After reading this article you will learn about:- 1. Meaning of Learning Organisation 2. Features of Learning Organisation 3. Merits 4. Creation.
Meaning of Learning Organisation:
“Learning organisation is the one that has developed the capacity to continuously learn, adapt, and change”. — B. P. Robbins and M. Coulter
Organisations operate in the dynamic environment. There are continuous innovations in information and computer technologies. Markets are global and customers are spread worldwide. Though the world has become global, customers all over the world are not the same. They are guided by their country’s culture, attitudes and beliefs.
In order to be successful, organisations should learn and respond to changes quickly. They learn about effectively challenging conventional wisdom, manage the organisation’s knowledge base and make the desired changes. All organisational members take active part in identifying and resolving work- related issues. In a learning organisation, employees practice knowledge management.
They continuously acquire, share and apply new knowledge in making decisions. In today’s world of competition, organisations that learn and apply new concepts have edge over competitors. “All organisations learn, whether they consciously choose to or not — it is a fundamental requirement for their sustained existence”.
“People continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expensive patterns are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together.” — Peter Senge
Learning organisation “facilitates the learning of all its members and continually transforms itself”. —Pedlar.
It “continually improves by rapidly creating and refining the capabilities required for future success.” — Wick and Leon
a. Learn from experience
b. Adopt continuous development programmes
c. Solve problems through systematic techniques
d. Transfer knowledge throughout the organisation through formal training programmes.
e. Create space and formal mechanism for people to think, ask questions, reflect and learn, encourage them to challenge the existing way of working and suggest improvements.
It “provides a healthy environment for natural learning.” It identifies individual needs, develops skills of people through training, reviews organisational policies and learns from experiences of its members. It makes use of experiences of managers to meet its strategies needs. Learning organisations are associated with internal renewal of the organisation in the face of competitive environment.
Learning organisations use double-loop learning as against single-loop learning. In single- loop learning, errors are corrected according to past routines and policies. In double-loop learning, when errors are detected, their correction involves change in objectives, policies and standard routines. Double-loop learning challenges old assumptions and norms and provides opportunities for alternative solutions to problems leading to dramatic improvement in the organisation structures and designs.
Single-loop learning is called adaptive learning. It focuses on issues within the scope of the organisation. Organisations that adopt single-loop learning frame targets, monitor their performance, take corrective action and, thus, complete the loop.
Double-loop learning is called generative learning. Organisation redefine their targets. They continuously adopt to environmental variables, learn what new can be achieved in the changed circumstances and make action plans to achieve the new targets. They convert learning into action.
The following diagram differentiates between single-loop and double-loop learning:
Features of Learning Organisation:
A learning organisation has the following features:
1. Boundary-less organization:
It does not have a defined structure. The organisation design is not limited to horizontal, vertical or external boundaries. Horizontal boundaries create departments and vertical boundaries create organisational levels and hierarchies. A learning organisation remains flexible and unstructured. Employees cooperate in performing organisational activities.
Members share information throughout the organisation — across functional areas (horizontal boundaries) and organisational levels (vertical boundaries). Structural and physical boundaries are minimised.
Employees do not work for specific departments at specific levels. They work in teams and perform all organisational activities. Managers create cross-functional teams to organise activities around work processes instead of functional departments. This removes horizontal boundaries in the organisation.
They create cross-hierarchical teams and promote participative decision-making. This removes vertical boundaries in the organisation. People subordinate personal interests and fragmented departmental interests and work together to achieve the organisation’s shared vision.
Employees make effective decisions as they are empowered to do so. Power is the ability to do work. Employee teams in learning organisations are empowered to make decisions about work-related issues. Need for bosses or direct supervisors gets reduced. Managers facilitate, support and advocate employee teams rather than direct them. Team working results in better performance.
4. Information sharing:
Information facilitates learning. In a learning organisation, employees learn by sharing information (knowledge management). There is timely, accurate and open sharing of information in the organisation. As there are no structural boundaries, people openly communicate with each other (across vertical and horizontal boundaries). This leads to extensive information sharing amongst members. People discard old ways of thinking and develop new ways of working. Organisational policies also encourage learning amongst members.
5. Shared vision:
Leaders of learning organisation facilitate shared vision in the organisation. Members develop common vision of organisational goals and strategies and collectively work towards that vision. It enables the organisation to respond to future opportunities and benefit from them.
A learning organisation has strong and committed leaders. They create, support and encourage people to collaborate with each other. This creates a motivated workforce which learns continuously from experience and environmental factors.
