Development of a Learning Organization

Term Paper, 2004

13 Pages, Grade: 2

Free online reading

Table of Contents

1. Executive Summary

2. What is a learning organization?
2.1 Introduction

3. Strategies for developing a “Learning Organization”
3.1 Starting the process
3.2 Role of Manager and/or Leader

4. Practical approaches to developing learning in organizations
4.1 Models of learning
4.2 Implementation of a “Learning Organization”
4.3 Why “Learning Organization” works and the company benefits

5. Conclusion

6. Bibliography

1. Executive Summary

The literature of “Learning Organization” is so extensive and diverse. Due to this fact, this paper should give the reader an idea about “what is a learning organization”, why it is necessary to implement such a leading philosophy, and which technical tools, which rules of behaviour and maturity are needed from the management of a company. Over the past decade a lot of companies have either rushed into the mainstream in their claims of innovative and effective practice, or have tried to transform themselves to fit new realities, organizational learning has emerged as one way to live up to expectations and needs. There is a need of building a knowledge generation and organizational learning in one form or another. During the reading and research for this assignment, I was very surprised that many of the writing and thinking on “learning organizations” has come out of the private sector, and I wondered how applicable and how useful development practitioners could find it in their own field. Most importantly, there is a need to distinguish between the body of thought that focuses on the “Learning Organization”, and that deals with “organizational learning”. Further it is important to recognize that organizations are a part of complex social systems (The Maturity Factor, Larry Liberty), over which it is unlikely can exert control. Another aspect of the pragmatic orientation is that learning organization theories unlike many of their academic counterparts, have also developed an array of techniques and tools for doing diagnostics, examining patterns of behaviour in organizations.

2. What is a learning organization?

2.1 Introduction

An organization is a big group of people, but what is a learning organization?

“Learning Organization” describes an adaptable and flexible organization, which is able to react fast on inside and outside influences. It is an organization which responses to an increasingly unpredictable and dynamic business environment. The model of a learning Organization is ideally a system, which is permanently in move. The idea of this model was created in the 90 years and would be developed over the time. Problems will take over as a possibility to grow, as a process of development to fit the base of knowledge on the new requirements. It is a concept that is becoming an increasingly widespread philosophy in modern companies. The learning organization has its origins in companies like Shell, where Arie de Geus described learning as the only sustainable competitive advantage. Peter Senge, 1990, describes it, as an organization where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together.

3. Strategies for developing a “Learning Organization”

3.1 Starting the process

To change a “surviving organization” into a “learning organization”, is about doing it from within, and about building a solid foundation (social, technical) into a company for the change.

This can be made by taking into account the following points:

- Awareness
- Environment
- Leadership
- Empowerment
- Learning


Organizations should be aware that learning is necessary before they can develop into a new learning/mental model, beyond the “single loop learning”. This may seem to be a strange statement, but learning should take place at all levels; not just the management level, because the opposite of learning is surviving. Once the company has accept the need for change, it is then responsible for creating the appropriate environment for this change to occur in.


Ingrained old and immovable structures/traditions do not create a good environment for a learning organization. Employees don’t have a full picture of the whole organization and its goals, not enough information. This cases political and restricted systems to be set up which stifle the learning process. Therefore a more flexible, innovative and open structure should be formed. This set up, should encourage innovations, creativity and create more informed employees. The model should create an atmosphere of development, trust, and joy in being and effectiveness.


Leader should foster the concept and encourage learning to help both, the individual and organization in learning. The management should provide commitment for long-term learning in the form of resources.


The employees become responsible for their actions; but the manager do not lose their involvement. They still need to encourage, enthuse and co-ordinate the team member. The team member should learn from each other on all levels. They should feel free, to come up with new ideas and creative solutions in an open, flexible and safety atmosphere in the organization.


Companies can learn their need to find out what failure is like so that they can learn from their mistakes in the future. It’s the idea to implement the idea of a “double-loop” and even “triple-loop” learning.

To bring it short and clear to a point, which include the mentioned facts I want to repeat Larry Liberty:

“Upset in a learning organization is a information, that helps to know, to learn and at the end to get wisdom.

Upset in a surviving organization is a problem.”

But, for a “learning organization” to work there must also be a high level of mature adults as a base in the company. (Larry Liberty)

3.2 Role of Manager and/or Leader

In the book of Larry Liberty (The Maturity Factor) is perfectly explained that an individual and organization maturity level significantly impacts on the overall learning capacity of a group or team. The importance of this view is that a high percentage of “adults” in an organization (key positions) will find it much easier to create an environment in which learning is part of the everyday work. It is also very important to look on the recruitment process when screening candidates. The majority of individuals will respond to the environment in which they are placed, so it is important to have the correct processes in place to upgrade the maturity of those already within the organization.

