Learning Organisations

People Behaviour

Behaviour to Encourage

pic of peter senge

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:

  • Team Learning
  • Shared Visions
  • Mental Models
  • Personal Mastery
  • Systems Thinking
  • Team Learning

    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.

    Shared Visions

    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.

    Mental Models

    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

    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 Fifth Discipline - Systems Thinking

    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.

    The Laws of the Fifth Discipline

    1. Today's problems come from yesterday's solutions. Solutions shift problems from one part of a system to another.
    2. The harder you push, the harder the system pushes back. `Compensating feedback': well intentioned interventions which eventually make matters worse.
    3. Behaviour grows better before it grows worse. The short-term benefits of compensating feedback are seen before the long-term disbenefits.
    4. The easy way out usually leads back in. Familiar solutions which are easy to implement usually do not solve the problem.
    5. The cure can be worse than the disease. Familiar solutions can not only be ineffective; sometimes they are addictive and dangerous.
    6. Faster is slower. The optimal rate of growth is much slower than the fastest growth possible.
    7. Cause and effect are not closely related in time and space. The area of a system which is generating the problems is usually distant to the area showing the symptoms.
    8. Small changes can produce big results-but the areas of highest leverage are often the least obvious. Problems can be solved by making small changes to an apparently unrelated part of the system.
    9. You can have your cake and eat it too - but not at once. Problems viewed from a systems point of view, as opposed to a single snapshot, can turn out not to be problems at all.
    10. Dividing an elephant in half does not produce two small elephants. A systems' properties depend on the whole.
    11. There is no blame. The individual and the cause of their problems are part of a single system.

    Behaviour to Discourage

    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 :

    1. Regard any new idea from below with suspicion -- because it is new and because it is from below
    2. Express criticisms freely and withhold praise (that keeps people on their toes). Let them know they can be fired at any time
    3. Treat problems as a sign of failure
    4. Make decisions to reorganise or change policies in secret and spring them on people unexpectedly (that also keeps people on their toes)
    5. Above all, never forget that you, the higher-ups, already know everything important about business.
    These rules are expanded in her book "The Change Masters". The Learning Organisation needs to break every one of these rules frequently.

    Return to Home Page Return to Index

    Send Mail about changes to this page to: