Organizational Scholarship

Published January 28, 2015 by Mayrbear's Lair


There is a growing interest in the learning systems in organizational contexts fueled by a belief that innovation and education are essential for the survival of a firm. Harvard Business Professor David Garvin (2000) explains that there simply is no one way of learning successfully. Although people in leadership positions command an arsenal of skills, each method of learning remains consistent, in that it requires the acquisition, interpretation, and application of new data (Garvin, 2000). A top manager of a major clothing store, for instance, that is asked to help design a program to increase the level of organizational learning, may decide to conduct an analysis as their first strategy, to ascertain the current organizational behavior, then develop a way to retrieve unfiltered information from participating staff members. This would ensure that the data gathered consists of accurate intelligence and up-to-date information. The information collection process could center on identifying and comprehending behavior that is influenced by: (a) the technologies available, (b) the barriers and regulations that are implemented, and (c) the social demographics. This method could serve to acknowledge weaknesses and strengths that could assist in the design of an effective program to increase the level in organizational learning.


Another strategy may include the formation of systems that incorporate employee self-analysis and assessment to encourage a learning culture; one that embraces openness from direct observation, feedback, and evaluation as part of the process. Argyris (1992) states organizational learning is a proficiency that all organizations should cultivate. The better they are at learning the more likely they can identify and correct errors as well as recognize when they are unable to detect and correct their own miscalculations. He further contends that organizational defenses are one of the most significant barriers to learning. These defenses include policies, practices, or actions that prevent participants (at any level) from experiencing growth. In this context, organizational defenses are anti-learning and overprotective. For this reason, the data collection process must be constructed to identify existing barriers and defenses that can obstruct the learning process. This can help identify policies and actions that prevent growth (Argyris, 1992).


Questionnaires are the most popular method used to gather information, because they obtain subjective data about the participants that can be analyzed with measurable documented results. In order to develop an effective information gathering plan, however, data may also be collected by survey, interviews or in focus group situations. The data collection plan might: (a) focus on specific topics, (b) contain appropriate tested questions, (c) include participation from the stakeholders, and (d) address any anonymity issues. In addition, the observation design process must also include the ease of analysis, tabulation and summation. Once the unfiltered data is collected, it can be examined and disseminated to identify problems and trouble spots that distinguish which systems are successful and which models are not as effective (Phillips & Stawarski, 2008).  Also, as a means to connect emotionally and engage staff enthusiasm and support, a briefing for the participants on the significance of the program may be helpful in articulating that the process is part of a special campaign with end goals that will reflect positive results. Finally, another step may be to endorse the use of incentives and include additional tools like an introduction video or other form of electronic communication from the highest executive office to personalize the plan and help manage any employee fears. In conclusion, the combination of these strategies may help provide the detailed intelligence required in the development and design of a more effective learning organization.

That’s it for this post! Until next time … keep organizing your systems!


Successful organizing is based on the recognition that people get organized because they, too, have a vision. – Paul Wellstone


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Argyris, C. (1992). on organizational learning (2nd ed.). Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, Inc.

Garvin, D. (2000). Learning in action: A guide to putting the learning organization to work. Boston, MA: Harvard Business School Press.

Phillips, P. P., & Stawarski, C. A. (2008). Data collection: Planning for and Collecting all types of data. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

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