Essay, 9 pages (2000 words)

Demystifying essay

History & Evolution

During the latter part of the 20th Century, most of the skeleton of today’s Management Theory, the main parts and the subdivisions there of were officially incorporated as a part of Management Science. One of these branches was the study of Organizations or Organizational Theory. As research increased into more and more existing companies, more and more common effects could be found among different organizations of different types. A platform was needed which could encompass all companies and organizations into it and social scientists could study the platform. Businesses also funded studies in organizational theory sothat the reasons behind the diverse fortunes of different organizations could be alluded to in setting up of new organizations.

Organizational studies thereby progressed as it is today. The modern definition of organizations as (1)social entities (2) are goal oriented (3) are designed as deliberately structured and coordinated activity systems and (4) and are linked to the external environment.(Daft,2004). Social entities as diverse as a manufacturing organization, a nursing and healthcare home, a school, a church and even the government of a country are organizations. Classification of organizations can be done based on such criteria as size, goals, dependence on external factors etc.


A learning organization is an organization, which has been set up with the intention of imparting knowledge or where teaching and learning takes place as necessary so that the organizational goals and direction, coincide. For our average and untrained human mind, the phrase ‘learning organization’ makes us think of universities and schools.

Yes, centers of learning are indeed learning organizations but in management, we are more concerned about learning organizations being set –up in industries and offices. Why is so much effort required to set up learning organizations? Despite its characteristics being so clear to us, why do we fail to set up 100 percentile effective learning organizations? These are important questions and we shall take up the challenge of answering them, as we pour our thinking into writing this reflective essay on learning organizations.

Although the term “learning organization” had been in existence earlier, it is the credit of the MIT professor, Peter Senge, who first popularized the concept of the learning organization in his book (The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization,1990). Senge defines learning organizations as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together”.

Criteria of a Learning Organization

A learning organization should have the following criteria as given under.

1. Systems Thinking : A conceptual framework wherein the various changes that systems undergo due to forces working on and also interrelated forces acting on the system, thereby making the study of systems and their forecasting in view of probable future changes of markets and their economics easier.

2. Mental Models: The different assumptions that each one of us in the shape of internal pictures and how we modify these pictures on the basis of new reasoning and how these mental pictures allow us to act on different situational demands on us.

3. Personal Mastery: This indicates a high amount of skill that an individual has over a certain subject relevant to the organizational growth and a deep commitment of the individual to enhance the knowledge of the same.

4. Self- directed learning: Everyone being able to wear the mantle of learner so that what precise gain of knowledge is required to serve the role of the organization varying with time, can be ascertained. Connections between learning requirements and goals of the organizations can also be well defined.

5. Dialogue or Inter Departmental Harmony : Dialogue between different departments or key individuals representing those so that each know and can recognize the learning needs of the entire organization, section wise so that the ultimate goal can be achieved by linking this awareness to its achievement.

Observational Behaviors in Learning Organizations:

I. Learning organizations have a horizontal and flat structure. The least minimum possible levels exist between the CEO and the lowest level.

II. The employees status is in inter departmental harmony. All departments are aware that their existence is for contribution to the common goal or vision. They are aware that the whole is different from the sum of the parts.

III. Everybody sees learning as a goal attainment method. During training, both the trainer and the trainee are playing vital parts towards this.

IV. Inter department relations are based on productive inputs as brainstorming, practical and creative dialogue, etc.

V. The system framework and the changes brought upon by external and internal forces upon their ideal model of learning organization.

VI. Departments identify themselves as learners and obtain skills on a particular strategy. They connect their degree of expertise on the subject to goal attainment

VII. that is, to performance.

The ultimate result of all these changes in work styles of learning organizations is that they become leaders in different fields and are able to adapt themselves to change in market forces. The employee’s well-honed core competencies in a particular business action form different departments. These are also called as SBU’s or Strategic Business Units.

Barriers to organizations seeking to become learning organizations.

Forming learning organizations is not a process of evolution but rather a concept in itself, which veers itself away from evolution. Evolution concerns itself with single-track thinking whereas added competence requires multi track thinking.

S2 S

As can be seen above, single and double track thinking have been shown. Double tracking is asking a question whether Step 2(a) instead of Step (2) is not a better alternative, which it may not be. Asking the question is the creative task. Learning organizations are those, which are in a reflective mood. Staff want to be dependent on the best way of doing things considering everything.

The focus of the Training and Development Chief is not on what to teach (most organizations train their employees by a MS PowerPoint presentation) but on performance. What these employees should know to bring them to a better point as regards our vision, is the relevant question.

Managers feel that human resources are just that and if management techniques are applied on human resources, then effective output will be obtained. This is simply not true. Human beings cannot be treated as resources and they do not like being technique’d upon. Instead of productivity, such dubious methods or managerial practices increases antagonism.

Barriers are existent everywhere. But what is possible? High performance values is possible to be obtained . The trick is to focus not on the learning but on performance and improve communication largely by making the organization as flat as possible. (Morgan, 2006).

Is my organization on the correct road to a learning organization?

Before we exercise our brains on these, a small idea of my organization given to the reader will help. My Organization TELACU is a non- profit CDC, of the kind which was first given political birth to by Robert Kennedy (losing prominence with Nixon). We are a success story among the other CDC’s conceived in that period. We are the fourth largest Latino business in California and our annual recruitment is in the range of 700-1000 people. We are fully self-sustaining with assets over $300 million and annual revenues over $100million. We provide community services in education and low cost housing and this is balanced by our businesses in real estate development, construction service providing, roofing supply company, a telecommunications company among others.

