Three Building Blocks of a Learning Organization

Is yours a learning organization?

This question was asked by David Garvin and colleagues in a 2008 Harvard Business Review article that influenced thinking about the role of the organization in facilitating learning and talent development.  This question is even more important today as the factors that demand continuous organizational learning have only intensified.

As noted by Garvin and colleagues, and earlier by Peter Senge, the new economy requires organizations with employees who are skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge.  The learning imperative is especially important in the health and human service fields where the combination of a knowledge explosion, technology advances, and shifts in customer expectations are placing intense pressure on organizations to innovate and adapt.

So how do we know if our organizations are learning organizations?  One approach is to look for fundamentals or ‘building blocks’ in the culture, processes, and practices of your organization.  If these building blocks are present, we have a good foundation for learning.  If not, we have some work to do.  Here are three building blocks of a learning organization as defined by Garvin and colleagues:

Building Block 1.  A supportive learning environment, as indicated by:

  • Psychological safety
  • Appreciation of differences
  • Openness to new ideas
  • Time for reflection.

Building Block 2.  Concrete learning processes and practices to support:

  • Experimentation
  • Information collection
  • Analysis
  • Education and training
  • Information transfer.

Building Block 3.  Leadership that reinforces learning, as indicated by managers who:

  • Invite input from others
  • Acknowledge their own limitations with respect to knowledge, information, or expertise
  • Ask questions, listen attentively, and encourage alternative points of view
  • Provide time, resources, and venues for learning and improvement.

These building blocks are often overlooked in the rapid pace of organizational life, but they are fundamental for creating an environment where people are able to learn and develop the capabilities necessary to meet challenges and help the organization thrive.  When I ask myself about these building blocks in my organization, I see that we have work to do.  How are things at your organization?


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2017-03-20T14:07:22+00:00October 28th, 2016|