Characteristics of a Learning Organization and Why You Want Your Business to Be One

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Has your company been able to ride the roller-coaster of change? Or do you feel you are too short for the ride? (Why did they let you on this thing?!)

You are not alone. The global pandemic has challenged many businesses with sudden changes and the after-effects are still causing repercussions.

So today I want to look at the characteristics of a learning organization and how they will benefit you and those around you. Not only will you survive dealing with change, but thrive!

A Learning Organization

How can you create an environment where people move from fearing change, to actually embracing it?

Transforming your company into a learning organization will make you ready to rock the roller-coaster of change— even when it does three loop-de-loops back to back! A learning organization is a company that ensures its members learn new skills and concepts.

When you put time into supporting your team’s learning, you are making everyone more comfortable with change, including yourself. And during the process, your company is transforming into better and better versions of itself.

Sounds pretty good, right?

Let’s look at the five characteristics of a learning organization from Peter Senge’s, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization (1990).

systems thinking in a learning organization

Systems Thinking

A system is simply the way something happens. Every action in your business is planned or decided by you or your employees in the heat of the moment. You can have a system in place for how an employee responds to a customer complaint, even if you haven’t addressed this with your employee. A system gets created anyways.

Systems thinking gives you control over what happens in your business.

I had the opportunity to interview Brian Scudamore, the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. Early on, he had a problem with employees denting the roof of the trucks. It turns out that employees needed to climb up top to secure their loads. The owner tested this himself, and sure enough… he dented the roof.

They spent months trying to fix this, as it was costing Brian a lot of money. Until one day an employee asked, ” What if we didn’t have to climb on the roof?”

Suddenly they were using systems thinking. Instead of fixing the result, they fixed the system. Now every truck has a metal grate on top for employees to walk on.

Systems thinking reframes every problem in your organization as an opportunity for improvement.

This aspect of a learning organization lets you understand and address the big picture. It is valuable to ask “If I change this one thing what else will be impacted?”

Mental models in a learning organization

Mental Models

We all have assumptions, images and generalizations about other people. And most of the time we don’t even realize we have them. These biases affect how we act and how we perceive change.

Mental Models means that we stop judging someone’s reaction to change. Instead, we brush our immediate responses aside and ask “Why are they acting like that?”

Change can seem good or bad depending on our individual life experience, power and position in the organization. It’s important to be aware of these things when addressing someone’s reaction to change in a learning organization.

Personal Mastery

Personal Mastery means focusing your energy and developing the patience to see reality objectively. This means that you cultivate empathy and awareness when responding to change.

People with high levels of personal mastery are more curious and are open to learning, changing and growing.

How you show up at one place is how you show up everywhere. Being aware of our energy levels, moods, tolerances, prejudices, favoritisms and mannerisms are all components of Personal Mastery.

shared vision in a learning organization

Shared Vision

Take some time and sit down with your staff to create a shared picture of the future.

A learning organization is a group of people who are continually enhancing their capabilities to create what they want to create.

Peter. M. Senge

Learn what your team members are excited about and what they want to commit to. Continuous improvement means being open and curious, even about ideas you don’t like at first.

As much as you try to include your staff, sometimes employees don’t have the full picture of your business. There are lots of moving parts. Their suggestions can sometimes seem redundant or naïve. Sometimes creating a shared vision, means acknowledging an employee’s idea without agreeing to it.

The key is making sure you listen.

A small business coach in my organization came to me with an idea for a new intake form. She didn’t know I had already tried that and it didn’t work. I didn’t shut her down though. Instead, I told her, “Let’s try it this way first.” I showed her my system. She tried it. It worked.

She left the exchange feeling valued because her idea was heard and reflected upon. She also left with a solution to her problem using the system I had. By acknowledging each other’s ideas, we worked together towards a shared vision.

People change and learn because they want to, not because they are told to.

Lead your team to an inspiring shared vision.

Team Learning

Change happens best when every team member has the opportunity to contribute.

Remember Brian? If he hadn’t created an environment where employees felt confident to speak up, he wouldn’t have found his solution to his dented trucks.

We’re all learning, changing and improving together.

Having a dialogue creates a larger picture that goes beyond each person’s perspective. If you are stuck on the roller-coaster of change anyways, might as well coast along in a supportive environment.

Employees working together in trust

What do you think about Learning Organizations?

Now I want to hear from you. Which characteristics of a learning organization stood out to you? Or maybe I didn’t mention an important tool you found to embrace change?

Either way, let me know in the comments!

Until next time, enjoy the ride!

Beverlee Rasmussen e-signature

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