Individual and Organizational Learning LO28697

From: Doug Merchant (
Date: 06/18/02

Replying to LO28677 --

>'Organisations learn only through individuals that learn. Individuals'
>learning does not guarantee organisational learning. But without it no
>organisational learning occurs.' Senge, Peter, 1994, The Fifth Disipline,
>Page 139

As I've previously noted on this forum, I think the major short coming of
the organizational learning work is the near total focus on individual
learning while essentially ignoring organizational level learning
mechanisms. While I agree that individual "learning does not guarantee
organizational learning," organizational learning can and does occur with
no specifically related individual learning. That is, the environmental
consequences of organizational behavior can be fed back to the
organization and shape future organizational behavior without requiring
individual learning at all.

It is ironic that some of the earliest "organizational learning" work did
focus on organizational mechanisms, e.g., Hanover Insurance? (e.g., how
the symbols and rules that governed performance and reward of individual
claims agents caused the organization to have lower customer satisfaction
while paying out higher claims) and Analogue Devices (e.g, the role of the
embedded pricing strategy on industry profitability as efficiency gains
changed the fixed/variable relationships of the production costs).

I think there are three general types of organizational level learning
mechanisms: "Symbols and Rules" (i.e., think of the organization as a
stored program machine), "Population and Selection" (i.e., the past
learning is stored in various organization populations and the selection
mechanisms by which these populations change, e.g., employee populations,
manager & executive populations, business unit populations), and "neural
networks" ( i.e., learning is stored in the fabric of relationships across
the organization and the mechanisms by which these relationships are
strengthened or diminished).


doug merchant

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