Learning Organization – What it Is and Why it Matters

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This is the thirteenth episode of the Agile Leadership & Management Series.

A core function of Agile leadership’s management work is to develop organizations into what is called learning organizations, a term coined by MIT’s Peter Senge, which are organizations that facilitate the learning of its members and continuously transform themselves. Such organizations possess the capability to survive and thrive in the midst of rapid change and high complexity. 

Learning organizations are one of the best ways to create a flexible organization that can handle VUCA in a good way. The idea for a learning organization is that people identify needs so that strategy emerges from the accumulated activities of peoples and teams. It emerges within the overall vision of the organization’s future so innovation and improvements add to the organization’s whole.

In traditional hierarchical organizations, management was usually driving the strategy work and taking responsibility for thinking and acting. People were seen as a resource that should just do the job assigned to them.

In learning organizations, people identify needs so that strategy emerges from the accumulated activities of peoples and teams. Strategy emerges within the overall vision of the organization’s future so innovation and improvements add to the organization’s whole.  

A learning organization is designed by networks of networks. The different parts constantly adapt and change independently, while at the same time contribute to the mission. It has an agile behavior, where individuals are constantly learning, relearning, and unlearn together. All this is associated with leadership capable of constant transformation and development, shared information, transparency, empowerment, emergent strategy, and horizontal structures. 

The focus is on empowering people to think, act, and design work methods on behalf of the organization. Still, management usually provides the primary strategic direction, but the people have more space to act within the frame of the direction. It’s John Kotter’s Dual Operating System at work!

Due to the high speed of change and the increasing complexity, many organisations can see a gap between what is happening and what is needed to be done, to survive and excel.

We, therefore, need to engage every single brain in the organizations to handle our VUCA world! It’s too difficult to be done by a few thinkers. All need to contribute to workflow decisions, actions, and also to the strategic direction, to an extent never seen before.  THIS is why learning organizations matter!

Overwhelmed? Focusing first on creating a horizontal organization with a shared picture of WHAT to do and WHY. Preferably done together with the employees, as far it is possible. Combine that with a lot of psychological safety and the autonomy will grow at the same time the first steps towards a Learning Organisation are taken!


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The next post in the November Agile Leadership and Management Series is: “Learning organization”


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