Learning Organization Essay
The evolution of “Organizational Learning” has started in 1938 when John Dewey, in his book “Experience and Education”, publicized the concept of experiential learning as an ongoing cycle of activity. But, how did this concept emerge? Or, what does it really mean for the businesses? In order to understand this, we have to analyze the problems and needs. The core idea behind “learning organization” is that organizations of all kinds will not survive, let alone thrive, if they do not acquire an ability to adapt continuously to an increasingly unpredictable future.
Or in other words, in order to survive and succeed for businesses, it is essential to establish or build stronger relationships with customers, where there are rapidly changing, turbulent and/or highly competitive market. Through learning, organizations may be better equipped to meet the challenges caused by continuous environmental turbulence. In addition, where products and processes can rapidly be copied, according to Arie de Geus, head of strategic planning department of Royal/Dutch Shell, the only real source of competitive advantage is to stimulate learning by employees.
This may allow these individuals to identify new ways of working more closely with customers, which in turn permits the organization to differentiate itself from competition. However, the style of learning has to reflect the operational needs of the organization. For instance, a manufacturer which has adopted a transactional marketing style would probably choose to operate in a relatively stable market, produce standard components and focus primarily on offering adequate quality goods at a competitive price.
In such circumstances, assuming that the organizational systems are based around repetition of routine procedures, the firm would probably be well advised to focus upon creating a single-loop learning environment as the most appropriate way fur sustaining employee development aimed at organizational efficiency. 2 On the other hand, in market situations where firms face periods of significant, discontinuous change and/or there is a desire to differentiate the firm from competition through the adoption of a relationship marketing style, then possibly an incremental, more adaptive learning style, which is called double-loop learning may be more appropriate, so to involve the exploitation of new knowledge to evolve new practices, perspectives and operational frameworks.
Figure 1: Single- vs. double-loop learning. II. DEFINITION OF LEARNING ORGANIZATIONS Keeping in mind what we have so far discussed, now let us check some definitions of the Learning Organizations.
Peter M. Senge, who is also named as the father of this concept, describes learning organizations as organizations where people can continuously expand their capacity to create results which they truly desire. In such organizations, new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, and collective aspiration is set free. Individuals learn to learn together. He declares “Deep down, we are all learners. It is not only our nature to learn, but we love to learn. “
Chris Argyris and Donald Schon defined the concept of learning organizations through the help of the definition of organizational learning: where the process of “detection and correction of errors” rules. 3 Moreover, how de Geus defined learning organizations is very remarkable: “Forget your tired old ideas about leadership. The most successful corporation of the 1990s will be something called a learning organization? The ability to learn faster than your competitors, may be the only sustainable competitive advantage. “
One last definition might be the one of Kim, D., “a learning organization is one that consciously manages its learning process through an inquiry-driven orientation among all its members”. III. FIVE DISCIPLINES OF SENGE I have already mentioned that Senge was called as the father of the concept of “Learning Organizations”. When he first published his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization in 1990, he caught a significant attention from academics and the business world. Peter M. Senge (1947- ) was named a ? Strategist of the Century’ by the Journal of Business Strategy, one of 24 men and women who have ?
had the greatest impact on the way we conduct business today’. Moreover, Senge has founded the Center for Organizational Learning at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1991 while he is also the founding chairperson of the “Society for Organizational Learning” (SoL) and a senior lecturer at MIT. Being maybe the most important, namely the person having the most influence in Learning Organizations I will study his so called five disciplines in my project.
4 3. 1 PERSONAL MASTERY 3. 1. 1 Introduction to Personal Mastery Senge says, “Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. Individual learning does not guarantee organizational learning. But without it no organizational learning occurs. ” The people are the main active force in every aspect of the business. Since, people have their own will and mind, and their own way of thinking; it is essential that they be sufficiently motivated to challenge the goals of growth and complexity. In today’s practices, the manager should not be willing to dominate controlling, planning and organizing the workers activities.