There is also a strong element of “self-improvement” found in the idea of “The Maturity Factor”, whereby individuals in a learning organization are not only in an ongoing quest for work related knowledge, but also for self knowledge. One aspect of this is the need to understand their own “mental models” deeply ingrained assumptions about how the world works, what motivates people, cause-and-effect relationships, values, and to be open to challenges regarding these assumptions.

Therefore managers/leaders have to think about their behavior, about their role in the company environment, and about their role in the implementation of a style like a “learning organization”.

The challenge facing managers today is to make the effort needed to learn new skills and techniques, and to put in processes that engage their teams in programs of continuous capability development. Learning should be integrated into the doing as an energizing, stimulating and fun element. “Getting the best out of everybody, including yourself to meet the challenges ahead”. Manager/leader should be assisting people to achieve their potential through the development of competence and skills. In the idea of “The Maturity Factor” we find definitions like “upgrade maturity”. This includes additional tools like “mentoring” (trusted advisor) or “coaching”. Developing a “coaching” or “mentoring” mentality in a company is another effective way in which the maturity progression and career aspirations of people can be monitored and supported.

The mentioned point’s, as well as providing the systems and processes for a management of knowledge and flow of information is a crucial and underrated aspect of the learning organization.

4. Practical approaches to developing learning in organizations

4.1 Models of learning

Valuing different kinds of knowledge, learning styles and creating a learning environment, so each organizational member can realize his/her full potential, is the point of departure. We can find a lot of information about this point in the literature of Peter Senge, founder of the center for Organizational Learning, at MIT’s Sloan school of management. He saw the possibilities of a Learning organization, which used “system thinking”, already in the year of 1987, as the primary tenet of a revolutionary management philosophy.

Peter Senge (1990) suggests that there are five disciplines that describe the practices of a learning organization. These are team learning, shared vision, mental models, personal mastery and systems thinking.

The concept of team learning is about teams developing skills in how to learn together. Teams are the fundamental learning units. Unless a team can learn, the organization cannot learn. Adults learn best from each other, by reflecting on how they are addressing problems, questioning assumptions, and receiving feedback from their team and from their results. With team learning, the learning ability of the group becomes greater than the learning ability of any individual in the group.

Shared vision is about working as a team to answer the question “what do we want to create together?” It is the future picture of a perfect world from the customers prospective. Building a shared vision is an ongoing process, where people express ideas about vision, purpose, values, why their work matters, and how it fits in the larger world. All members of the organization must understand, share and contribute to the vision for it to become reality. A shared vision generates commitment, because it reflects people’s own personal vision. It provides the focus and energy for learning, and expands our ability to create. With a shared vision, people will do things because they want to, not because they have to.

Mental models

Each individual has an internal image of the world, with deeply ingrained assumptions. Individuals will act according to the true mental model that they subconsciously hold, not according to the theories, which they claim to believe. If team members can constructively challenge each other’s ideas and assumptions they can begin to perceive their mental models, and to change these to create a shared mental model for the team. Openly, respectfully and trustingly sharing views and developing knowledge about each other’s and the organizations assumptions can also help to create new solutions to problems.

Personal Mastery is the process of continually clarifying and deepening an individual’s personal vision. This is a matter of personal choice for the individual and involves continually assessing the gap between their current and desired proficiencies in an objective manner and practicing and refining skills until they are internalized. This develops self-esteem, self-actualization, self- awareness and creates the confidence to tackle new challenges. (It is also explained in the point 3.2 role of manager/leader).

The fifth discipline - systems thinking

The cornerstone of any learning organization is the fifth discipline – systems thinking. The purpose is to provide a bigger picture of issues by mapping interconnected parts of common processes in the organization. It shows us that the essential properties of a system are not determined by the sum of its parts but by the process of interactions between those parts. System thinking is the discipline used to implement the disciplines. Without systems thinking, each of the disciplines would be isolated and therefore not achieve their objective. The fifth discipline integrates them to from the whole system, a system whose properties exceed the sum of its parts. However, the converse is also true – system thinking cannot be achieved without the other core disciplines. The purpose of this is to give a direction, only human being design their destinies, these are the mechanism to design the direction.

4.2 Implementation of a ”Learning Organization”

Any Organization that wants to implement a “learning organization philosophy” requires an overall strategy with clear and well defined goals. Once these have been established, the tools needed to facilitate the strategy must be identified.

