There are five disciplines (as described by Peter Senge) which are essential to a learning organisation and should be encouraged at all times. These are:
Virtually all important decisions occur in groups. Teams, not individuals, are the fundamental learning units. Unless a team can learn, the organisation cannot learn. Team learning focusses on the learning ability of the group. Adults learn best from each other, by reflecting on how they are addressing problems, questioning assumptions, and receiving feedback from their team and from their results. With team learning, the learning ability of the group becomes greater than the learning ability of any individual in the group.
To create a shared vision, large numbers of people within the organisation must draft it, empowering them to create a single image of the future. All members of the organisation must understand, share and contribute to the vision for it to become reality. With a shared vision, people will do things because they want to, not because they have to.
Each individual has an internal image of the world, with deeply ingrained assumptions. Individuals will act according to the true mental model that they subconsciously hold, not according to the theories which they claim to believe. If team members can constructively challenge each others' ideas and assumptions, they can begin to perceive their mental models, and to change these to create a shared mental model for the team. This is important as the individual's mental model will control what they think can or cannot be done.
Personal mastery is the process of continually clarifying and deepening an individual's personal vision. This is a matter of personal choice for the individual and involves continually assessing the gap between their current and desired proficiencies in an objective manner, and practising and refining skills until they are internalised. This develops self esteem and creates the confidence to tackle new challenges.
The cornerstone of any learning organisation is the fifth discipline - systems thinking. This is the ability to see the bigger picture, to look at the interrelationships of a system as opposed to simple cause-effect chains; allowing continuous processes to be studied rather than single snapshots. The fifth discipline shows us that the essential properties of a system are not determined by the sum of its parts but by the process of interactions between those parts.
This is the reason systems thinking is fundamental to any learning organisation; it is the discipline used to implement the disciplines. Without systems thinking each of the disciplines would be isolated and therefore not achieve their objective. The fifth discipline integrates them to form the whole system, a system whose properties exceed the sum of its parts. However, the converse is also true - systems thinking cannot be achieved without the other core disciplines: personal mastery, team learning, mental models and shared vision. All of these disciplines are needed to successfully implement systems thinking, again illustrating the principal of the fifth discipline: systems should be viewed as interrelationships rather than isolated parts.
An organisation which is not a learning one also displays behaviours, however these should definitely not be encouraged. Rosabeth Moss Kanter studied a range of large Americam corporations and came up with rules for stifling initiative :
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