Learning Organizations: Characteristics & Examples

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  • 0:00 Learning Organization Defined
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Shawn Grimsley
A learning organization is a relatively new concept in contemporary management, pioneered by Peter M. Senge. In this lesson, you will learn a definition of a learning organization and its characteristics.

Learning Organization Defined

The concept of a learning organization was first developed by Peter M. Senge in 1990. Dr. Senge is a senior lecturer of leadership and sustainability at MIT's Sloan School of Management. He is the founding chairman of the Society of Organizational Learning. His book The Fifth Discipline discusses learning organizations.

According to Dr. Senge, a learning organization is an organization that encourages and facilitates learning in order to continually transform itself to survive and excel in a rapidly changing business environment. The highly complex, interrelated, and integrated global economy of the 21st century presents new challenges to managers and employees attempting to effectively compete in such a dynamic business environment. The characteristics of a learning organization will help managers and employees meet these challenges by providing them tools to pursue a creative vision, learn and work together effectively, and adapt to change.

Characteristics of a Learning Organization

Learning organizations display five characteristics:

1. Systems thinking

Sometimes we lose the 'forest for the trees,' as the old cliché goes. Systems thinking provides a framework for you to see patterns and interrelationships, or the big picture. For example, businesses are often focused on the next fiscal quarter. Most of their decisions are based upon the next quarter without much, if any, thought about the long-term consequences of the decision. Systems thinking asks you to look beyond the immediate concerns and issues and look at the issue as part of a whole system.

2. Personal mastery

Three components are essential for you to obtain personal mastery. First, you must obtain a personal vision, which is a concrete picture of the future you desire. Second, you must accept and use creative tension. You need to try to make reality reach your vision. Third, you must have a commitment to truth and not deceive yourself no matter how comforting or convenient self-deception might be.

3. Mental models

You need to change your mental models, which are simplified frameworks we use to understand the world that affects our behavior. For example, a common mental model for managers is that low-level production workers are lazy. We can effect this change by discovering the models, testing the models' validity, and seeking to improve them.

4. Shared vision

A shared vision is not some canned 'mission statement,' but rather provides the answer to the question, 'What do we want to create or accomplish?' Note that it's not just what the impersonal organization wants to create or accomplish, but what the members of the organization want as well. A shared vision facilitates learning and pursuit of excellence in execution of goals because all members of the organization will want to pursue the common vision.

5. Team learning

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