It is clear that every company has their own interpretation of the “learning organization” idea, so to produce an action plan that will transform groups into learning organizations might seem impossible. However, it is possible to identify three generic strategies that highlight possible routes to developing learning organizations.

Sure, there are risks in implant the Changes like:

- Not all employees want to learn and will resist the change
- The openness created endangers the trust between employees
- Ignorance about learning; that is not following the proper learning cycle
- Too much freedom and information can create misunderstandings
- Information overload, too much to absorb at once “to love knowing and not learning: shallowness”, Confucius
- The culture of the country may be a disadvantage.

But, on the other hand we have also risks in not changing the model, like:

- Survival of the fittest
- Fail to embrace new ideas and increase productivity and effectiveness
- Become inefficient
- Overtaken by the competitors.

4.3 Why “Learning Organization” works, and the company benefits

The development or implementation of a learning organization into a company will have a strong impact of the approach to quality improvement, performance enhancement, output, and customer service.

A learning organization encourages its members to improve their personal skills and qualities, so that they can learn and develop. People are appreciated for their own skill, values and work. All opinions are treated equally and with respect. By being aware of their role and importance in the whole organization, people are more motivated to “add their bit”. This encourages creativity and free-thinking, hence leading to novel solutions to problems. All in all there is an increase in job satisfaction and as a result out of this an increase in life satisfaction and fun.

People learn skills and acquire knowledge beyond their specific job requirements. This enables them to appreciate or perform other roles and tasks. Flexibility allows peoples to move freely within the organization. It also ensures that any individual will be able to cope rapidly with changing environments, such as those that exist in modern times. There will be also room for trying out new ideas without having to worry about mistakes. Employee’s creative contribution is recognised and new ideas are free to flourish. Due to the fact, that learning requires social interaction and interpersonal communication skills, employees will become better at these activities. The sharing of common knowledge is quite important for a company, because nobody knows everything about a job. Within a team in a learning organization in general, information and knowledge flows around more freely. This makes for higher productivity within teams and between teams as they build on each other’s strengths. Trust between team members increases and hence they value each other’s opinion more. “Learning Organization” will increase the awareness, responsibility, and improve relations between people at a personal level. By knowing more about other people’s roles, need and tasks, members can manage their time better and plan their work more efficiently. This dependency is decreased as learning is enhanced, letting people get on with their own job better as they rely less on others.

An active learning organization will have at its heart the concept of continuous learning. Therefore it will always be improving in its techniques and methods.

A company’s first priority is its customer’s needs. A learning organization cuts the excess bureaucracy normally involved with customer relations allowing greater contact between the two. If the customer requirements change, learning organizations can adapt faster and cope more efficiently with this change.

New problems and challenges can be met faster using the increased resource in a company. Moreover, this creativity, rise to an increased synergy. The interaction between high performing teams produces a result, which is higher than was planned or expected from them.

5. Conclusion

During the research for this paper, I found out that there is a long tradition in the development field of recognising untapped human potential in all human beings as well as the power of learning. There are a lot of powerful ideas like two of them: “development should be a “mutual learning experience”, or “critical analysis of one’s reality can be a powerful tool for empowerment and collective action”.

The journey to becoming a “Learning Organization” has no clear destination. This is because learning itself is a continual process (Garratt 1999; O’Malley & O’Donoghe 2001).

No matter how well a “Learning Organisation” is performing, they will never be able to say, “We are there! There is nothing more to learn”.

So, in many ways the journey for become a learning organisation is like the search for the Holy Grail, or the elusive pearl of wisdom. Despite this, it is worth to jump up, because the model of a learning organization for the benefits that it offers us an increasingly competitive (The Maturity Factor) and changing our business environment. This experience will be a worthwhile developmental process, and all those involved will learn much along the way. In the future, organizations will be “hopefully” base on knowledge and not just physical assets such as land or products. The most important employee will be a “knowledge worker” and employees will be judged on their ability to learn. A learning culture will help to understand the customer’s needs better. And last but not least all this actions will support the major goal of a company to make profit and keep shareholder happy.

6. Bibliography

Larry Liberty, Ph.D., The Maturity Factor, Liberty Consulting Team, 2002

Peter M. Senge, Fifth Discipline, Doubleday Books, 1994

1 of 13 pages


Development of a Learning Organization
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Development, Learning, Organization
Quote paper
Executive MBA Manuela Mühlbauer (Author), 2004, Development of a Learning Organization, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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