Is Yours a Learning Organization?


Peter Senge defined the concept of the “learning organization” in his signature work, The Fifth Discipline, as a characteristic of organizations that overcome “inherent obstacles to learning and develop dynamic ways to pinpoint the threats that face them and to recognize new opportunities.” In other words, learning organizations recognize that change is a constant in organizational life–the most sustainable organizations are those that adapt to it.

What do learning organizations look like?  A few elements:

  • They value self-starters.
  • They see mistakes as learning opportunities.
  • They support the emotional side of learning by celebrating victories and acknowledging accomplishments.
  • They are not change-averse.
  • Performance assessment is part of the organization’s culture.
  • They adapt learning opportunities to different learning styles.

Learning organizations don’t just happen–they are formed.  Some essential steps to becoming a learning organization:

  • Create a spirit of inquiry. “What would happen if…?” “I wonder if we…?”
  • Encourage personal relationships within the learning organization. Share information with everyone.
  • Use visual thinking. Envision how your organization can meet the demands of the changing environment.
  • Discover the strengths you have as an organization to meet the challenges of developing a more creative, productive future as indicated by your vision.
  • Focus on the “learning” needs of your organization which are called for in the new vision rather than short-term “make-it-fit” solutions.
  • Continue to support and reinforce the values of mutual commitment, mutual trust, mutual respect and on-going inquiry. Encourage exploration of new ways to achieve goals.

Taking steps to develop a culture of a learning organization ensures the sustainability of your organization in a future that is constantly changing–a future you can either dread or eagerly anticipate. Which would you prefer?

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