How to create a learning organization?
This probably is the question on the minds of many leaders and founders who are immensely passionate about building great teams and building great organisations.
Peter Senge, provides a model to solving this problem in his widely read book The Fifth Discipline. He describes a concept called “Systems Thinking“. According to Senge, systems thinking is very important in creating a learning organization however as the title of his book goes – it is the fifth discipline not the first. The first four disciplines are (1) personal mastery, (2) building shared vision, (3) mental models, and (4) team learning. The 5th discipline is very important as it fuses the other four together to foster a culture of learning and co-operation.
People frequently ask if systems thinking is same as strategic thinking. Systems thinking and strategic thinking are somewhat similar concepts however they are applied in different situations. Both involve looking at the big picture and taking a long term view
- Focus: Looks at the system as a whole, including interactions and relationships
- Goal: Considers if the system can work differently
- Use: Can be used in design thinking to understand the user
- Focus: Makes decisions to achieve specific outcomes
- Goal: Identifies the gap between where you are and where you want to be
- Use: Can be used to explore the context of long-range goals
Learning organisations may encounter various challenges or obstacles which Senge refers to as learning “disabilities”. He goes on to describe what these disabilities are and how companies can rid of the learning “disabilities” aka detrimental habits or mindsets, that threaten their productivity and success. He also elaborates on how organisations can grow by modelling the strategies of learning organizations – ones in which new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, collective aspiration is set free, and people are continually learning how to create the results they truly desire.
Senge states that “At its core, learning organizations build great teams – the trust, the relationships, the acceptance, the synergy, and the results that they achieve.” You can look around for yourself and see that unless there is trust within the teams, there can be no synergy and team members will not sacrifice personal goals to work towards a common goal – the success of the organization.
The startups that thrive today can vouch that their teams have “a strong ability to learn, adjust and change in response to new realities.” that is the only way to thrive and grow as per Dr. Senge in the fast changing complex world that we live in.
The distinguishing characteristics of a learning organization include a learning culture, a spirit of flexibility and experimentation, people orientation, continuous system-level learning, knowledge generation and sharing, and critical, systemic thinking.
It is worthwhile to read more about Senge’s 11 laws of Systems Thinking. These will help you to understand business systems and to identify behaviors for addressing complex business problems.
In brief the 11 Laws are –
- Today’s problems come from yesterday’s solutions
- The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back
- Behaviour grows better before it grows worse
- The easy way out usually leads back in
- The cure can be worse than the disease
- Faster is slower.
- Cause & effect are not closely related in time & space.
- Small changes can produce big results, but areas of the highest leverage are often least obvious.
- You can have your cake & eat it too but not all at once. Not either/or. allow time for solutions to work.
- Dividing an elephant in half does not product two small elephants
- There is no blame