We live in a dynamic, sometimes overwhelming business environment.
Companies compete to be first-to-market, best-to-market, as dynamic as the market, and mostly, to keep up with the market.
Buying patterns are changing, customers want more faster, and technology trends are in and out like fashion.
Now, more than ever, organizations must have a strong focus on purposeful learning in order to be successful. They must become learning organizations.
A learning organization is one where team members are able to gather, obtain, create, and share knowledge. This knowledge then enables the organization to effectively achieve their goals, and adapt to change, which is critical. The Learning Organization is a term coined by Peter Senge, author of the book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization, and major influencer in how companies do business today.
Sources of Learning
Following is a list of the main sources of learning for an organization or team, along with some examples.
- Experimentation: This can come in the form of A/B Testing, Hypothesis testing, Multivariate testing, and other methods.
- Customer Feedback: Direct user feedback (surveys, feedback forms, live chat sessions, social media), Indirect feedback (Metrics that indicate satisfaction rates, abandonment rates, cancelled subscriptions, etc.)
- Internal Feedback: Retrospectives, Lessons Learned, Employee Satisfaction surveys, Attrition Rates.
- Formal Training & Learning: Onsite or offsite trainings, courses, classes, workshops.
- Informal Training & Learning: Mentorship programs, Task Pairing, Internal wikis.
(Which of these exist in your organization? Which ones is this list missing? Share in the comments below this post!)
Interestingly, even if you make all of these learning sources available to people, you must provide ways for them to take specific actions in order for the knowledge to be useful.
This is illustrated by the many examples of teams that have intricate analytics systems set up, but no defined actions that they should take based on those analytics.
Another example: Teams that conduct retrospectives where they reflect on what went well, what didn't go well, and what needs to change. This is great, but then what?
Without defining a way to take action on learnings from a retrospective, the team loses an opportunity to improve.
Remember: Learning means nothing without Action.
Learning Success Factors
- Executive Support:
Let's be real. The culture of a company or organization is set by the people at the top.
Executives can say they are tolerant of failure, supportive of learning, and willing to take direct feedback. But if they don't walk the walk, the rest of the organization will take its cues from executives' actual behavior, vs what-they-said-they-would-do.
Remember: Executives should walk the walk, not just talk the talk, of being tolerant of learning within an organization.
(Yes, I avoided saying "being tolerant of failure". I fear too many people have taken this as an excuse to rush into experiments or actions without doing their homework first.
So instead, I prefer to focus on the positive, which is the learning aspect of failure.)
That means allowing teams to experiment (after providing the appropriate level of research and justification) with different and new solutions, it means allowing time for new knowledge and processes to set in and become second nature, and it means encouraging people to look for and share knowledge, experience, and innovative approaches.
- Culture of Trust:
This relates to the point above, but extends to the rest of the organization.
Individuals must learn and practice being vigilant about setting an example of trustworthiness, as well as trusting in others.
Diversity of thought, opinion, experience, personalities, and backgrounds are all needed to avoid stagnation and rigidity.
Diversity can create conflict, but in many organizations that I've seen, we are much too afraid of conflict than we should be. Healthy conflict is good - it fosters discussion, reflection, and innovative problem-solving.
(Trust me, I've learned this in my own personal life! I used to very aggressively run away and hide from all forms of conflict. After learning the hard way, I now embrace healthy conflict and consider it a learning opportunity. In the process, I have been able to grow immensely, and continue to learn new ways of approaching challenges and situations that wouldn't have come naturally to me before.)
- Learning From Experts
Experts can exist within your organization, without you even knowing it.
I worked with a team where a developer had expertise in an emerging technology, which none of the other team members had any knowledge in.
The Bad News: It took us much too long to figure this out, and get this developer to start sharing his knowledge with the rest of the team than it should have.
The Good News:
a) This technology turned out to really benefit the team with the project they were working on, and
b) Our discovery caused us to create a "learning series" where team members shared areas of expertise with each other on Fridays to help create cross-functional capabilities.
However, there are some cases where an organization needs external help, whether because they lack the time to slowly grow into a certain area of knowledge, or because of lack of expertise with a new process or approach.
In those cases, external help may be appropriate. It is important, however, to make sure that the values of the experts that are being brought in to help are in alignment with those of the team.
Now it's your turn to share:
- Is your organization a Learning Organization? If not, what's missing?
- Do you have systems in place to ensure learning across your team?
- What is one action you can take today to make progress towards cultivating an environment of learning?
I'd love to read your thoughts!
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