Instead they should be enabling the people in the business have their own enriching lives through establishing and maintaining the conditions needed. One should be living his own life from a creative viewpoint, so as to turn the life into a creative work. Personal Mastery is the phrase Senge and his colleagues use for the discipline of personal growth and learning. People with high levels of personal mastery are continually expanding their ability to create the results in life they truly seek. From their quest for continual learning comes the spirit of the learning organization. 3. 1. 1. 1 Mastery and Proficiency.
There are two main underlying movements when personal mastery becomes a discipline, one of which is always continually making clear what is important for oneself, whereas the other movement is to continually learn how to see the current reality more clearly. It is vital to know where you are now in moving toward a desired destination. People with a high level of personal mastery share several basic characteristics, one of which is that they have a special sense of purpose that lies behind their visions and goals. 5 For such a person, a vision is an aspiration rather than simply a good idea.
One other characteristic is that they live in a continual learning mode, where they never “arrive”. They know that personal mastery is not something one possesses, but is a process, a lifelong discipline. Those with a high level of personal mastery are acutely aware of their ignorance, their incompetence; and they know, or better to say truly believe that the journey itself is the reward. 3. 1. 1. 2 Why We Want It We want it because people with high levels of personal mastery are more committed, take more initiative, have a broader and deeper sense of responsibility in their work, and learn faster.
Kazou Inamori, founder and chairman emeritus of Kyocera Corporation and president of the Inamori Foundation, who holds a bachelor of sciences in applied chemistry, says that “Our employees agreed to live in a community in which they would not exploit each other, but rather help each other so that we may each live our life fully. ” 3. 1. 1. 3 Resistance One of the issues against the personal mastery is the resistance, which in turn is a valid fear for companies in which the managers couldn’t build a shared vision along with shared mental models.
It is useless to have personal mastery as solely without other disciplines of the organizational learning. That’s why we always have to keep in mind that personal mastery must go together with a shared vision and the other disciplines. 6 3. 1. 2 The Discipline of Personal Mastery 3. 1. 2. 1 Personal Vision Most adults have goals and objectives, but these are not visions. Thus, we can say that most have little sense of real vision. When asked what they want, many adults will say what they want to get rid of, as if they delineate themselves as given-ups, rather than grown-ups.
Senge points that “The ability to focus on ultimate intrinsic desires, not only on secondary goals, is a cornerstone of personal mastery. ” Vision is different from purpose, since purpose is similar to a direction, a general heading, whereas vision is a specific destination, a picture of a desired future. Vision is the image of your desired future. It shouldn’t be confused with competition; it shouldn’t be isolated from the idea of one’s purpose. It is something which has personal aspects along with material aspects, such as where we want to live and how much of savings we want, or issues like health or freedom contribute, relatively.
3. 1. 2. 2 Holding Creative Tension One testimony of Senge says that there is something called the creative tension which is the source of energy derived from the gap between one’s vision and where it stands in reality. This gap can push someone forward to get closer to the vision; however it might also discourage some other people, so as to leading to feelings and emotions associated with anxiety. Imagine a rubber band, stretched between your vision and the current reality. When stretched, the rubber band creates tension, representing the tension between vision and current reality. What does tension seek?
Resolution or release. There 7 are two possible ways for the tension to resolve itself: pull reality toward the vision or pull the vision toward reality. Which occurs will depend on whether we hold steady to the vision. Figure 3: Creative Tension Negative emotions caused by anxiety of the creative tension, shouldn’t be realized as the creative tension itself. What Senge argues, is that after some time what we call emotional tension will arise due to the negative emotions. In such cases, we feel deeply discouraged about a vision that is not happening and tend to lower the vision as an immediate so called remedy.
It is clear that escaping emotional tension is easy; but what we really pay against is giving up something what we profoundly want, our vision. In the context of organizations we can say that goals are slowly lowered because of low tolerance for emotional tension. What we have to do is to understand thoroughly what the creative tension is and allow it to operate without lowering our vision; only then the vision becomes an active force in personal mastery. The gap in between should be used to generate energy for change. 8 Mastery of creative tension transforms the way we judge failure.