7. Organisational culture:
Organisational culture is a system of shared meaning within the organisation that determines how employees act. In a learning organisation culture, members think of organisational processes, activities, functions and interactions with the environment as a system of inter-relationships.
Everyone agrees on shared vision and develops strong mutual relationships. They develop community, caring and trust for each other. The culture is supportive in nature. It questions existing assumptions and creates an environment of learning.
Merits of Learning Organisation:
A learning organisation has the following merits:
1. The organisation experiments, tries and permits more failures. This provides extensive information to make decisions.
2. The organisation interacts with customers and maintains a rich and informal environment conducive to growth and success. Knowledge of customer requirement is important for company’s fortunes.
3. Learning enhances company’s speed, innovativeness and adaptability.
4. The organisation can anticipate and adapt changing market conditions. It reaches the market with innovative products faster than competitors.
5. The organisation maximises responsiveness to customers’ needs. This provides competitive advantage to the company.
6. It enables the organisation to survive in the knowledge economy and cope with rapidly changing technology, global competition and demands.
Traditional Organisation and Learning Organisation:
The following table highlights differences between traditional and learning organisations:
Learning Organisation — An Improvement Over Traditional Organisation:
Learning organisation is an improvement over traditional organisation in the following ways:
A traditional organisation has fragmented departments where departments perform specific functions (production, sales etc.). Learning organisation does not have separate departments. It is a boundary-less organisation. All members collectively schedule and perform work activities; irrespective of departments or levels.
A traditional organisation emphasises on competition amongst departments. Departmental heads and members compete for resources and results. In a learning organisation, departments cooperate to share knowledge. Everyone shares common vision of the organisation.
Managers of traditional organisation are reactive. They analyse problems and find solutions according to predefined rules and norms. Managers of learning organisation are creative. They bring something new into the organisation. They are innovative and promote continuous improvement in the work practices.
4. Goals and vision:
In a traditional organisation, goals are formulated by the top management. Top managers decide about their implementation and provide overall vision to the organisation. A learning organisation practices shared vision. Formulation and implementation of ideas take place at all levels in all departments.
5. Competence building:
In a traditional organisation, people aim at building individual competence. People are responsible for their work and resolve conflicts through hierarchical directions.
A learning organisation aims at building collaborative competence. People understand their jobs and relate it with others. They learn by resolving conflicts jointly. Conflict is seen as constructive and aims at integrating diverse viewpoints of the diverse workforce.
Learning Organisation — An Ideal Organisation:
No organisation is perfect. It can only strive towards idealism.
Based on traditional concepts of organisation behaviour, learning organisation can achieve this idealism through the following measures:
1. Total quality management:
It commits resources towards continuous improvement in the quality, totally and fully in all respects, in small areas and all activities of organisation right from top to bottom.
2. Organisation culture:
Its culture values risk-taking, openness and growth.
3. Boundary-less organisation:
It breaks barriers across hierarchical levels and departments.
4. Functional conflict:
It supports disagreement, constructive criticism and other forms of functional conflict.
5. Transformational leadership:
Its leaders are transformational and not transactional. They develop shared vision and subordination of individual interest in favour of organisational interest. Shared vision involves teamwork and commitment towards future of the organisation. Members jointly participate to formulate mission and strategies of the organisation.
6. Team work:
Shared vision promotes working in teams. People think and act as a unit, transform disagreements into synergies and collectively take decisions.
How to Create a Learning Organisation:
The following steps can help to create a learning organisation:
1. Establish a strategy:
Managers establish a strategy and commitment to change, innovation and continuous improvement. People discard old ways of thinking and adopt a new approach towards work. Old practices are converted into new ones, people aspire for development of the self and the organisation, promote training programmes to change their skills and develop self-managed, empowered teams in the organisation.
2. Redesign the organisation structure:
The organisation structure is redesigned from traditional, vertical and horizontal relationships to a boundary-less structure. A formal structure is not responsive to learning. Managers flatten the organisation structure, combine or eliminate departments, make cross-functional teams, reduce boundaries amongst people and increase inter-dependence to create groups responsive to environmental changes and members with a shared vision.
3. Reshape the organisation culture:
Managers reshape the organisation culture to promote disagreement. Risk-taking, failures, mistakes, functional conflict and disagreement are rewarding for learning organisations.
B. Dumaine remarks:
“The key to unlocking real openness at work is to teach people to give up having to be in agreement. We think agreement is so important. Who cares you have to bring paradoxes, conflicts, and dilemmas out in the open, so collectively we can be more intelligent than we can be individually.”