On being a learning organization LO31177

From: Christine Piontek (Christine.Piontek@heifer.org)
Date: 10/08/04

On being a learning organization...

In my experience, there are a plentitude of organizations that say
they are committed to and are supposedly practicing organizational
learning. However, I have found after a little probing that this is
frequently not the case. There seems to be a disconnect between
talking the talk and walking the walk. This is apparent on both an
internal level (values, behaviors, attitudes)and external level
(policies, practices, materials, resources).

For example, in my organization, a non-profit dedicated to hunger
alleviation (that shall remain nameless) we talk a lot about working
together, we say we are very 'participatory' in the way we work and
have declared organizational values around education, sustainability,
sharing and accountability to name just a few. Nevertheless, in sixty
years of existence we remain predominantly an oral, task-focused
culture. What this means is that there are no records or cohesive
understandings of what we have done, what worked well, what didn't. We
work in historical isolation and often spend a lot of time and energy
reinventing the wheel so to speak. Consequently, we tend to repeat old
failures and miss opportunities to build off of our foundations. More
troubling, we are dangerously stagnant while at the same time immersed
in frenzied activity. Our leaders over the last five years have
repeated the phrase 'we are just in a transition period' like a
mantra. Practices like writing a design plan, summary report,
historical background, or completing an evaluation, survey, research,
or efforts to uncover & pull together existing resources are all seen
as expendable and are frowned upon in daily practice. In our rush to
complete our tasks and stay on track, no one has time to follow-up,
follow-through or do a little detective work beforehand.

Once again, speaking from my own humble experience, organizational
learning is closely aligned with organizational memory and some form
of knowledge gathering/management. If there is no system for
documenting and passing on key insights and information it is soon
lost - it never even has the chance to become learning. In the
process of our work we invariably learn many things, both through
mistakes and triumphs. This is centered at an internal and individual
level. It requires an extra effort to surface the learning from these
and then further effort still to share this with others and make it
organizational. The reflection, exchange and action continuum for me
is the essence of learning both at an individual and organizational

 - Chris


"Christine Piontek" <Christine.Piontek@heifer.org>

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