Operating with outdated corporate models and ideologies always seems comfortable but it is a means through which companies may cease to exist. Taking into consideration such risk, it is important that organizations remain flexible and change according to the demands of the external environment. The idea of the learning organization reinforces the need for organizations to embrace adaptive learning and ready for change. As such, learning organizations encourage employees to think outside the box as they search for answers to their problems.
Learning organization refers to an organization that encourages people to continuously develop their ability to achieve desired results with new patterns of thinking and where collective aspirations are nurtured (Hussein et al., 2014). A learning organization recognizes the importance of empowering employees to become independent thinkers, and learning is prioritized as a main component of its goals, visions, and values (Moilanen, 2005). Such an organization creates enabling structures that cultivate a learning climate.
There are different learning levels which in learning organization that act as levers for strategic change and they include single, double, and triple loop learning. According to Basten & Haamann (2018), single loop learning involves instrumental learning that brings changes to strategies of actions but does not interfere with the values of a theory. Single loop learning advocates for strategic change by comparing current problems with organizational values. On the other hand, double loop learning depends on two feedback strategies that create a connection between observed effects and values created by such strategies. In strategic change management, it is most commonly used when correcting a defect requires adapting to organizational values (Basten & Haamann, 2018). Lastly, triple loop learning emphasizes the importance of “learning to learn” which effectively means learning from experience (Barbat et al., 2011). With this strategy, events from the past are used as important lessons when planning changes for the future.
Learning organization was popularized by Peter Senge in his Five Disciplines model. He posited that learning organizations are governed by five new technologies that gather to become an innovation (Liu, 2018). These include systems thinking, personal mastery, building shared vision, improving mental models, and team learning. Personal mastery was used in reference to the self-realization that goes beyond the limits of skilfulness. Organizational learning is practically impossible without individual learning. Improving mental models describes a set of assumptions, impressions, and stereotypes that are deeply rooted in the mind and affects one’s understanding of the world. Improving mental models cultivates a culture of learning in an organization.
The other component is that of establishing a shared vision. Senge noted that the leadership in any institution should have the ability to converge the vision of all its members so that they pull in the same direction. The fourth component of team learning emphasizes the idea that collective intelligence is better than personal wisdom (Liu, 2018). As a result, a group is in a better position to act relative to an individual. Lastly, system thinking combines all the other four disciplines into a framework for learning organization (Bratianu, 2015). As such, systems thinking is a stimulant the process of learning integration where the final result is better than sum of individual parts.
Over the years, learning organization has been given new meaning and characteristics through research. In 1991, Peddler et al. developed the eleven characteristics of a learning company which was used as a measurement tool that determines the position of an organization in terms of becoming a learning organization. The eleven characteristics include learning approach to strategy, participative policy making, informating, formative accounting and control, internal exchange, reward flexibility, boundary workers, enabling structures, learning climate, self-development, and inter-company learning (De Villiers, 2008). Peddler’s tool is a uni-dimensional apparatus that measures how close an organization is to becoming a learning organization.
Learning in organizations takes different types with prime examples being action learning, experience factory, and training. According to Basten & Haamann (2018), action learning refers to a method of learning where voluntary non-hierarchical meetings are held to resolve a problem. On the other hand, experience factory recommends that a central repository is used to support projects throughout its existence from the planning to execution phase. Lastly, training is a type of learning where members of the organization are taught particular skills and behaviours (Basten & Haamann, 2018). Organizations are free to choose their preferred type of learning that suits its needs.
Barriers to organizational learning are aligned according to the 4I model. Based on this model, the barriers are classified into actional-personal, structural-organizational, and societal-environmental. Examples of actional-personal barriers are high stress, superstitious learning, low confidence of designers, and biases of workers (Schilling & Kluge, 2009). Structural-organizational challenges constitute unclear performance feedback and goals, status culture, unclear job descriptions, work overload, organizational silence and narrow organizational identity. Societal- environmental barriers under the same include incompatibility of knowledge, cultural distance, divergent objectives, complex knowledge, and competitive environment.
Lastly, the link between knowledge management (KM) and organizational learning is based on the premise that both concepts are aligned towards the effective production and utilization of information. Organizational learning creates a suitable environment from which knowledge is acquired through the learning cycle, and through it, an organization can produce usable information (King, 2009). Effective utilization of such information is ensured through KM which facilitates better decision making and overall increased organizational performance. By unifying the relationship between these two concepts, an organization can implement strategic change with an accurate information framework.
In conclusion, learning organization is a concept that refers to an organization that encourages free thinking. It nurtures the capacity of its members to develop new ways of thinking and solving problems. While it was popularized by Peter Senge under the Five Disciplines model, it has since been revised and applied differently. Learning organization eases the implementation processes of strategic changes in an institution in its different forms and types. Learning organization should be a mainstay of all organizations that adhere to current strategic change management principles.
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