vision of the future and value. Secondly, in such organizations, communication of employees with each other is strongly encouraged. Finally, thirdly, the activities of these organizations rely on system thinking – the ability to make up a general picture of the individual elements. Integrating ongoing learning into daily work is helped by a critical assessment of organizational practices and psychological attitudes that have become entrenched in the organization, as well as regular analysis of working procedures to improve their effectiveness.
“For a long time, the attempts to create learning organizations were like wandering in the dark, waiting for the right knowledge, skills and skills to appear.”
The methods and forms of work adopted in this or that company are determined by the peculiarities of the way of thinking and the actions of its personnel. Therefore, any changes need to start with a change in thinking. Having started thinking in a new way, employees will be able to develop a common vision of the situation and will interact more productively. Transformation of the way of thinking is an indispensable condition for the transformation of the company into a learning organization.
“For many, the experience of belonging to an outstanding team is the brightest and most full-blooded period of life.”
At the heart of the learning organization are two psychological factors. First, any person by nature has an interest in problem solving; it remains only profitable to use this inherent in all people’s desire for knowledge of the new. Secondly, work for a modern person is more than a way to make money. First of all, it should bring satisfaction.
The learning organization is distinguished by the fact that in its activities it uses five principles, or “disciplines,” the combination of which produces a synergistic effect:
“Systemic thinking begins with the fact that instead of linear links, we notice cycles of influence.”
System thinking. Like a living organism, business is a complex system, each element of which affects everyone else. Paying attention to individual elements, we cease to see the trees behind the trees. System thinking – the “fifth discipline” – allows you to combine all the “learning disciplines” into an ordered whole.
Personal improvement. It manifests itself in the constant striving of the individual to clarify his views and ideas, to develop tolerance for other people’s points of view, to an unbiased perception of reality. Striving for self-improvement is the foundation of personal and organizational development.
Analysis of intellectual models. Entrenched ideas about how reality is constructed need to be constantly and critically analysed, and conclusions from this analysis should be taken into account in the decision-making process.
Develop a common vision. Members should share common goals and values. To create a common vision for the team, it is not enough simple formulation of the mission of the company.
Team training. Successful teams become so because their members learn to act as a whole, and the combined intellectual potential of the group exceeds the potential of each of its participants.
“Often, to solve a difficult problem, it’s easy enough to see where the lever is located, and the minimal impact on it will ensure a lasting and significant improvement.”
To become a learning organization, the company and its employees must master all five disciplines. These disciplines are also important for creating conditions that stimulate interest in learning at the individual level. In an organization experiencing a difficult period, signs of trouble are usually visible long before the situation gets out of hand. However, managers and staff can simply ignore them because of the habit of a certain type of action. The following psychological attitudes and factors hampering collective learning exacerbate existing problems and prevent companies from realizing their potential:
“The key to success is the shift of consciousness: to see oneself not separately from the world, but in interrelation with it.”
The habit of answering only for their part of the work. Employees think solely about accomplishing their tasks, not being interested in how these tasks are related to other elements of the organization’s activities.
The belief that someone else is to blame. Faced with problems, employees often begin to blame others, rather than analysing how their own actions or company actions have led to these problems.
Concentration on individual events. Employees pay attention to underlying causes and most obvious factors, forgetting that problems usually arise because of gradually unfolding processes.
“A learning organization is a place of constant discoveries, where people know that they create the reality in which they live and act.”
To understand how limited thinking prevents collective work, the training “Beer game” helps. Players split into teams of manufacturers, distributors, retailers and wholesalers of beer and manage either production or warehouse stocks of beer. At one of the stages of the game, the demand for a separate brand of beer rises sharply, and after a while returns to the usual level. As a rule, to meet the demand, each of the teams, depending on their role, immediately increases the volume of orders or the volume of output, which subsequently leads to overstocking of warehouses and large losses. Under the terms of the game, the exchange of information between participants in the supply chain is not allowed, which leads to confusion and shifting the blame on each other.
At the end, the game is parsed. Participants are convinced that the consequences of decisions taken by each of them go far beyond the areas of their responsibility. They also see that the operation of the production and distribution system is cyclical, so instead of reacting to a particular event, one must learn to follow long-term trends.
