If your organization struggles to keep up with the ever-changing realities of your industry — and of the world of business at large — your organization is not alone. For one, the current and ongoing digital transformation, the emerging skill gaps that follow in its wake, and the pressure to innovate and adapt to continuing change can all make for challenging terrain to navigate for any organization, big or small.
Learning organization meets a transformative world head-on. That’s because these organizations help to create agile learners, and agile learners move quickly, adjust skillfully, and drive innovation. It’s no wonder then that the organizations that get this right are 46% more likely to be first to market, 37% to be more productive, and 92% to be more likely to innovate.
What is a learning organization?
To put it simply, a learning organization is one that promotes the learning and professional development of all its members. A learning organization does not fight change — instead, it continuously develops itself to adapt to new needs and demands.3
The characteristics of a learning organization includes systems and processes to support experimentation, new modes of thinking, and a culture of inquiry.
How to create a learning organization
Pause for a moment and look at your colleagues. Note the wide experience and expertise each of them could bring to the table if given the chance and motivation. Is it possible that one of them has the very solution to one of your organization’s problems, but may never have had the opportunity or drive to share it?
When you create a learning culture, you send the following message to everyone: The knowledge and skills you have matter, and your professional development is our priority.
This is where the L&D team comes in. In an evolving business landscape where upskilling and reskilling are more important than ever, L&D managers and their teams must be able to provide impactful learning solutions that meet the individual needs of diverse teams within their organization, and inject key skills that have a direct impact on business success and growth. Combined, the drive to learn and continuous upskilling help organizations to pivot in the face of rampant change.
The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, uses the following five “disciplines” or areas that together make up a roadmap to creating a learning organization:
- Systems thinking
- Personal mastery
- Mental models
- Shared vision
- Team learning
These disciplines prepare individuals, teams, and organizations with the skills and practices needed to make a learning organization work. They also help pinpoint areas of improvement that can be targeted by L&D teams. Let’s have a look at each one of them below.
1. Systems thinking
Systems thinking demands that one views their organization as a complex system that’s made up of numerous smaller structures. It’s much like a spider’s web, where it’s the small strands that ultimately make the whole strong — meaning that individual decisions are understood to have a broader impact.
To reach systems thinking — or the ability to see one’s organization as a system of interconnected structures — you will have to understand your organization as a whole, from the bigger-picture structures to the architecture of departments and teams. You then need to identify — and this is key to systems thinking — the small cogs (short-term objectives) that keep the big machine (long-term goals) working.
For example, take a set of skills a marketing team has. Perhaps their strength as a team are insights into digital marketing essentials. Now identify the processes that help put these skills to use, and the technologies that enable collaboration within and between this team and other teams within the organization.
Such an exercise might look like weekly campaign meetings where contributors can track progress, share data and learnings, and monitor how campaign KPIs link to higher-level business goals like overall sales. Observe how synchronous communications tools like Slack, for instance, and increased autonomy allow the team to optimize campaigns in real time.
By pinpointing how such skills, processes, and technologies affect each other, your organization can now identify barriers and suggest improvements and opportunities to fill emerging skills gaps — both of which are foundational to building enterprise agility and a culture of learning.
2. Personal Mastery
The second pillar of a learning organization is an investment in personal mastery — in other words, a commitment to ongoing growth and development through deeper insights into personal beliefs, purpose, and vision. Personal mastery is achieved through a set of repeatable strategies and tools that equip individuals to perform at their best.
Contrary to what its name suggests, personal mastery is not only concerned with individual opportunities to grow new skills and expertise. It’s also about the way in which an organization supports such opportunities and helps team members link their efforts to the broader mission of the organization.
Learning in this context does not mean acquiring more information, but expanding the ability to produce results. This means that a digital marketer is not just gaining a new accreditation; they’re also acquiring knowledge that’ll enable more targeted campaigns and higher conversion rates in their day-to-day.
And with online learning providing new opportunities for performance-based learning (otherwise known as learning in the flow of work), teams will have the chance to put their learning into action directly.
The benefits of putting newly learned skills into practice are twofold. First, when individual team members are given the opportunity to grow their careers, they stay motivated in their roles and remain happy with their current organization.
And when these employees focus on upskilling, and gain new and in-demand skills that are needed to cope with industry shifts, they also become part of increasing organizational agility.
3. Mental models
It is no secret that our assumptions and preconceptions about ourselves, about others, and about the world at large affect our emotions and behavior. What is more, we are often unaware of these thinking patterns and constructs. This, in turn, can affect how we show up at work. If we hold on to an unconscious belief that we’re not capable of doing something, we might not jump at a promising opportunity, either — or underperform.
This could even affect broader business outcomes. For example, if a leadership team is convinced that they’re already using the best technology, they could close themselves off to a new solution that could boost team efficiency and even save on licensing fees.
4. Shared vision
Workers who share and support their organization’s vision, and what their organization stands for, perform better and tend to remain longer within their organization. Take an employee who works for a company that’s committed to promoting gender equality in real terms — through transparency around pay, equal parental leave, childcare services, and programs that support women’s advancement in the workplace.
If this particular employee supports their organization’s commitment to gender equality, and shares in the organization’s mission of promoting equitable practices, they’ll be intrinsically motivated to make sure the organization meets its vision and mission, and may feel more driven to perform for the good of the company. Case in point: Researchers have established a clear link between employee satisfaction and wellness at work, and individual links to the broader outcomes of their organization.
5. Team learning
The role of teams within a learning organization is significant. According to him, teams have an “extraordinary capacity for positive change.” That’s because people can achieve more together.
A focus on team-level learning — where teams think together, engage in dialogue and cooperative problem-solving, and share collective insights — is a powerful vehicle for innovation and agility. If one developer is struggling to integrate the latest of a string of product updates, they may make better headway when partnered up with a product manager who understands the business need behind a change, and with a software engineer who’s been working with the platform since it was first built.
Such a learning collaboration fosters conversations within and between departments. It also primes teams to work with a shared vision, an understanding of how organizational systems impact each other, and a grasp of how individual and team activities feed into the whole. But before team learning can take place, a team and its organization have to address one major barrier to success.
This Content has originally written by edX For Business Team and published on November 1, 2022.
No Copyright/IPR breach is intended.
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