1. There exists a shared vision which everyone agrees on.
2. People discard their old ways of thinking and the standard routines they use for solving problems or doing their jobs.
3. Members think of all organizational processes, activities, functions, and interactions with the environment as part of a system of interrelationships.
4. People openly communicate with each other (across vertical and horizontal boundaries) without fear of criticism or punishment.
5. People sublimate their personal self interest and fragmented departmental interest to work together to achieve the organization’s shared vision.
It may help to better understand what a learning organization is if you think of it as an ideal model that builds on a number of previous OB concepts. No company has successfully achieved all the characteristics described. As such, you should think of a learning organization as an ideal to strive toward rather than a realistic description of structured activity. Learning organizations draw on previous OB concepts such as quality management, organizational culture, the boundary less organization, functional conflict and transformational leadership. For instance, the learning organization adopts quality management’s commitment to continuous improvement. Learning organizations are also characterized by specific cultures that values risk taking, openness and growth. It seeks to be boundary less through breaking down barriers created by hierarchical levels and fragmented departmentalization. A learning organization supports the importance of disagreements, constructive criticism and other forms of functional conflict. And transformational leadership is needed in a learning organization to implement the shared vision.
Managing Learning: How do you change an organization to make it into continual learner? What managers do to make their firms learning organizations?
1. Establish a strategy: Management needs to make explicit commitment to change, innovation and continuous improvements.
2. Redesign the organization’s structure: The formal structure can be a serious impediment to learning. By flattening the structure, eliminating or combining departments and increasing the use of cross functional teams, interdependence is reinforced and boundaries between people are reduced.
3. Reshape the organization’s culture: Learning organizations are characterized by risk taking oneness and growth. Management sets the tone for the organization’s culture booth by what it says (strategy) and what it does (behavior). Managers need to demonstrate by their actions that taking risk and admitting failures are desirable traits. That means rewarding people who take chances and make mistakes and management needs to encourage functional conflict. The key to unlocking real openness at work says one expert on learning organizations is to teach people give up having to be in agreement. We think agreement is so important. Who cares? You have to bring paradoxes, conflicts and dilemmas out in the open so collectively we can be more intelligent than we can be individually.
An excellent illustration of a learning organization is the US Army. This organization’s environment has changed dramatically in the past several decades. Most significantly the Soviet threat, which was a major justification for the army’s military buildup following World War II is largely gone. Now army soldiers are more likely to be peacekeeping in Iraq or helping to fight fires in the Pacific Northwest. In response to this new mission, the army’s high command has redesigned its structure. Its formerly rigid hierarchical war-based command-and-control structure has been replaced with an adaptive and flexible structure to match its more varied objectives. In addition, everyone from PFCs to brigadier generals has gone through team training take the army’s culture more egalitarian. For instance soldiers are now encouraged to question authority and have been given new skills that allow them to make decisions in the field. The new army is developing soldiers and officers who can adapt rapidly to different tasks and missions – fighting, peacekeeping, humanitarian rescue and who can quickly improve in complex and ambiguous situations.