The elusive learning organization

Elusive RARE White Squirrel Spotted at Jamaica PondIn catching up with my favorite reads, I found this from two weeks ago: Harold Jarche on learning organizations and how the idea of net work relates to the topic, The learning organization: an often-described, but seldom-observed phenomenon

I hooked into a couple things. He starts off talking about Deming and the statement that managers of organizations are responsible for enabling learning by moving away from command and control into a shared power (net work) model. What Harold didn't mention, and that I saw right away, is the idea of an improvement cycle (pick your favorite one) as being key to learning. Organizations that have created mechanisms for learning from what they do are the ones that tend to succeed. This means any variety of specific behaviors, but what I'd expect to see is the ability of people to make mistakes and be honest about what happened. No blame or finger pointing. Matt Homann just wrote about this particular topic: Train better lawyers by removing blame

The other thing that perked my attention was the list of items itself (be sure to read Harold's expansions on each of these on his post):

  1. Learning is not something to "get"
    Learning is the result of a way of operating. If you want the organization as a whole to learn, then ensure that there are pieces of the improvement cycle in place: Where are we going? How do we know we are moving in the right direction? What do we do when the signals seem to be pointing in the wrong direction?
  2. The only knowledge that can be managed is our own
    From my knowledge management experience, this comment is right on. I particularly like that Harold connects this to the idea of personal knowledge management. In my take on this, we have to enable individuals with the appropriate tools and techniques to do well in their work, AND we need to make the connection from that to the fact that we must rely on the capabilities of others - that there is a network of people who get the work done. 
  3. Learning in the work place is much more than formal training
    I would argue that formal learning is a relatively small part of what goes on in the workplace. As individuals we pick up all sorts of tribal knowledge from our colleagues directly through conversation and indirectly through observation and mimicking behaviors. And often the only way organizations learn is through the informal agreements and nudges provided by leadership and management.
  4. When we remove artificial boundaries, we enable innovation
    Set that direction and get things flowing. Then get out of the way.
  5. Learning is everywhere
    Repeat comments above.

[Photo: "Elusive RARE White Squirrel Spotted at Jamaica Pond" by Steve Garfield - someone I actually know!]

2 Comment(s)

Jack, I particularly liked the linked post about training better lawyers by removing the blame.

It occurs to me that all organisations are learning organisations, but there is both good and bad learning. Bad learning (particularly the cover your arse type) stifles all sorts of creative behaviour

James

James, excellent point about learning. Our orgs are learning things all the time. The goal behind the rhetoric around Learning Organizations is that we hope what we learn moves us in a positive direction. Which implies that we know where we are going.

[Oh, and I'd recommend following Matt Homann. He often has interesting things to say that go well beyond the practice of law.]

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