Berrett-Koehler Publishers

All posts tagged Berrett-Koehler Publishers

Organizations as Systems

Published April 17, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

human network

As human beings, we spend most of our lives in systems: a family system, a classroom, peer groups, teams, organizations, community, nations, and ethnic groups to name a few. When individuals fail to recognize systems, they tend to fall out of partnership with one another and their surroundings. They are prone to misunderstandings and invent information to explain what they do not know. They create falsehoods and biases. In short, they become separated when they could remain a part of something. People become oppressed when they could live in accord with one another. As a result, most systems, organizations, families, and other groups squander much of their potential. When this occurs without awareness or choice it becomes a blind reflex. Oshry (2007) identifies five types of system blindness: (a) spatial, (b) temporal, (c) relational, (d) process, and (e) uncertainty.  For example, when a person suffers from spatial blindness, they only see part of a system, not the whole. They see what is happening to them, but not necessarily what is occurring elsewhere for instance. They cannot view another’s perspective or comprehend some of the issues they face, the stresses they may feel, nor can they ascertain how their views impact their lives or that of others (Oshry, 2007).


Espejo and Reyes (2011) research contends there is a distinct difference between what they classify as a black box organization and an operational interpretation of an organizational system. The former is concerned with the transformation of inputs and outputs; the latter centers on the relationships that create a whole entity from a set of various components. The black box description is often formulated from an individual’s concept who is trying to control the situation from the outside. In other words, it is a form of unilateral control.  An operational system on the other hand, is connected to ongoing explanations between components that are determined to achieve stability in their relationships. Control in this model is quite different than that of the unilateral control system of the black box frame. It is attained from communications, accommodation and mutual influence (Espejo & Reyes, 2011). An independent contractor for example, may create their own systems of operation, as well as adhere to the systems and parameters from those that hire their services.


Garvin (2003) postulates that an effective organization must consist of the following six critical activities for a learning organization to be successful: (1) collect information, (2) learn from the successful experiences (benchmark) of others, (3) learn from past experiences, (4) experiment with new ideas, (5) encourage problem solving, and (6) share knowledge (Garvin, 2003). For many businesses, important information for projects  flows as input and data processing. Once data is received, it is then interpreted and formulated into a new project ascertaining priorities and giving attention to deadlines.  A client that conducts a monthly Lunch-n-Learn presentation, for example, to recruit and motivate new clients, would require systems in place to manage the event. Once the data is received regarding an upcoming event, the information is processed and transformed into intellectual properties in the form of invitations, a press release, and creative marketing to support the event. Next, reports are organized from the feedback of potential participants. Once the presentation is completed, follow up systems are implemented to keep connected with participants, including appreciation forms of communication like thank you cards. Feedback for self-assessment is also important. It helps make the next presentation more effective. With having systems in place, including the organization of client information, leaders can evaluate and learn from their mistakes by observing what works and what does not. These systems serve as a tool that help people learn and work better together, as well as serve others more efficiently. Acknowledging mistakes, keeping open communication, listening to feedback, and engaging in active action reviews, are some of the systems organizations have implemented to make their working relationships more effective.


Espejo, R., & Reyes, A. (2011). Organizational systems: Managing complexity with the viable system model. New York, NY: SPi Publisher Services.

Building a more effective learning organizztion (2003). [Motion Picture]. Retrieved April 2, 2013, from!

Oshry, B. (2007). Seeing systems: Unlocking the mysteries of organizational life. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

How Valuable is Training to the Learning Process

Published April 15, 2013 by Mayrbear's Lair

TrainingThe Value of Training

This week’s topic is focused on social learning, which in its simplest definition means receiving knowledge with and from others.This happens inherently at meetings, gatherings, and amongst good friends over a cup of tea for example, just as easily as it occurs in a classroom situation.We can also experience social learning in the workplace when we step in to an adjacent office to ask a question, or call a colleague to pose the same query. In addition, because of social media tools, learning is now unconstrained by geographic differences or temporal boundaries. Classic business models however, make the presumption that pertinent information is created and shared either through management or training alone. Most of the knowledge acquired in today’s organizations in fact, comes from engaging in networks where people co-create, collaborate and share information with full participation in guiding and driving their learning by whatever means will help them grow. Successful corporate leaders understand this concept and encourage group networking for instance, to help acquire further knowledge and experience. In the meantime, training still serves as a valuable tool in the learning process because it provides individuals solutions to challenges that have already been mastered by others (Bingham & Conner, 2010).


New Skills Development

Wick et al. (2010) postulate that there is a strategic significance to learning and contributing to the workplace that corporate training and development programs can and should provide. Leaders anticipate and support training programs because they are beneficial and rewarding in that they can help improve workplace performance. However, each individual’s learning experience from any given situation is shaped by a variety of components including (a) his or her expectations, (b) attitude, (c) prior knowledge experiences, (d) learning style, and (e) aptitude and emotional experience. Furthermore, other factors can also influence the degree in which individuals transfer and apply that knowledge. These include opportunity, encouragement, reinforcement, and early successes or failures. Therefore, the success of training programs relies on both the absorption and facilitation of the educational program. The design of the learning initiatives must take into consideration and incorporate the training to encompass the entire learning process, not just what occurs in the classroom situation. Equally important is what happens before and after the formal period of instruction (Wick, Pollock, & Jefferson, 2010). Effective training programs therefore should include follow-ups, assessments, and continual re-evaluation to keep skills honed and the creative energy stimulated to maintain a cohesive organization.

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Modeling Behavior

The training process also includes to a certain degree, the modeling of behavioral practices. Most people are not even aware that they instinctively model behavior. For example, when a popular character on a television series or commercial displays a certain kind of behavior or cites a phrase that stands out, it is likely that it will become a popular catch phrase shortly thereafter. That is how such popular quotes like, “where’s the beef’ and “yadda, yadda, yadda” are born, which advertisers rely on as a key component to creating an effective marketing campaign. In this sense, society models behavior based on popularity. In the training arena, modeling behavior presents individuals an opportunity to use information that supports and reinforces substantiated knowledge that will yield results. Behavior modeling can occur in situations of collaboration, coaching, as well as from senior management and supervisor support. Social situations, whether in an office setting or on a playing field of a sports arena, offer ripe environments for individuals to learn how to model behavior from each other in an effort to become more successful or win a game. The Greek philosopher Plato said that, “You can discover more about a person in an hour of play, than in a year of conversation” (Chopra, 2013). It is no wonder then, that organizational leaders who incorporate training programs with an open, playful, and interactive arena, create a perfect storm for the learning experience. In conclusion, training, developing new skills, and modeling behavior absorbed from successfully trained individuals with proven positive outcomes, can be an effective approach to achieve higher levels of success when it is applied in the workplace.


Bingham, T., & Conner, M. (2010). The new social learning: a guide to transforming organizations through social media. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Chopra, D. (2013, March 27). Oprah and Deepak 21-day mediation challenge: Day 17. Carlsbad, CA, USA. Retrieved March 27, 2013, from

Wick, C., Pollock, R., & Jefferson, A. (2010). The six disciplines of breakthrough learning. San Franciso, CA: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.