Leverage points for organizational learning LO20652

Fri, 12 Feb 1999 13:33:51 -0800

Replying to LO20594 --

Thanks for the many thoughts on my posting on "leverage points". It was
the range of responses that proved most helpful--a good reminder that
systems thinking means never having to say you know it all. There is no
single way to make a learning organization happen.

I was beginning despair that the secret to organizational change might
lie, after all, in a "survival of the fittest" model-- in the prevalent
business philosophy of "he or she who gets to the top first, wins." I'm
wanting to avoid a sort of corporate Darwinism that dictates that the one
in the CEO's office is the one who gets to implement his or her management
philosophy (sort of along the lines of the dominant individual getting to
pass his/her management philosophy into the corporate gene pool.)

While I don't discount the value of having top management as champions for
your cause, I believe that there are ways from within the system itself to
help move an organization along the continuum toward a learning

Some net surfing yielded gems from none other than Peter Senge, who, in
two articles available online (URLs below), sketched out a model of
leadership that doesn't depend on change driven from the top. Senge sees
leadership happening from 3 types of leaders:

Local line leaders, "...who can undertake meaningful organizational
experiments to test whether new learning capabilities led to improved
business results"

Executive leaders, "...who support line leaders, develop learning
infrastructures, and lead by example..."

Internal networkers, "...the seed carriers of the new culture, who can
move freely about the organization to find those who are predisposed to
bringing about change, assist in experiments, and aid in the diffusion of
new learnings."

(Quotations from Leading Learning Organizations, by Peter Senge, available
at http://learning.mit.edu/res/kr/leadlearn.html. I also recommend the
article "Rethinking Leadership in the Learning Organization" by Peter
Senge, an online article from The Systems Thinker, available at

It is in what Senge calls the "internal networker" that I am most
interested. Internal networkers "move freely" and have "high
accessibility". Their only authority comes "from the strength of their
convictions and the clarity of their ideas." They are hard to identify but
constantly run up against formal authority and have no authority to change
structures or processes.

We have to begin where we are, obviously.

An anecdote from my personal experience: In my organization, we possess
both the advantages and inertia typical of a global corporation but have
grown to allow a measure of diversity within each organizational unit.
Thus, at my local facility, the management structure in the Information
Technology organization is fairly flat--one manager with a bunch of
specialists differentiated by area of expertise. As a specialist with no
management authority, I am nonetheless free to confer with upper
management regardless of their position in the chain of command.

In our sister facility located in the midwest, however, the situation
changes drastically. At that plant, which I frequently visit because of my
involvement in an inter-facility project, there is a strictly defined
hierarchy and chain of command. When working with colleagues there, I
notice a marked discomfort over my desire and willingness to go "up the
organization" for answers, advice, or leverage. I don't fit in that
hierarchy and have hit some roadblocks. I'm learning to better appreciate
the mental models of my colleagues and be a "seed carrier" as I deepen my
understanding and practice of the learning disciplines.


Jeff Bennett
Networks and Technology Specialist
Sony Disc Manufacturing - Springfield, Oregon



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