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Organizational Learning (OL)


The Basic Idea of OL  



       When you are part of any ORG today you are obliged to collaborate with others. "Teaming" is all-important - firstly within your team, then how it connects with other teams. Often there is a network linking many individuals and hence their teams and ORGs.  

Working, teaming involves both "organizing to execute"  and "organizing for learning" (Edmondson, 2013). Continuous improvement (i.e. org. learning) is necessary in a world of fierce competition and always new challenges. 

       Organizational Learning occurs when

(i) some members find a better way to do something that the org. needs and when

(ii) that improvement is adopted - as  part of "the way we do it here".  It might be copied from another team, or your own idea - no matter.


Teaming includes learning and it's an on-going process. Improvements can always be improved, modified with further experience. 

Some learning is solitary (important to that individual); some is shared and may become influential as the start of organizational learning and innovation. 

Learning is as fundamental to human life (mentally and totally) as breathing is fundamental to our physical living.

Learning can be done well or poorly. 

It can be done individually and collectively.

ORGanization Learning done well can produce amazing results, e.g. tall buildings, smart phones, space travel, great movies. Also new war fighting methods.


A "Learning Organization" is

     "an organization that is continually expanding its capacity to create its future." 

     Peter Senge: The Fifth Discipline, p.14


Five Disciplines are needed for

      Organizational Learning

  from The Fifth Discipline  by Peter Senge 

    Summarized here (with apologies) by ORGmuze

Personal Mastery

Better ORGs require better individuals.

Individuals can learn from experience: how much? how well?  They set goals and form a personal vision.

They learn to see reality more clearly, including the gap between vision and reality. Use that as creative tension. Tell the truth. Humility.

Replace blaming with compassion. 

  (Compare: Covey, The Leader In Me. Habits of Effective People.)

Mental Models

Some of our unexamined and unstated assumptions powerfully shape and limit what we see and how we act. When we learn to see them we can modify those that create interpersonal problems. Otherwise these "learning disabilities" are found all over.

Shared Visioning

What do we deeply desire?  

Linking this, as a member, to an ORG's mission (collective vision) can release great energy and commitment to higher performance in work and learning together. 

Q: When watching competitive team sports do you see how one team's players may be better at coordinating their moves and supporting each other?  

Which disciplines?

Team Learning

Workers collaborate in cycles of action learning, e.g. in AfterAction Reviews (time-out). Reflecting together on "what was supposed to happen?" and "what did happen?" Reflecting on mental models, behind behavior patterns. Listening to truly understand the other, not just to prepare what you will say next. Dialogue (thinking together) goes beyond discussion (Wm. Isaacs).

Identifying and overcoming defensive routines (Argyris).

Systems Thinking

Learning to see how systems (that we enact) shape results in unexpected ways. See how feedback and critical delays in feedback lead to unintended consequences.

Reinforcing (compounding) Loops and Balancing Loops (Limits to Growth).

Systems Archetypes such as Shifting the Burden, etc..

See the fallacies in simple cause & effect analysis.

This is the Big Picture. The culmination of individual contributions through groups, networks, organizations.

Effective Adhocracy leaders make much use of  these tools/disciplines of ORG Learning.  Their guiding vision as innovation leaders is much like that of the Learning ORG. 

In the many ORGs with a Bureaucratic tradition and culture there may be brave attempts to incorporate the benefits of ORG Learning. This is usually a tough challenge, often attempted in crisis situations at the behest of top management, or sometimes by change advocates closer to the core of the ORG.


There is much we do not know about how to manage these challenges of combining two necessary but conflicting ORG principles or models.




Edmondson, Amy C. (2013). Teaming:  How organizations learn, innovate, and compete in the knowledge economy. SF, CA: Jossey Bass.

Isaacs, W.illiam (1999).  Dialogue and the Art of Thinking Together. NYC: Doubleday.


Senge, Peter M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday.

Senge, P. M., Roberts, C., Ross, R., Smith, B., & Kleiner, A. (1994). 

The Fifth Discipline FIELDBOOK. New York, NY: Doubleday.

Sugarman, Barry (2000)  A Learning-Based Approach to Change Leadership. IBM Center for the Business of Government.

Sugarman, Barry (2010). Organizational Learning - Dynamic, Integrative:  A concept returns, older and wiser.  In Research in Organizational Change and Development, vol.18.  New York: Elsevier.

Sugarman, Barry (2010). Organizational Learning and Reform at the New York City Police Department. In  Journal of Applied Behavioral Science, vol. 46: 2, June 2010.

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