Learning Organizations Introduction
In a way those who work in a learning organization are “fully awakened” people. They are engaged in their work, striving to reach their potential, by sharing the vision of a worthy goal with team colleagues. They have mental models to guide them in the pursuit of personal mastery, and their personal goals are in alignment with the mission of the organization. Working in a learning organization is far from being a slave to a job that is unsatisfying; rather, it is seeing one’s work as part of a whole, a system where there are interrelationships and processes that depend on each other. Consequently, awakened workers take risks in order to learn, and they understand how to seek enduring solutions to problems instead of quick fixes. Lifelong commitment to high quality work can result when teams work together to capitalize on the synergy of the continuous group learning for optimal performance. Those in learning organizations are not slaves to living beings, but they can serve others in effective ways because they are well-prepared for change and working with others. Organizational learning involves individual learning, and those who make the shift from traditional organization thinking to learning organizations develop the ability to think critically and creatively. These skills transfer nicely to the values and assumptions inherent in Organization Development (OD). Organization Development is a “long-term effort at continuous improvement supported at all levels of the organization, using interdisciplinary approaches and modern technologies.”1 Organization Development is the mother field that encompasses interventions, such as organization learning. OD is about people and how they work with others to achieve personal and organizational goals. Many times achieving goals means making changes that require creative thinking and problem solving. French and Bell report that the values held by OD practitioners include “wanting to create change, to positively impact people and organizations, enhance the effectiveness and profitability of organizations, [to] learn and grow, and exercise power and influence.” (1995, p. 77) Although values do shift over time, the values held by OD practitioners mesh well with the characteristics of learning organizations as outlined in this paper. The paper is organized according to the five disciplines that Peter Senge (1990) says are the core disciplines in building the learning organization: personal mastery, mental models, team learning, shared vision, and systems thinking.2 Even though the paper makes liberal use of Senge’s pervasive ideas, it also refers to OD practitioners such as Chris Argyris, Juanita Brown, Charles Handy, and others. What these writers have in common is a belief in the ability of people and organizations to change and become more effective, and that change requires open communication and empowerment of community members as well as a culture of collaboration. Those also happen to be the characteristics of a learning organization. The paper is influenced by team meetings in which the five authors prepared a class presentation on the topic of learning organizations. The team worked to emulate a learning community within the group. The paper reflects the learning, reflection, and discussion that accompanied the process.
Personal mastery is what Peter Senge describes as one of the core disciplines needed to build a learning organization. Personal mastery applies to individual learning, and Senge says that organizations cannot learn until their members begin to learn. Personal Mastery has two components. First, one must define what one is trying to achieve (a goal). Second, one must have a true measure of how close one is to the goal. (Senge, 1990) It should be noted that the word ’goal’, in this context, is not used the same way it normally is in management. Managers have been...