Learning Organisations

by Sharon Varney

Common questions

  1. What is a learning organisation?
  2. Isn’t it just an HR thing?
  3. Why do I need to know about this?
  4. What are the benefits?
  5. What are the challenges?
  6. Where do I start?

 

1. What is a learning organisation?

A learning organisation one that is able to continuously transform itself through the connected learning of its people. In a learning organisation, learning is part of every activity and every activity supports learning. Peter Senge, famous for his work on learning organisations, says there are five disciplines:

  • Personal mastery
  • Mental models
  • Shared vision
  • Team learning
  • Systems thinking.

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2. Isn’t it just an HR thing?

Managers have a central role in building learning organisations. As leaders, they often ‘set the tone’ in organisations and as managers they are well placed to make a difference on a daily basis. HR have a supportive role to play.

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3. Why do I need to know about this?

While the learning organisation has been popularised in recent years, it’s not just a fad. In fact, learning organisations offer enormous potential benefits in a fast-changing working world, where long-term strategic planning no longer works and the ability to flex and adapt is an essential quality.

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4. What are the benefits?

In addition to the strategic benefits of learning faster than your competitors, there are also a number of more direct benefits for managers and their teams. With a learning organisation you

  1. Create a great place to work
  2. Improve performance
  3. Increase your capacity for change.

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5. What are the challenges?

Learning organisations are not created overnight or by simply saying ‘we’re a learning organisation’. Managers may face a number of challenges:

  1. It’s easier to stay in our own comfort zone
  2. It requires managers to lead by example – do what I do, rather than do what I say
  3. It takes time
  4. It flies in the face of entrenched views about managers always being ‘in control’.
  5. However, there can be enormous value in working through these challenges.

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6. Where do I start?

The good news for managers is that you can start anywhere when developing a learning organisation. Systems thinking reminds us about the interconnected nature of our interactions in organisations, so managers can start with themselves and their teams, then connect with other managers and so on.

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