Learning Organizations and Effectiveness – Part II

Published May 17, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair


Transitioning Into a Learning Organization

As the world continues to expand, older models of running an organization, under the direction of a unilateral black box control system, are proving ineffective. These forms of control usually develop from individuals trying to control the situation like Steve Jobs displayed during his reign at Apple. In today’s ever evolving marketplace, leaders are finding success by developing organizations that center on relationships with the intent of creating a whole entity from a variety of components. This is a type of operational control system that is attached to ongoing and real time explanations between divisions and is designed to achieve stability in organizational relationships (Espejo & Reyes, 2011).

Institutions that are making the transition into an effective, well-oiled learning-machine incorporate mechanisms to include a systematic collection of information for analysis and dissemination. They are open to new ideas and focus on cooperative education and training by conceiving programs that meet their needs. Learning is conducted over an expanse of time. Leaders implement clear communication devices, seek unfiltered information, and engage in advanced levels of problem solving. These are tools that help motivate staffers to work together in a cohesive manner and require full participation as well as accountability (Cates, 2009). Organizations that embrace openness to criticism and accept change increase their odds in succeeding.

To effectively transit into a learning organization, leaders must conduct annual and monthly reviews to help identify their strengths and weaknesses. Information collected from these reports is used to decide strategies that can assist to develop higher skill levels.  Used effectively they provide systems that serve to motivate advanced performances (Silberman, 2007). For example, annual reviews give insight to the volume of transactions an organization generates, identifies individuals who experience more developed levels of achievement, and reveals areas where improvement is needed. These systems help organizations strengthen their weaknesses.

Make things happen

Four Motivational Characteristics

Companies are likely to achieve higher levels of success by becoming a learning organization because it fosters a climate of collaboration. Four motivational characteristics of an effective learning organization are: (1) collection of data and intelligence, (2) experiential learning processes, (3) experimentation with new ideas, and (4) changing unfavorable conditions by sharing information and building strong relationships (Garvin, 2000).

The Collection of Data and Intelligence – Because organizations are not always adept at delivering positive outcomes, devising methods to collect data and intelligence from personnel, suppliers, partners, distributors, consumers, and others is essential. This can be accomplished by methods that measure performance levels. This includes surveys, observation, appraisal systems, financial reviews, knowledge testing and skill assessments that are used to ascertain performance levels, and competency gaps (Roberts, 2012).

The Experiential Learning Process – Most scholars are in agreement that experience is a factor that is underestimated and in some cases disregarded. However, research reveals that experience pervades all manners of the learning process. Experiential learning encompasses an individual’s active engagement from both the inner and outer world. Active participation is the key element of experiential learning because it involves the entire person through thoughts, emotions, and physical activity (Beard & Wilson, 2006).

Experimentation of New Ideas – Experimentation is a fairly new concept in organizational management and therefore an uncommon practice other than for market research and research and development purposes. For experimentation to truly become effective, organizations must encourage an open atmosphere that considers all views. Experimentation in this context attempts to produce or prove something new and creates a series of events and activities that can be analyzed in order to discover unidentified barriers. Effective experiments gather data that is important in the development and management of the organization (McClain & Smith, 2006).

Sharing Information – Effective leaders also understand the importance of collaborative management and develop cohesive systems. They build strong relationships and create a foundation in which they become more adept at working together to achieve outcomes and desired solutions. By establishing a shared vision and clear channels to open communication where people feel safe in sharing knowledge, they build a genuine trust and camaraderie. This is an integral component that can determine a company’s failure or success. Efficient business collaboration unites individuals, increases performance and productivity, and gives an organization a competitive advantage (Peterson, 2001).


Achieving Goals

Learning organizations that work together and collaborate are capable of achieving higher levels of success because everyone is focused on a common goal that is larger than their individual goals. For example, they strive to make their organization safer, logical, standardized, and fluid. Additionally, they are connected in more cost effective ways, upgrading their systems and policies in doing so (Galsworth, 2005).