It is simply an opportunity for learning. 3. 1. 2. 3 “Structural Conflict”: The Power of your Powerlessness A research done by Robert Fritz has shown that practically all of us have a “dominant belief that we are not able to fulfill our desires”. This in turn, is an obstacle one should get rid off. These beliefs, which are mandatory as a child to survive, were taught us so that we learnt our limitations. Most of us hold one of two contradictory beliefs that intrinsically limit our ability to create what so called we really want.
The more common belief is in our powerlessness, namely our inability to bring into being all the things we really care about, whereas the other belief focuses on unworthiness, that we do not deserve to have what we truly desire. Fritz uses a metaphor to describe how contradictory underlying beliefs work as a system, which he calls the “structural conflict”, the metaphor counter to achieving our goals, through symbolizing the concept by another rubber band example. Figure 4: Effect of “structural conflict” to the creative tension.
Later on, he identifies three generic so called strategies to cope with the forces of structural conflict, each of which has its own limitations. Accordingly, one is letting 9 our vision to erode. This strategy will lead to the sacrifice of what we truly want as discussed earlier. The second strategy is to “conflict manipulation” which is actually the strategy of people who mostly worry about failure. What they do is to focus on avoiding what they do not want to happen. This strategy makes one to spend his/her life in worry and fear.
For those following this strategy, which is also called the “negative vision”, there is little joy in their life, even when they achieve their goals because this time they immediately tend to begin worrying about losing what they have gained. The last and most favorable strategy is defined as the willpower, where we simply “psyche ourselves up” to overpower all forms of resistance to achieving our goals. Simply saying, motivating through heightened will. In the next section, we will discuss Senge’s strategy for dealing with structural conflict: telling the truth. 3. 1. 2.
4 Commitment to the Truth People often want a technique that they can apply to solve the problem of structural conflict. But, in fact, being committed to the truth is far more powerful than any technique. So, what does it actually mean? It means a relentless willingness to root out the ways we limit or deceive ourselves from seeing what is, and to continually challenge our theories of why things are the way they are. The first critical task in dealing with structural conflicts is to recognize them, and the resulting behavior, when they are operating.
This helps us to develop so called internal 10 warning signals, such as when we find ourselves blaming something or someone for our problems. What Senge suggests in this context is that we have to work on developing skills to discuss such situations with the people involved without producing defensiveness. We shouldn’t always act in a manner where we always think of what others have done in the situation, rather we have to concentrate on what we can do. This in other words, relates to the fact that we have to understand, or better to say, realize the situation, the current reality in which we are, so to use this as a generative force.
This has even been concluded in religions like Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, Jewish, Buddhism. One example might be the statement of “The truth shall set you free. ” 3. 1. 2. 5 Using the Subconscious One of the most fascinating aspects of people with high levels of personal mastery is their ability to accomplish extraordinarily complex tasks with grace and ease. But, how does this come to happen? It is through the subconscious that all of us deal with complexity. What distinguishes people with high levels of personal mastery is they have developed a higher level of understanding between their normal awareness and their subconscious.
Even the daily activities of us like walking, talking, eating or putting on your shoes are enormously complex tasks, for which we have learned the required skills of the tasks, which in turn led that the whole activity gradually shifts from conscious attention to subconscious control. People with high levels of personal mastery focus on the desired result itself, not the process or the means they assume necessary to achieve that result. This allows the person in focusing on the artistry of the result as well. 11
In other words, we can say that we must work at learning how to differentiate what we truly want, from what we think we need to do in order to achieve it. In order to develop a subconscious understanding it is also important to commit to the truth, because when not telling the truth, most people create some level of internal stress. The principle of creative tension recognizes that the subconscious operates most effectively when it is focused clearly on our vision and our current reality. One effective way to focus the subconscious is through imagery and visualization.
For instance, world-class swimmers have found that by imagining their hands to be twice their actual size and their feet to be webbed, they actually swim faster. Mental practicing of complex tasks has become a routine psychological training for professional performers from different areas of interest. A strict reliance on only conscious learning could never have achieved this level of artistry, even if there was all the willpower in the world present. Contradictorily, it had to depend on a high level of subconscious understanding.
