Tips for Developing a Learning Organisation

In The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook Peter Senge describes a learning organization as one that is engaged in:

“the continuous testing of experience, and the transformation of that experience into knowledge that is accessible to the whole organisation and relevant to its core purpose”

In other words, an organisation where experience matters and feeds into a genuine commitment towards improving how the organisation delivers its core business. It is an organisation where learning from mistakes is used constructively to inform future work practice. In a learning organisation the culture is less about blame and more about understanding and improving.

The following tips will help you to develop your organisation as a learning organisation.

Start with the following questions:

  • Do you continuously test and challenge the way your organisation does things?
  • Are you increasing the capacity of the organisation to respond to change and developing current knowledge and skills sufficiently?
  • Is the learning relevant to your organisation’s business?Is new knowledge accessible and do staff know where to look for it?

Encourage staff to reflect on their work practice.

It helps people to avoid unthinking and uncritical routines. By reflecting on experiences and current knowledge, people will begin to develop ‘tailor made’ solutions to problems rather than repeating old and less successful patterns of behaviour.

It can be done in number of different ways:

  • Read – as much as you can around your subject area
  • Think – take a thoughtful approach to your work
  • Feel – understand your emotional responses to events and their impact
  • Watch – be sensitive to what is happening around you
  • Talk – to others about aspects of your work and theirs
  • Ask – other people about their practice

Consider using the concept of an ‘Angel Advocate’. When a creative idea is proposed the person who speaks next must take the role of an Angel’s Advocate and offer support.

This protects or insulates innovative thinking against immediate criticism. The fragile idea has a better chance of survival for further exploration

In learning organisations managers recognise the need to role model behaviours that will encourage people to be open, receptive and responsive to learning and new experiences.

This requires the following behaviours from the manager:

  • Build trust
  • Accentuate the positive
  • Praise progress
  • When mistakes occur, redirect the behaviour and reinforce with praise
  • Provide appropriate timely support

Enhance effectiveness by encouraging constructive feedback. The following guidelines will help you to significantly improve the effectiveness of your feedback:

  • Use the ‘I’ word – own what you say. “I feel that..”  “I think…”
  • Leave the recipient with a choice.
  • Start with the positive
  • Give specific examples of positive and negative points
  • Get a response to your feedback.
  • Ask for suggestions to bring about the desired change.

People in learning organisations are prepared to listen to others and ask for constructive feedback.  These tips will help you get the best from feedback.

  • Listen to the feedback rather than immediately rejecting or arguing with it.
  • Be clear about what is being said. Listen and summarise ‘So what your saying is…’
  • Don’t just concentrate on the negative, listen to the positives also.
  • Ask for examples of both strong and weak areas of performance.
  • Accept praise gracefully when it is given.
  • Respond assertively where you think the feedback is incorrect
  • Decide what you will do as a result of the feedback

People can improve their competitive capacity by engaging in a process of continuous learning through:

  • Risk taking: Willingness to push oneself out of a comfort zone.
  • Self reflection: Honest self reflection about successes and failures.
  • Seeking the opinions of others: Actively seeking views of others.
  • Careful listening: Developing your listening skills.
  • Openness to new ideas: Willingness to view life with an open mind.

Sharing learning – Use a simple idea to encourage staff to share experiences, learning and successes in meetings:

  • Beg a favour
  • Brag about a success
  • What if…when you want to explore an idea