Furthermore, organizations strive to ensure they achieve the outcomes they desire.  Once data from knowledge management systems are collected, received, interpreted, and processed, priorities and deadlines are implemented to help keep them on track to accomplish their goals. Follow ups and feedback are essential to monitor effective and ineffective systems. Evaluation of systems and experimental results also helps discern errors and is factored in for the development or adjustments that will make the organization run more efficiently and the staff work together more productively.

Organizations also implement the use of electronic communication devices as a means to achieve their goals and facilitate the learning experience. This includes the implementation of discussion boards, social networking, and instant messaging tools. These components allow organizations to communicate and coordinate events and programs in real time from remote locations removing time and space limitations. In addition, organizations work collaboratively to address and achieve larger goals like environment problems, unemployment, urban development and more (Fink, 2007).


Identifying Obstacles

Today’s leaders are learning to become more flexible as they endure enormous amounts of external pressure to survive.  In order to achieve the desired outcomes leaders are required to identify the following types of system blindness that can hinder their goals: (a) spatial, (b) temporal, (c) relational, (d) process, and (e) uncertainty. Spatial blindness, for example, only allows a fragmented viewing of a system, not the entire whole. Relational system blindness, on the other hand, is the perception an individual may experience by perceiving only what is happening to them, not necessarily what is occurring elsewhere. Identifying system blind spots can help leaders understand some of the challenges they encounter (Oshry, 2007).

Situations that are stressful and create fear also create obstacles. For example, Reason’s (2010) studies indicate leaders who engage in methods of intimidation constrict the learning process. Because of this, leaders must learn that fostering a culture of stress and fear creates an environment that encourages learning disabilities (Reason, 2010). Leaders who are able to identify organizational disabilities can tackle elements that threaten a company’s productivity. Instead, they adopt strategies to support organizational learning by creating an environment that nurtures innovative patterns of thinking. Therefore, organizations need to work together to achieve a collective vision that thrives and must strategically implement programs and systems that are designed to help them produce the outcomes they desire. In doing so, they can motivate genuine learning. Team members are inspired because they are focused on more significant matters. Effective leaders know how to bridge teamwork and fabricate a creative climate that is free from confining attitudes (Senge, 2006). Leaders who have functioned together as part of a team or group that has achieved extraordinary goals comprehend the advantages of a collaborative learning experience. There is an acknowledgment and recognition in each other’s strengths and compensation to make up for each other’s weaknesses.


Strategies for Successful Outcomes

Learning organizations have the ability to introduce innovative opportunities that solve issues. One fundamental element to efficient learning is the innate ability to reflect and review the learning process. This helps identify which methods are effective and which are not. Spitzer (2007) postulates the key to success is measurement because it can reveal the organization’s current position in the marketplace, identifies strengths and weaknesses, and helps in the development of new goals. For this reason, performance measures have a transformational effect (Spitzer, 2007).

Decentralization of the decision making process is another effective strategy for positive outcomes. This exists where organizations foster a climate of trust and unbiased communication systems. This model can address the needs of the whole company rather than that of one individual who is leading with a personal agenda. In addition, when organizations run into issues based on gender, race, and age, working together in collaborative effort can minimize these kinds of challenges (Peterson, 2001).



The reality is that we are all discovering how to learn together and are inherently evolving into a learning community. Leaders are beginning to understand that people are capable of learning quicker when they put their attention on actions that solve problems. In the long run, an organization’s ability to learn faster than the competition will likely be the key component to their longevity. This research concludes that a healthy learning environment fosters good decision making. It is derived from knowledge, hard work, experience, and in some cases, as a result of bad decision making. Organizations that learn to adapt by identifying their errors and seek new opportunities for learning will set themselves up for a prosperous existence.

A successful learning organization is the driving engine that motivates and inspires individuals. The most effective leaders today are flexible, apply active listening skills, and develop methods that will improve organizational performances. Even though it stifles growth, organizations are likely to achieve higher levels of success by becoming a learning organization because it fosters a climate of trust; creates a culture of decentralized decision making; and it integrates people, systems, and technology. Leaders that adapt a learning paradigm will most likely outlive those resistant to change.


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