“That is the main point of the learning organization, that it is constantly expanding its ability to create its own future.”
As can be seen from this example, a passive response leads to unexpected results, the negative consequences of which increase as a snowball. The way out of this situation will be the identification of long-term trends and “structural features of the system” that determine the choice of certain behavioral models. Only an understanding of these causes will allow us to find a fundamental solution to the problem.
“The increasingly persistent use of familiar solutions that only worsen the situation is a reliable symptom of a non-systematic approach.”
To think systematically, one must learn to see the whole behind separate elements. For this, it is necessary to perceive people not as extras who passively react to events, but as active participants in the process of creating reality. With respect to the organization, this means that management and staff should take care not only of immediate needs, but also of creating conditions for future activities.
Rearranging of thinking is helped by the realization that many situations are characterized by “dynamic complexity”. This means that the impact on some elements of the system can lead to an instantaneous effect, while others – to the delayed or cause certain consequences in one part of the system and completely different – in another. Examples of tasks characterized by dynamic complexity: establishing an equilibrium between sales growth and expansion of production capacities; determination of the optimal combination for the target market of a combination of price, quality, design and volume of supply.
“When problems arise in the family or in the organization, the master of system thinking automatically allocates deep structures that generate them, and not someone’s machinations or mistakes.”
Learn to notice the patterns and relationships that are most often hidden from the eyes. Begin to see the system in everything: this is the most important step to freeing unanticipated factors from power. Consider, for example, a chain of events that corresponds to the “growth limits” archetype. This archetype is manifested as follows: rapid growth triggers secondary processes, eventually limiting growth. Suppose a company is developing rapidly, giving each employee the opportunity for career advancement. But then comes the saturation of the market. The work of the company is bureaucratized, the working mood is evaporating, growth is slowing down.
“Systematicity teaches us that there is nothing external. You and the cause of your problems are parts of one system.
Such problems are not solved simply by increasing production. It is necessary to eliminate the constraints and determine where to put a “lever” – that is, to implement the minimal impact that can push to scale and sustainable changes. American engineer and inventor Buckminster Fuller compared such “levers” with transom plates – small plates in the stern of the boat or yacht, helping to quickly change the direction of the vessel.
The desire of employees for self-improvement is the basis for creating a learning organization. Constant work on oneself undoubtedly involves the development of skills and competence, but this is not limited to: it is necessary to develop an attitude toward one’s life as creative work.
“Thinking systematically, when trying to diagnose a deceased company, you need to find the signs of the archetypes that have appeared here.”
To do this, we need to constantly clarify what is important for us: this will help in determining the priorities and direction of the movement. Cultivate self-improvement must be both managers and ordinary employees, since an innovative approach to work opens new opportunities for everyone. In addition, personal improvement involves the ability to compare their vision of the future with a clear idea of the current. Improving, a person learns to combine rational knowledge and intuition to see any situation in its integrity.
“The Singapore police and its commissioner, along with other organizations, were involved in the movement to become a” learning country “that unfolded in Singapore more than 10 years ago.”
The analysis of the used intellectual models is another important element of training. These models determine how you view the world and, therefore, how you react to events. Your intellectual models are the totality of your values and ideological attitudes and stereotypes. If your assumptions about reality are wrong, then you are doomed to repeat mistakes. Therefore, before making decisions, you should critically approach your installations.
Shell executives did exactly this, having reconsidered their views on the future of the oil industry, when OPEC countries in the early 1970s imposed an oil embargo. As a result, the corporation granted its units operating in local markets more independence, while the rest of the industry’s giants continued to rely on strict centralization of management. Having abandoned the outdated notions of optimal forms of management and control, Shell more successfully coped with the problems that the industry was feverish at that time.
The overall vision of the organization should be positive and sincere to truly inspire employees. If employees share a common vision, they will no longer consider themselves working for a “certain” company: the company becomes “its own”. In order for a company to become a learning organization, its employees must share the aspiration for a common goal. Finally, a common vision creates the conditions for more effective teamwork.