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Learning Organisations

DNA-Totem 400x265Is learning in their DNA?

Simply put, a learning organisation is one that is able to change its behaviours and mind-sets as a result of its experiences.  Such organisations are found to actively promote learning in individuals and in some key instances, they promote leadership at all levels.

As a side point but one worth making, this promotion of learning and leadership has the knock on effect of improving accountability across an organisation – individuals tend to accept more readily responsibility for their actions…

Learning organisations or LO’s achieve this through encouraging a strong network of relationships and peer support from individual to individual across the organisation.  They see learning, or rather something that has been learnt as something that is transferrable from one person to another, regardless of the department or project that those individuals are working on.

And it’s this shared ‘learning’ mentality that distributes intelligence throughout the organisation.

It’s an incredibly effective culture for fully engaging internal and external stakeholders with the goals of the business.  This is achieved by what becomes in effect, the entire organisation responding to issues identified by stakeholders.  A challenge or problem shared at one end of the business, may find a solution in a traditionally unlikely area of the business.

But an LO is more than a group of individuals learning or those individuals sharing that learning with his or her network or peers.  What we find fascinating is that what an organisation learns and how it applies that learning isn’t always predictable.

It has a something to do with The Principles of Complex Systems (Mitleton-Kelly 2003) which in summary describes the emergent and unexpected results of organisation wide collaboration.

Jelly Bean Diversity

The recipe for a complex system is at face value quite simple.  Take a broad, self – reflective environment, made up of many individuals and add this key cultural ingredient:

There is a difference between a ‘mistake’ and a ‘failure’.

Such an environment makes a distinction between ‘mistakes’ that are the result of irresponsibility and lack of forethought and failures, those that are genuine explorations of a new idea or a new way of working.

One is acceptable (even encouraged) and one is not.  How many iterations of the iPod did Apple go through before it was finally released to the general public?  Was each prototype a mistake or a failure?

If you want to find out more about how to start your own learning culture, we highly recommend our fabulous downloadable guide on the subject.

So back to the individual, it’s crucial to recognise that individuals in an organisation influence one another.  Particularly during the learning process, their ideas will co-evolve.  Meaning that those ideas must have a great deal of innate flexibility – and flexible thinking is the pre curser to learning agility.

If you have an organisation full of flexible thinkers, you have the foundations to an agile workforce.

The true strength of an agile organisation lies in this concept of co-evolution.  Particularly in relation to a changing business environment – external or internal.  As the broader environment changes, so to will the organisation but once changed, the organisation, in turn, will influence that broader environment.

When the influence and change are mutual and cyclical, then we have co-evolution.  The learning environment fostered in the organisation is having a direct impact on the business environment outside of the organisation.

And we’d encourage you to take a moment to think this final point through.  It’s only through influencing its external business environment, that an organisation can move from an ‘also ran’ to market leader.

Can you name a current market leader, that hasn’t innovated or applied new learning to the industry it’s operating in?

We can’t.