Saturday, 5 May 2012

Art of Building a Learning Organization

To broaden our perspective from individual to organization and then to global community is a process of growth and evolution .As John C. Maxwell has stated in his "The 21 Irrefutable Laws of Leadership",  the main  task of a leader is to develop  a number of leaders  through out the organization.One way to do this is to pick up a handful of persons and to mentor, groom and nurture them to become leaders with a purpose and a vision  in due course .But after reading "The Fifth Discipline . . The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization" by Peter M. Senge , my views on this issue underwent a major change  and if I may say so ,  became more enlightened .The book had been on my shelf for a long time(since 1999) but its size(424 pages ) had  discouraged me from reading it .And I am happy , I read it .I wish , I had read it earlier, when I had procured it . Senge, then Senior Lecturer at MIT,  first published this book in 1990 and it became a modern business classic.
                                      Senge  recommends   not only to focus on learning by the top chosen  few .He advocates to build   whole organizations  which develop the ability and capacity and commitment  to learn ,and learn fast at all levels in the organization.Senge says:"The ability to learn faster than  your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage."In the process , Senge gives a whole new meaning to  the concepts of  competitiveness , sustainability and employment, engagement  and learning  itself.The concept of learning organization  is against conventional model of management and leadership .With  their  mission is to build a learning organization ,  the role of leaders changes drastically .The real issue is learning how to learn and how to learn  together as teams and as an organization .Learning has to be both survival or adaptive learning as well as generative learning .The former helps us to survive , the latter helps us to enhance our capacity to create.
Every organization has seven learning disabilities.Leaders must take every possible step so that the organization overcomes these learning disabilities.
1.Every person defines his identity through his position in the organization ."I am my position."
2.There is in each one of us a propensity to find someone or something outside ourselves to blame when things go wrong ."The enemy is out there."
3.The illusion of taking charge and being proactive .
We try to take aggressive action against an external enemy.Actually , this is not real pro activeness .The real pro activeness lies in seeing  how we contribute to our own problems , and then taking action.
4.The fixation or focus on events , especially short term events .
5.Neglecting to see the gradual processes that often pose the greatest threats."The parable of the boiled frog."
6.The impossibility of learning from certain types of experiences.Often , we do not directly experience the consequences of many of our important decisions because the consequences come many years after the decision s.In such cases , there is least opportunity for  trial and error learning .
7.Often , teams exist only in form .To keep up image , teams seek to squelch disagreements, they seek to protect themselves from the pain of appearing uncertain or ignorant, , members with serious reservations avoid stating them publicly, joint decisions are "watered down compromises"  or else reflect one person's (Chair person's)view foisted on the group.
Once we have identified these learning disabilities , we need to see how we can overcome and possibly get rid of  these disabilities.

Senge describes three roles of  a leader in a learning organization.
1.As a Designer.
2.As a Steward .
3.As a teacher.
As a designer  in a learning organization , the main task of the leader is to design and develop the learning processes  where people throughout the organization  develop their mastery in five learning disciplines , also called the five  component technologies.These five learning disciplines are Personal Mastery ,Mental Models(confining assumptions and mindsets),Building Shared Vision ,Team Learning and Systems thinking(Seeing  the forest and the trees.).These include vision , values , purpose, policies , strategies , systems and structures. Designing also involves integration of the five component technologies. This will require  seeing the organization as a system in which parts are not only internally connected , but also connected to the external environment and clarifying how the whole system can work better.Thirdly , a leader has to decide the sequencing and interactions among the disciplines .Fourthly , in  large organizations , different combinations of learning disciplines  will be developing in different operating units., and leadership  has to operate at many levels.Fifthly , if there is a resistance to learning certain disciplines ,  a leader must not be pushing .Rather than pushing against resistance , a leader should look for the source of resistance  and continually improve the design .

2As a Steward in a learning organization , a leader may start by  pursuing his own vision  but he also learns to listen to the visions of others..Then they begin to see that their personal vision is a part of something larger.They realise  how their organization needs to evolve as a part of something larger.This in turn enlarges the purpose of the organization and it becomes a vehicle for  bringing learning and change into society.In the process , the leader develops a unique relationship with his own personal vision.He becomes a steward of the vision .He becomes responsible  for it without possessiveness.The vision as well as the organization becomes a vehicle for advancing the larger story .
3.As a Teacher, a leader helps people throughout the organization  develop systemic understandings so that strategic insights  systemic forces that shape change become  public knowledge , open to challenge and further improvement.This prevents the leaders from  losing their commitment to the truth.Without systemic understanding , the organization becomes dominated by events and re activeness.In the process , leaders  and people in the organization become crisis managers, with no control over their time or vision . or purpose(Symptomatic problems versus root problems).Leaders must have  an integrating purpose story and understanding of systemic structure (big picture).The task of leader as a teacher is  to help people achieve a view of reality, as a medium for creating  rather than as a source of limitation.Leaders can help people view at four different levels as events , patterns of behaviour , systemic structures and  an integrating purpose story  but in a learning organization ,  they focus more on  purpose and systems structure and less on events and patterns of behaviour.A learning organization evolves depending on the skills of leaders in teaching ,mentoring , coaching and helping others to learn .

Actually , Senge has focused  on two major things in the book .The first is the need to have a big picture or systemic thinking, which he calls The Fifth Discipline.In this he leans heavily on David Bohm and others.This , to my mind , is not his original idea.In fact , this is a separate subject in its own right.The second is his concept of learning organization , which , to my mind , is revolutionary.Form learning organizations to learning communities is but the next step of evolution.This could raise global standards  for environment responsibility , labour rights,gender equality , poverty , disease , hunger and illiteracy.This idea is full of great  possibilities.
 This is an outstanding book and has contributed significantly to my knowledge .It has introduced a large number of brilliant ideas .I recommend that everyone who is working or  aspires to work for large organizations or for global communities must read it .It  demands some patience , like all good things of life, before you realize how good it is .