From individual learning to organisational learning in the construction industry

Scientific Essay, 2009
12 Pages


From individual learning to organisational learning in the construction industry

Dr. Dimitrios P. Kamsaris, Professor, Monarch University, Switzerland

Christos Nikolis, M.Sc. in Construction Project Management, Heriot Watt University, U.K


This paper examines the Human Resource Management theory and its application in meeting the future trends and challenges in the management of human resources in the construction industry.

The complexity of the construction industry affects consistently the internal and external environment of organisations enhancing them to struggle to become adaptable and efficient for absorbing new organisational knowledge. A research was undertaken in the construction industry. The primary data were collected through interviews and overt, non-participant observation. Eighteen top managers and supervisors, all engineers, participated in the interview sessions.

Keywords: learning; individual learning; team learning; organisational learning; construction industry.


Organisational learning is fundamental in any industry as it defines the “process of detection and correction of errors” (Argyris as cited in Malhotra, 1996).

Research Questions: What is the impact of employees’ learning upon the organisational learning of a company in the Greek construction industry?

The research is organised as follows:

Chapter 2 contains the literature review.

Chapter 3 shows the methodology followed throughout the fieldwork.

Chapter 4 provides concluding remarks upon the discussion of research findings, followed by future research directions and critical reflections on the work carried out.

Literature Review

Human Resources Management has gain an increased interest for research since 1980 and this is according to Kamsaris and Trochana (2011) due to the fact that it provides a competitive advantage for an organisation as well as allows them to achieve an efficient management

The major trends that affect the management of human resources are the attitudes of employees, the organizational strategy, the problems in economic growth, the new technologies, the changing nature of industrial relationships, the expanding globalization, the ageing workforce, the cultural diversity and immigration.

The trends in the organizational strategy are associated with sustaining high-performance work systems that generate changes in the size and in the structure of the organizations. Human resource management plays a significant role in helping organizations gain and sustain a competitive advantage by enhancing the performance of the labour force. To achieve higher performance, the employees must develop their skills, be empowered to take decisions and participate in teamwork (Noe, Hollenbeck, Gerhert and Wright, 2003).

The modern business environment requires building and retaining a loyal and motivated labour force. Therefore, for human resource management in the construction industry, the challenge is to select and retain qualified employees. Employees now tend to change jobs and careers very easily and often, raising the employees’ turnover which is costly for organizations (Chiavenato, 2001).

Organisational Learning

Egan (as cited in Kaka and Brown, 2003, p.A-1) states that the construction industry is under achieving and has a poor rate of performance while investing little in research and development (Kamsaris and Kogkoulos, 2011)

“The key to the survival of organisations is learning, not individual learning itself, but emerging learning in the organisation” (Fard et al., 2009, p.50).

There is a crystal clear correlation between learning and performance; Fard, Rostamy and Taghiloo (2009) state that: “Learning increases the performance of organisations” (Fard et al., 2009, p.50). Moreover, as Bennet and Bennet, (2004, p.444) argue: “Organisations learn to increase their adaptability and efficiency during times of change”. At this point, the interrelation between the status of change and efficiency becomes obvious. Thereupon, learning as a dynamic procedure always emerges from the alterations that companies continuously go through, more often during times of crises.

Learning is defined by Wright (2003) as knowledge acquisition. Thus, in order to enhance their adaptability and efficiency, firms need to acquire new organisational knowledge since “knowledge acquisition is increasingly becoming a managerial priority that has been linked with operational performance as well as with the performance of specific organisation tasks” (Inkpen, 1998, p.69). According to strategic management researchers: “New knowledge provides the basis for organisational renewal and sustainable competitive advantage, because understanding knowledge means an appreciation for the complexities of acquiring, transferring, and integrating knowledge in a learning environment” (ibid.: p.69).

However, there must be a distinction between learning and organisational learning as the synthesis of individual learning may lead to organisational level learning. For example, at the beginning of a new construction project, each professional may need frequent guidance. Thus, learning should be focused upon the realisation of what one knows and does not know while assessing their existing techniques and abilities before fulfilling their tasks (Chickering and Gamson as cited in Clark, 2009). According to Bennet and Bennet (2004), individual learning refers to a specific cognitive or behavioural activity between an individual and their environment, whereas in teams and organisations, learning is a collective process that relies upon inter-dependencies among a firm’s different individuals in a way that organisational learning occurs mostly through the employees’ interaction. Company meetings prove to be invaluable for those employees that enter a construction firm as they receive feedback on their performance (Chickering and Gamson as cited in Clark, 2009). This can lead to the adoption of new and more effective ways of thinking that may reflect all the new lessons learned and what extra knowledge is needed yet to be acquired or what are the means by which performance can be assessed throughout certain tasks.

The Factors of Successful Organisational Learning

Considering the above, researchers and practitioners have tried during the last decade, to ‘map’ the basic ‘invisible’ characteristics of organisational culture between firms’ members such as common norms and values because of the fact that this kind of information depicts the development of learning in business (Chang and Lee, 2007). Analysing these facts, it is evident that the area of organisational learning has spurred blossoming interest, especially within construction management research where different cultures, attitudes and customs abound. Team learning has been widely identified as being “vital for organisational survival and prosperity" (Nonaka, as cited in Chan et al., 2005, p.747).

According to Senge (1990), organisational learning is greatly dependent upon five fundamental factors namely: ‘personal mastery’, ‘mental models’, ‘shared vision’, ‘systemic thinking’, and ‘team learning’.

Fard, Rostamy and Taghiloo (2009, p.54) spell out each one of these factors as follows:

‘Personal mastery’ aims to develop the individual learning dimension by means of:

Trying to achieve personal aspirations by improving the person’s talents.

Trying to transform the person’s talents into abilities.

Keeping the person informed of the updated knowledge.

Continuous improvement of the person’s activities.

Skill development.

‘Mental models’ are used in the formulation of methods such as:

Having a simple opinion about the problems.

Accepting others opinions.

Rationality in problem solving.

Believing in finding a better alternative.

Use of irrational advocacy as a supplemental way of thinking.

‘Shared vision’ aims in the integration of individual learning by means of:


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From individual learning to organisational learning in the construction industry
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Professor Dimitrios Kamsaris (Author)M.Sc. Christos Nikolis (Author), 2009, From individual learning to organisational learning in the construction industry, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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