Learning Organizations? Introduction

My collection of notes on Learning Organization: Gathered from Various Sources in the Web.


"Organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together" (Peter Senge, 1990)


Learning organizations are those that have in place systems, mechanisms and processes, that are used to continually enhance their capabilities and those who work with it or for it, to achieve sustainable objectives – for themselves and the communities in which they participate.


The important points to note about this definition are that learning organizations:

·         Are adaptive to their external environment

·         Continually enhance their capability to change/adapt

·         Develop collective as well as individual learning

·         Use the results of learning to achieve better results


All organizations learn to one degree or another. It is simply a case of whether the learning is improving the organization or damaging the organization. In some organizations, the spiral of learning is negative: people learn how to avoid nasty managers, how to keep their jobs and how to avoid blame.


Software development abounds with examples of negative learning, whether it is program code that should not be touched or time estimates that are padded – or reduced – to make them more acceptable regardless of the work required. Negative learning can be considered sub-optimal because it creates other problems.


Positive learning occurs when people and teams are learning to improve the way in which they work in an optimal fashion. One example is the points-based work estimates used by agile teams. Over time, teams converge on an understanding of the work value of a point without any rigid definition of what a point is.


Both positive and negative learning can be self-reinforcing. We can think of them as spirals.


Negative learning tends to lead to more negative learning – problems multiply because our solutions create more problems. In a negative spiral, each badly solved problem is not completely solved. Problems are stored up for the future and, most probably, people lose motivation. Future problems come from existing solutions.


Positive learning, on the other hand, leads us a greater understanding and reveals further opportunities for learning and improvement. Problems are solved regularly and people learn more. New problems are uncovered and existing solutions revisited. However, with each improvement overall performance increases and people are more motivated.


A Learning Culture

·         Future, external orientation these organizations develop understanding of their environment; senior teams take time out to think about the future. Widespread use of external sources and advisors e.g. customers on planning teams.

·         Free exchange and flow of information – systems are in place to ensure that expertise is available where it is needed; individuals network extensively, crossing organizational boundaries to develop their knowledge and expertise.

·         Commitment to learning, personal development – support from top management; people at all levels encouraged learning regularly; learning is rewarded. Time to think and learn (understanding, exploring, reflecting, developing)

·         Valuing people – ideas, creativity and "imaginative capabilities" are stimulated, made use of and developed. Diversity is recognized as strength. Views can be challenged.

·         Climate of openness and trust individuals are encouraged to develop ideas, to speak out, to challenge actions.

·         Learning from experience – learning from mistakes is often more powerful than learning from success. Failure is tolerated, provided lessons are learnt ("learning from fast failure" – Peters).




The Learning Organization

Changing Software Development: Learning to be Agile


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