3. 2 MENTAL MODELS 3. 2. 1 Introduction to Mental Models Mental models can be described as the views and assumptions we hold in our minds about how things are and how things work. A mental model is like one’s way of looking at what’s happening in the world. In other words, it determines how we think and act. Mental models depend on the past experiences, and the perception as a result of those experiences, and observations. In the introduction I had introduced the experiential learning, which was the style of learning through past experience and some other elements 12 like concrete experience, observation and reflection, and forming abstract concepts.
Accordingly, a child without knowing that it might cut his hand might take a knife in his hand and try to push it in his hand. This in fact, will hurt him a lot. However, grown ups already know how to deal with a knife, so they won’t do the same mistake as the child does. All the experiences learnt are added up so to form or build up the mental models. 3. 2. 1. 1 Why the Best Ideas Fail? From the business point of view, one thing which is known by all managers is that many of the best ideas never get put into practice. Even brilliant strategies fail to get translated into action.
New insights fail to get put into practice because they conflict with deeply held internal images of how the world works, images that limit us to familiar ways of thinking and acting. That is why the discipline of managing mental models ? surfacing, testing, and improving our internal pictures of how the world works- promises to be a major breakthrough for building learning organizations. Our mental models determine not only how we make sense of the world, but how we take action, namely they shape how we act which puts them into an active sense. But, why are mental models so powerful in affecting what we do?
In part, because they affect what we see. As psychologists say, human beings observe selectively. Mental models also exist in the organizations, and also in management. Mental models could cause big losses in the business world as it can also prevent us from seeing the current situation. Loosing America’s car market share to German and Japanese countries was a result of the mental models of the management, where they are prevented to see the situation because of their models in mind, and perceptions. 13 The problems with mental models lie not in whether they are right or wrong-by definition, all models are simplifications.
The problems with mental models arise when the models are tacit-when they exist below the level of awareness. 3. 2. 1. 2. Overcoming “The Basic Diseases of the Hierarchy” In the traditional authoritarian organization, the dogma was managing, organizing, and controlling, whereas in the learning organization, the new dogma will be vision, values, and mental models. In addition, in traditional organizations, merit means doing what the boss wants, openness means telling the boss what he wants to hear, and localness means doing the dirty stuff that the boss doesn’t want to do.
However, in learning organizations these concepts will get new understandings. 3. 2. 2. The Discipline of Mental Models Developing an organization’s capacity to work with mental models involves both learning new skills and implementing institutional innovations that help bring these skills into regular practice. 3. 2. 2. 1 Managing Mental Models Throughout An Organization A concept of scenarios should be adapted in pursuit of mental models, so to force managers to consider how they would manage under different alternative paths into the future.
This offsets the tendency for managers to implicitly assume a single future. When groups of managers share a range of alternative futures in their mental models, they become more responsive to those changes. 14 Mental modeling should be implemented as a philosophy. It is important to note that the goal in mental modeling is not agreement or congruency. Many mental models can exist at once. What is important is that we have to consider all of them and test against situations that we confront. Only after the process works it leads to congruency. 3. 2. 2.
2 Managing Mental Models At Personal and Interpersonal Levels The learning skills of “action science” practitioners such as Chris Argyris fall into two broad classes: skills of reflection and skills of inquiry. Where skills of reflection concern slowing down our own thinking process so that we can become more aware of how we form our mental models and the ways they influence our actions, inquiry skills concern how we operate in face-to-face interactions with others, especially in dealing with complex and conflictual issues. Reflection skills start with recognizing “leaps of abstraction”, which mean that our minds move at lightning speeds.
Ironically, this often slows our learning, because we immediately “leap” to generalizations so quickly that we never think to test them. Namely, leaps of abstraction occur when we move from direct observations to generalization without testing. Here it is important to distinguish direct observation from generalizations inferred from the observation itself. To distinguish it, explicitly separate it from the data which led to it. A second technique from action science is the left-hand column, which in turn is a powerful tool for beginning to see how our mental models operate in particular situations.
It reveals ways that we manipulate situations to avoid dealing with how we actually think and feel, and thereby prevent a counterproductive situation from improving. The most important lesson that comes from seeing “our left-hand columns” is how we undermine opportunities for learning in conflictual situations. Here, a process called “balancing inquiry and advocacy” comes into action. 15 Managers are mostly trained to be advocates. In many companies, being a competent manager means, being able to solve problems, figuring out what needs to be done, and enlisting whatever support is needed to get it done.
In such organizations, employees are rewarded according to their ability to debate forcefully, and influence others, where the inquiry skills are unrecognized. Those rewards unfortunately can bring the employees to managerial positions, where they suddenly face the fact that they do not learn while they should learn. Advocacy without inquiry between two people can end up in vicious circle. The more vehemently one argues, the more it creates a threat to the other’s position, so that the latter argues vehemently, which causes a threat to the first one’s position, therefore, the first one argues even more vehemently.
This reinforcing advocacy can be stopped by inquiring. Then it gives a chance for the both parts to understand each other’s conflicts, and reasoning. When in pure advocacy, people do not want to show the weak parts of their reasoning, and discard them. Definitely it does not bring any learning to us. Instead it brings polarization within the group. When operating in pure advocacy, the goal is to win the argument; however, when inquiry and advocacy are combined the goal is no longer “to win the argument” but to find the best argument out of all.
This combination allows us to discover completely new views. What we have to keep in mind is that practicing inquiry and advocacy means being willing to expose the limitations in your own thinking, namely the willingness to be wrong. 16 3. 3 SHARED VISION 3. 3. 1 Introduction to Shared Vision 3. 3. 1. 1 A Common Caring A shared vision is not an idea, it is rather a force in people’s hearts, a force of impressive power. It may be inspired by an idea, but once it goes further ? if it is compelling enough to acquire support of more than one person? then it is no longer an abstraction. It is tangible.
People begin to see it as if it exists. Few forces in human affairs are as powerful as shared visions. At its simplest level, a shared vision is the answer to the question, “What do we want to create? ” Just as personal visions are pictures or images people carry in their heads and hearts, so too are shared visions pictures that people throughout an organization carry. When people truly share a vision they are connected, bound together by a common aspiration. Shared vision is one of the vital fundamentals of learning organizations, because it provides energy and also focus for learning.
People should have something that really matters to them, something that makes them excited. A shared vision is not one dictated by that top management; it only exists when people are personally committed, since it is their personal vision. 3. 3. 1. 2 Why Shared Visions Matter? In an organization, a shared vision changes people’s relationship with the company. What they so far called as “their company”, becomes “our company”. It helps to create a common identity. Only this way, a learning organization can really succeed. You cannot have a learning organization without shared vision.
17 How can a commitment to the long term be fostered is the key question in efforts to develop systems thinking in management. People do not focus on the long term because they have to, but only because they want to. 3. 3. 2 The Discipline of Building Shared Vision Shared visions emerge from personal visions. This is how they derive their energy and how they foster commitment. The management should encourage individuals so as to let them create their own visions, as was told earlier in this project. However, these visions are not the shared vision itself.
This is needed so that it will be easier for the individuals to accept visions of others and work in the same manner. In this way, the synergy which will be established is needed for the organization indeed. The shared vision shouldn’t be written and taught to employees because this will establish a fear. Instead, everyone should adopt this vision and commit itself to the whole vision of the organization. 3. 3. 2. 1 From Personal Visions to Shared Visions To make it clearer, let’s imagine a picture of a landscape. When you cut this picture into smaller parts, you will not be able to see the whole sight.
However, if you have a picture of an ocean in which all the organisms, like fish, plants, etc. live, and you cut it into pieces, you will still be able to see the whole sight because the vision of the ocean is the same in that part. It’s like the shared vision. When you take the shared vision person by person into consideration you’ll see that they match each other and reflect the whole image. 18 So, it is the fact that when more people come to share a common vision, the vision may not change fundamentally. But it becomes more alive, more real in the sense of a mental reality that people can truly imagine achieving.
Writing a vision statement, which is often a one-shot vision, can be a first step in building shared vision but, alone, it rarely makes a vision come alive within an organization. Another problem with the so called one-shot vision that was prepared by the top management is that the resulting vision does not build on people’s personal visions. Contrarily, it only reflects the personal vision of one or two people at the top. The last problem might be explained in the manner as the vision is not a solution to a problem. Building a shared vision must be seen as a central element of the daily work of leaders.
It is ongoing and never-ending. It is not truly a shared vision until it connects with the personal visions of people throughout the organization. Moreover, visions that are truly shared take time to emerge. They grow as a by-product of interactions of individual visions. Experience suggests that visions that are genuinely shared require ongoing conversation where individuals not only feel free to express their dreams, but also learn how to listen to each others’ dreams. 3. 3. 2. 2 Spreading Visions: Enrollment, Commitment, and Compliance There is a big difference between compliance and commitment.
The committed person brings energy, passion and excitement, which in turn brings the synergy; he does not play by the rules of the game, instead feels responsible for the game, and will not hesitate to change the rules of the game if they stand in the way of achieving vision. On the other hand compliant followers only accept the vision, but do not have a personal desire. They may want it in order to keep their job, or to get a promotion etc. , but they know that it’s not their vision at all. For an organization to survive, it must ensure that a shared vision with the commitment of the individuals is established.
19 However, there are the types of genuine compliant followers, which may often be mistaken for enrollment or commitment. What then is the difference between being genuinely compliant and enrolled and committed? The answer is deceptively simple. People who are enrolled or committed truly want the vision, where genuinely compliant people accept the vision. They may want it in order to keep their job, or to get a promotion etc. , but they know that it’s not their vision at all. 3. 4 TEAM LEARNING 3. 4. 1 Introduction to Team Learning 3. 4. 1. 1 The Potential Wisdom Teams
In order to understand team learning, it is important to understand what teams are. The word “team” can be traced back to the Indo-European word “deuk” (to pull); it has always included a meaning of “pulling together”. (The modern sense of team, “a group of people acting together”, emerged in the sixteenth century) We define “teams” as any group of people who need each other to accomplish a result. This definition is derived from a statement made by former Royal Dutch/Shell Group Planning coordinator, Arie de Geus: “The only relevant learning in a company is the learning done by those people who have the power to take action”.
Team learning is a process of aligning and developing the capacity of a team to create the results its members truly desire. It builds on the discipline of developing shared vision. It also builds on developing personal mastery, for talented teams are made up of talented individuals. But shared vision and talent are not enough. The world is full of teams of talented individuals who share a vision for a while, yet fail to learn. 20 Here we can discuss the terms unaligned and aligned teams. The fundamental characteristic of the relatively unaligned team is wasted energy.
Individuals may work extraordinarily hard, but their efforts do not efficiently translate to team effort. By contrast, when a team becomes more aligned, a commonality of direction emerges, and individuals’ energies harmonize. There is less wasted energy. In fact, a resonance or synergy develops, like the coherent light of a laser rather than the incoherent and scattered light of a light bulb. There is commonality of purpose, a shared vision, and understanding of how to complement one another’s efforts.
Individuals do not sacrifice their personal interests to the larger team vision; rather, the shared vision becomes an extension of their personal visions. In fact, alignment is the necessary condition before empowering the individual will empower the whole team. Team learning is possible in every area, sports, business, performing arts, science, etc. It can even have extra ordinary results where the teams can be coordinated and even intelligence of the team can exceed the intelligence of its members totaling. In such an environment, team members can also show a rapid growth, than they could gain individually, namely constructing the synergy.
With the changes in the organizations, team learning has never been that important. No matter if it’s a product development team, management team or cross-functional task forces. As they are teams, they are the people who need one another to act. The three critical dimensions of Team Learning can be described as; 1. Insightful thinking is necessary for complex issues. Teams must learn to end up with one more intelligent solution when compared to each of the participants’ solutions. 2. Innovative and coordinated action is vital.
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 10 October 2016
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