As my organization has managed to co-exist for 40 years, is this not a sign that it is on the right path? No, the social scientists do not think so. It is probable but not necessary as it may be so that my organization is just surviving for survival’s sake by changing goals every now and then. The best way to checking whether my organization is making progress on the road to a learning organization , is to check out the below criteria.

Does the organization have a fixed vision, which is both (1) quantitative and (2)clear but qualitative?

Do all people share the vision? What do they think they require doing this, in terms of learning?

What does the head of training and development think about learning organizations? Does training happen in batches in order?

Are the people committed to self-learning.? Are they equipped with the desire to strengthen their learning bases? Do they link their training and learning advances to the vision of the organization?

What about core competencies? Are they clear about that? Is inter-departmental co-operation existent?

The answers to these questions will give a ready indication as to whether TELACU is on the right path or not.
Following Senge’s book, there were literal camp out sessions of American organizations at Harvard’s as says HBS. Different teams, as per industry were formed depending upon core specialties. In the automobile section, the group looking after suspension wanted stability at higher speeds so they increased the tire air pressure but the group in charge of power transmission wanted stability at higher torque changes, which cannot be had with high tire pressures. Both departments failed. The answer was optimization maybe, but each group fragmented itself to the extreme. This example shows us how even the most well intentioned approaches can be of nil utility if the system memory is nor projected towards the goal of the automobile, instead of a mere sub system of the same. This small error in fragmentation almost put the whole project into jeopardy.

Four Important Criteria in my Organization

These are (considering my organization TELACU) are as under
Mental Modeling.
Personal learning competency
Review of the Organizational Structure
Dialogue and Inter departmental Smoothness and Harmony

We will now independently explore these criteria, try to find out the barriers that can exist and think how we can decrease the efficiency or eliminate these barriers. Finding out barriers and the tools needed to overcome them will depend upon how accurately we can find these barriers. This will depend upon how precisely we can form our questions.

In TELACU, the criteria of mental models may be a problem since existing models may differ widely. People will join organizations at different times and at different ages. Mental models create something like a sieve through which the information all around us flow in but what comes out, depends upon the sieve design. The sieve design is the mental model here. Again, TELACU is a complex organization in the sense that although it is a nonprofit organization, it is self-sustaining i.e. it is capable of generating profit by some of its in-house businesses.

TELACU provides construction management services to those that require them competing with profitable companies and thereby earns a profit which it then spends on non-profit ventures like educational loans for Latinos in California. Therefore, one can imagine why this particular characteristic of TELACU is a tricky area. Possible barriers to the mental model errors envisaged can be seen easily in the illustration below. The twin alternate concepts of ‘profit’ and non-profit can block down the mental openings resulting in non –input of data and consequent failure

(Illustration borrowed from the book ‘The Fifth Discipline’ Senge, 1991)

This erroneous effect can be avoided by making those departments as separate as possible so that the training imparted on the employee mental model is separate for the non-profit part and the profit part.

Similarly the other three characteristics and the reasons that we are concerned about them with special respect to TELACU as a learning organization can easily be grasped now. In TELACU’s case too, the sum of the parts is significantly less rich in thought and expertise from the ‘whole’ but in TELACU case vision statements differ.

Will management have the vision in the foreseeable future to differentiate between the different approaches necessary for profit and non-profit organizations? Given the global economy’s turns and feints, will TELACU be an effective learning organization as it has fixed geographical areas of operation and thereby has a regional mindset, which can be argued.

Thereby once the main problems are found with the help of internal evaluations, tools to overcome these deficiencies can be thought of and will not be a hard exercise. They can easily be derived.

In conclusion, let us look again at learning organization. It is indeed a surprise that within twenty years, there has been rhetoric galore but not one practical example of a learning organization. What can be the reason for this? Can it maybe so that some underlying assumptions made by Senge and his team are not totally correct. For example, the employees are perfectly apolitical in a learning organization. In systems learning, the worker thinks “My work is important for the goal, so I have to get it right”. Let us assume that out of ten workers, eight think so.

However, two may think “to hell with the goal, I just cannot be bothered”.No one can refute this. Perhaps, we should examine the entire concept of the learning organization from the bottom up for every organization type. Senge assumes that all men have an intrinsic desire to learn. However, what do we do, when we have a dissenter, that is, someone who does not want to learn?

It is not my intention and nor am I qualified to question the best minds of management but I will appreciate if I can be shown just one learning organization. That is all I ask.


Daft. R.L.(2008), Organizational Theory and Design, South Western Cengage Learning, Mason, OH,USA
Marquardt.M.J. (2011), Building the Learning Organization, Nicholas Brearly Publishing, Boston, MA, USA
Marquardt.M.J. (1999),Learning Organizations:The Trainer’s role”,Infoline (Issue 9306); Published by ASTD(American Society for Training & Development)
Morgan.G.(2006), Images of Organization, Sage Publications Inc., California 91320.
Peters.A.D., Peters.A.,Race.P (1999).500 tips for developing a learning organization, Kogan Page Ltd, London N1 9JN, United Kingdom
Senge Peter M.,(1990), The Fifth Discipline: The Art and the Practice of the Learning Organization, Doubleday/Currency, NY.

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