Becoming a Learning Organisation: it’s the habits that count

I had a brief meeting this with several people from an organisation looking at how to help move the organisation into a future as a ‘learning organisation’.

I don’t think it is as clear cut as this: the group does have a significant history and has acheived some good things. They have some capacity to learn. They already have done a lot of learning – but it’s like now “How can we build for the future and improve our learning?” and in particular, the reason I was there: “What can some sort of virtual environment do for this?”

I said the electronic tools are only part of the question. It’s the habits of people that count.

So we ask: What do you do before you learn? What structures and disciplines can be put in place to build institutional habits?  Good questions.

Individual knowledge locked up in individuals is not enough. Some sort of shared disciplines are needed to benefit from this.  And how to manage the inward (personal learningO) focus, the outward service and keep the personal and corporate goals in balance.  I’ve tried to put a few of these thoughts in a simple diagram.  Not quite there yet, but here it is:

As well, in the current climate: knowing we can do it is also not enough.  Certification and meeting of standards is also an issue: this learning also needs to be formalised.  Somehow.

The Learning Organisation

From a search: About 473,000 results in Google – another 173,000 spelled with a z.

Senge ( has his definition of a learning organisation:

…organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.

Characteristics of a Learning organisation: (Senge)

  • Systems thinking
  • Personal mastery
  • Mental models
  • Building shared vision
  • Team learning

He sees people as agents, able to act upon the structures and systems of they are a part of. These characteristics are ‘concerned with a shift of mind from seeing parts to seeing wholes, from seeing people as helpless reactors to seeing them as active participants in shaping their reality, from reacting to the present to creating the future’ (Senge 1990, p69)

OK, so we note people AND systems

Another definition:

“an organization that facilitates the learning of all its members and consciously transforms itself and its context”

Referenced in

REF:  Senge, P.M. 1990. The Fifth Discipline. London: Century Business.  One of the many internet summaries of this work:

OK, what does all this practically mean?

After the Systems and the people, pay attention to Tools + Habits

Possibly some sort of online environment in the organisation with around collaboration, communities. Access to the formal qualifications needed. Gentle shepherding, facilitation of the learning communities.  Unfortunately, organisations have an appalling track record with choosing the right tools.

A little quote from blog post from How to start a small business

It seems that whenever there’s a new technology platform, learning organizations get so excited they end up forgetting the basics.    <snip>   As with any other training, you still must identify the purpose of the learning before developing a program so that purpose and design align.

“Our experience shows that when people complain about learning curve, [it’s] not a complaint about learning curve, but a complaint about instructional design,” said Alex Heiphetz, CEO of AHG Inc., which specializes in developing tools and simulations for training and education.”  (Emphasis added)

Making the change is hard. Not all of us have seen the tools really working, and then buy into something quickly.  And I agree with the quote from Alex.  Design has a lot to answer for in some products.

Where to now?

I guess my questions after the meeting are: How to clarify the return on investment? Demonstrate the advantages, and clarify a value proposition . . not simple, but definitely doable.

In some respects (from the point of view of management) it’s all about ‘Improving performance’. A need of management, central funding provider pressures and all that.

How then to then help management support the staff and let them, the staff, manage the learning they need to do the job.

One comment on “Becoming a Learning Organisation: it’s the habits that count
  1. Annas Wibowo says:

    Senge shows us that organizations react on the basis of how processes affect the whole – in both the long run and the short run. Without a deeper understanding of an organization’s culture and systemic conditions, there is a major risk that ‘development’, instead of working as planned, will prove self-defeating. Senge reflects a basically carefully considered humanistic perspective. His contributions also have great significance for our own thinking about strategies for renewal in organizations. But above all, his perspective is important for school improvement – not only because it explains why organizational learning is ‘required knowledge’ for the coming generation, but also because the institutions themselves have much to learn from Senge if they are going to realize these principles for a learning generation.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *