Learning organization definition : is a group of people working together collectively to enhance their capacities to create results they really care about .
The fifth discplines :
Systems thinking. The idea of the learning organization developed from a body of work called systems thinking. This is a conceptual framework that allows people to study businesses as bounded objects. Learning organizations use this method of thinking when assessing their company and have information systems that measure the performance of the organization as a whole and of its various components. Systems thinking states that all the characteristics must be apparent at once in an organization for it to be a learning organization. If some of these characteristics are missing then the organization will fall short of its goal. However, O'Keeffe believes that the characteristics of a learning organization are factors that are gradually acquired, rather than developed simultaneously.
- Personal mastery. The commitment by an individual to the process of learning is known as personal mastery. There is a competitive advantage for an organization whose workforce can learn more quickly than the workforce of other organizations. Individual learning is acquired through staff training, development and continuous self-improvement; however, learning cannot be forced upon an individual who is not receptive to learning. Research shows that most learning in the workplace is incidental, rather than the product of formal training, therefore it is important to develop a culture where personal mastery is practiced in daily life. A learning organization has been described as the sum of individual learning, but there must be mechanisms for individual learning to be transferred into organizational learning.
- Mental models. The assumptions held by individuals and organizations are called mental models. To become a learning organization, these models must be challenged. Individuals tend to espouse theories, which are what they intend to follow, and theories-in-use, which are what they actually do. Similarly, organizations tend to have 'memories' which preserve certain behaviours, norms and values. In creating a learning environment it is important to replace confrontational attitudes with an open culture that promotes inquiry and trust. To achieve this, the learning organization needs mechanisms for locating and assessing organizational theories of action. Unwanted values need to be discarded in a process called 'unlearning'. Wang and Ahmed refer to this as 'triple loop learning'.
- Shared vision. The development of a shared vision is important in motivating the staff to learn, as it creates a common identity that provides focus and energy for learning. The most successful visions build on the individual visions of the employees at all levels of the organization, thus the creation of a shared vision can be hindered by traditional structures where the company vision is imposed from above. Therefore, learning organizations tend to have flat, decentralized organizational structures. The shared vision is often to succeed against a competitor; however, Senge states that these are transitory goals and suggests that there should also be long-term goals that are intrinsic within the company.
- Team learning. The accumulation of individual learning constitutes team learning. The benefit of team or shared learning is that staff grow more quickly and the problem solving capacity of the organization is improved through better access to knowledge and expertise. Learning organizations have structures that facilitate team learning with features such as boundary crossing and openness. Team learning requires individuals to engage in dialogue and discussion; therefore team members must develop open communication, shared meaning, and shared understanding.Learning organizations typically have excellent knowledge management structures, allowing creation, acquisition, dissemination, and implementation of this knowledge in the organization.
This combination encourages organizations to shift to a more interconnected way of thinking. Organizations should become more like communities that employees can feel a commitment to.
The main benefits are;
- Maintaining levels of innovation and remaining competitive
- Being better placed to respond to external pressures
- Having the knowledge to better link resources to customer needs
- Improving quality of outputs at all levels
- Improving corporate image by becoming more people oriented
- Increasing the pace of change within the organization
Challenges in the transformation to a learning organization:
The book The Dance of Change states there are many reasons why an organization may have trouble in transforming itself into a learning organization. The first is that an organization does not have enough time.:66 Employees and management may have other issues that take priority over trying to change the culture of their organization. The team may not be able to commit the time an institution does not have the appropriate help or training. For an organization to be able to change, it needs to know the steps necessary to solve the problems it faces. As a solution, a mentor or coach who is well versed in the learning organization concept may be necessary.
Also, the change may not be relevant to the organization's needs. Time should be spent on the actual issues of the organization and its daily issues. To combat this challenge, a strategy must be built. The organization should determine what its problems are before entering into the transformation. Training should remain linked to business results so that it is easier for employees to connect the training with everyday issues.
Problems organizational learning addresses :
Some of the issues that learning organizations were designed to address within institutions is fragmentation, competition and reactiveness. Fragmentation is described as breaking a problem into pieces. For example, each organization has an accounting department, finance, operations, IT and marketing. Competition occurs when employees are trying to do better or 'beat' others in an assignment instead of collaborating. Reactiveness occurs when an organization changes only in reaction to outside forces, rather than proactively initiating change