Why getting leaders up to speed with the 7 forms of organisational learning will help your organisation.
Organisational learning as a concept is the process of creating, retaining and transferring knowledge within the organisation. In this article I look at a new study about the effects of training leaders in the 7 forms of organisational learning.
The primary purpose of organisational learning being to prevent organisations from losing what they learn from experience over time.
There are 4 levels of organisational learning or knowledge creation within organisations:
- Group or team,
- Organisational, and
- Inter-organisational levels
In the modern knowledge based economy, organisational learning can create a real competitive advantage for almost all organisations. In essence it is the cumulation of the knowledge generated within the organisation and is vital know-how for any organisation. Often however this organisational learning is not given the primacy it’s importance deserves.
An interesting piece of research has just been published that shows how leadership training can influence the 7 forms of organisational learning and provide big gains for any organisation:
The 7 forms of organisational learning
- Individual learning – this is the learning everyone undergoes, either through experience or through formal training etc.
- Dialogue and inquiry learning. This can either be formally set up as a series of inquiry learning tasks or the learning that occurs through normal dialogue and conversations.
- Team learning – this is both the formal or informal learning that teams undergo as a team.
- Continuous learning – this refers to the programmes and development opportunities the organisation provides .
- Learning through empowerment – this refers to the learning people and teams accrue when they are given more authority and responsibility.
- Embedded Systems learning that promote learning and the capture of organisational learning – this refers to the learning gained directly from organisational systems. These can include Management information systems, Learning Management Systems, operational and process systems, work flow systems etc.
- Learning from the leadership both directly and indirectly from their behaviours and actions. Leaders and managers as role models.
The researchers provided a development programme for leaders, which helped the leaders to understand the 7 forms of organisational learning and facilitated them to find ways to improve the organisational learning using this knowledge.
The researchers then collected stories from across the organisations both before the event and afterwards to try to discern what changes had occurred in organisational learning as a result of the programme with the leaders.
It was found that three of the seven types of organisational learning were positively impacted by leadership development programme.
- The researchers found that Continuous Learning improved significantly after the training in that the organisations had a wider range of learning opportunities and many in the organisations felt they were better. This may well have been because the leaders were now more cognisant of learning as function of the organisation.
- Interestingly, the leaders themselves didn’t think that there was any development or improvement in Empowerment based or Embedded Systems learning. However the employees did believe that these had got much better and that they were learning more from these sources after the leaders had completed the development programme.
However, in terms of the team and individual forms of learning, neither the employees nor the leaders thought there had been any improvements as a result of the programme.
The researchers suggest that “evaluations of leadership training programs should examine changes in organizational learning from several stakeholders.” Where perceptions differ as to the outcomes of a programme focused on changing the organisation as a whole, samples of all stakeholders should be consulted to assess whether there have been changes at all.
Additionally where any leadership or management development work is ongoing, their staff should be consulted as to the effects of this development.
Whilst the study itself is interesting, efforts to increase organisational learning across the 7 forms are comparatively rare. Often ‘Organisational Learning’ falls into the gaps between the leadership, management, HR and L&D/OD functions and rarely does anyone have direct responsibility for organisational learning as a strategy for developing a competitive advantage, Further developing a systemic and strategic approach to the accumulation, retention and access to and deliverance of learning and experience across an organisation is often either assigned to a system/IT services or is an afterthought. Additionally, it is important that organisations go further than folders full of Standard operating procedures. Stories for example are a vital source of learning.
The 7 Dimensions of Organisational Learning on their own are a useful starting point.
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