The Leader as a Social Architect: Organizational Learning

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Running Head: The Leader as a Social Architect: Organizational Learning

Concept Integration Paper 3: Group 4, Question B

Introduction

The learning organization is an idea to which organizations have to evolve in order to be able to respond to the various pressures they face. This type of organization is characterized by recognition that individual and collective learning are key (Smith, 2001).  Many of the concepts in organizational learning literature are rooted in metaphors about individual learning thus introducing some conceptual imprecision, tension, and even contradictions into the field, but also enriching it, and making it applicable to a wide range of phenomena (Schulz, 2001). In this paper we will take a closer look at what it means to say that an organization learns, the different levels of learning, how organizational learning is related to individual learning, planning, and organizational change, and finally we will address the the responsibilities leaders have for the learning of the organization and its individuals.

What does it mean to say that an organization learns?
According to Peter Senge (1990) learning organizations are:…organizations 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 see the whole together (Smith, 2001). A learning organization is an organization – or a network of organizations – that is continually expanding its capacity to create the outcomes to which it aspires (Darling, 2011). Theories of organizational learning attempt to understand the processes which lead to (or prevent) changes in organizational knowledge, as well as the effects of learning and knowledge on behaviors and organizational outcomes (Schulz, 2001). The concept of an organization that learns is not a new one. It started in the fifties and blossomed in the 1990’s, stimulated by Peter Senge’s Fifth Discipline and countless other publications (Garvin, Edmondson et. al, 2008). The idea of a learning organization is that it is made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. Learning organizations develop as a result of the pressures facing them and enables them to remain competitive in the business environment (O’Keeffe 2002).

A learning organization is an adaptive organization. The people in these organizations help their organization cultivate tolerance, foster open discussion, and think holistically and systemically thus making learning organizations able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could (Garvin, Edmondson et. al, 2008). This concept of a learning organization encourages a shift to a more interconnected way of thinking.

What are the different levels of learning?
Several writers draw distinctions between different levels of learning. Peter Senge (1990) differentiates adaptive and generative learning, Argyris and Schön (1978) present the division between single-loop learning, double-loop learning and deutero-learning. Probably the most frequently used model to describe organizational learning levels is the one presented by Argyris and Schön (Cornelius, 2002).

Argyris and Schon (1996) identify three levels of learning, which may be present in the organization; single loop learning, double loop learning and deuterolearning (Frost, 2010). Single-loop learning” is correcting an action to solve or avoid a mistake, while “double-loop learning” is correcting the underlying causes behind the problematic action. Underlying causes may be an organization’s norms and policies, individuals’ motives and assumptions, and informal and ingrained practices that block inquiry on these causes (Talisayon, 2008). Double-loop learning requires the skills of self-awareness and self-management, and the willingness to candidly inquire into why what went wrong did...
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