Business Success: The Learning Organization Part II

Mon, Jun 10, 2013 @ 10:52 AM

In the last post, we discussed the first two of the five disciplines.  If you missed it you can find it here.

Mental Models

Senge defines mental models “as deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” A majority of these models are unconscious and have existed since childhood. Yet they pervade every thought, word, and action.

The first step in dealing with mental models is to look within oneself. Then the organization must create a safe place for members participate in compassionate scrutiny and influence through the process of “inquiry and advocacy.”

Building Shared Vision

sacred_imagesOne thing that all successful organizations have in common is a shared vision. Made up of shared goals and values, a shared vision has the capacity to bring “people

together around a common identity and sense of destiny,” according to Senge. It unleashes creative energy and fuels innovation by rallying diverse members in a shared vision that galvanizes the organization. It “involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather than compliance.”

Team Learning

The success of organizations to learn is based on the ability of the teams to learn. The team must connect and share through dialogue while suspending assumptions and learning to trust each other. Blocks such as fear, apathy, and defensiveness can undermine learning. Therefore, safe and open communication is essential.

Team learning has the power to enhance capabilities for innovation and creativity. But to maximize the benefits, the learning must be shared. Many teams of brilliant individuals have produced mediocre results due to lack of interaction and integration.

Practicing team learning is not about copying a model. Many new management innovations emerge as “best practices.” But most organizations adopt and implement the ideas in a piecemeal fashion. Toyota is a great example of a company that uses a systems approach. Many companies copy Toyota’s kanban system. But they fail to see how all the parts work together in a way that is unique for Toyota.

The Fifth Discipline

Senge points out that “It is vital that the five disciplines develop as an ensemble.” This is truly a time when the total is greater than the sum of its parts.

Based on that truth, “systems thinking is the fifth discipline.” Without a systemic approach, the coherence necessary to be adaptable is lost. “For example, vision without systems thinking ends up painting lovely pictures of the future with no deep understanding of the forces that must be mastered to move from here to there.”

Organizations that embrace systems thinking must also practice “the disciplines of building shared vision, mental models, team learning, and personal mastery to realize its potential.”

Each of these disciplines plays a role in powering the system. Shared vision builds a group commitment to the future. Mental models provide the openness necessary to unveil the limitations present in the organization. Team learning improves the members’ skills to create and take action on an organizational level. And personal mastery encourages the self-reflection, healing, and personal growth necessary to fully participate in an adaptable organization.

Finally, learning organizations offer amazing potential for creating their future. Based on the new science, a learning organization is creating its future by shifting how individuals perceive themselves and their world.

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