Learning Organizations (Management) - Explained
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What is a Learning Organization?
A learning organization is one whose design actively seeks to acquire knowledge and affect behavior as a result of the newly acquired knowledge. In learning organizations, experimenting, learning new things, and reflecting on new knowledge are the norms. Learning organizations accept the introduction of new information at various levels of the organization in various manners:
- Experimentation - This includes testing potential outcomes from new processes or procedures. This happens in response to environmental challenges as well as a self-directed discovery.
- Experience - This includes learning from the process undertaken and outcomes of current and prior situations.
- Learn from Others - It can also include learning from the acquired knowledge of others with prior experience. This often comes from vigorously studying competitors and similar companies in other environments. This includes analyzing the industry, employee, customer/client aspects.
- Formal Study - This may include exposure to accepted or novel theories and procedural practices often learned through formal educational programs.
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A Little More on What are Learning Organizations?
The concept of a Learning Organization was proposed by professor David Garvin in his article Building an Organization (1993). Marvin defined a learning organization as an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights.
Characteristics of a Learning Organization
The five defining characteristics of a learning organization are:
- Systematic Problem Solving - The company must employ scientific models for addressing problems. This means employing qualitative and quantitative measurements in the decision-making process.
- Experimentation - Companies must be willing to search for and test with new concepts in a formalized way. This breaks down existing misunderstandings.
- Learning from Past Experience - Companies must continually identify lessons learned from past activities. These after-action reviews allow the organization to identify and document successful and unsuccessful activities.
- Learning from Others - Companies must actively observe the activities of third parties (inside and outside of the organization and industry). This requires establishing relationships with other organizations. The actions of these third parties can serve as lessons for future activity.
- Transferring Knowledge - Companies must document and share knowledge and information throughout the organization. This makes certain there is a commonality of understanding and knowledge at all levels.