The success of learning organisations is predicated on particular internal organisational relationships and particular relationships between the organisation and its environment. Discuss. The only long term sustained competitive advantage for an organisation came from the ability of its people to learn faster than those in other organisations and to change the nature of the organisation to match the changes in the environment. For an organisation to be considered to be learning, it must contain certain characteristics and operate in certain environment to do so.
How the organisation learns will depend on the interaction between individuals within the organisation and the interaction between the organisation and its external environment. Learning organisations can be defined as organisations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to learn together. It’s an organisation that facilitates the learning of all its members and consciously transforms itself.
To be a learning organisation, several distinctive characteristics can be identified. A flatter organisational structure is required, this enables a more flexible atmosphere and it is likely people would be organised so that all individuals understand the work of others and all teams understand and can do the work of other teams. The organisation should also be team-oriented; it is believed that the total of the learning would be more than the sum of the individual learning. Team learning can be described as producing extraordinary results with the individual members of the team growing more rapidly than they could have otherwise done.
High level of trust is needed for a team to form, without trust; team-oriented organisations will not be possible. This level of trust is developed through the communities of practice. These communities are formed when groups of people share idea and knowledge that allow them to develop new practices as they learn together. Open two-way communication is encouraged; this will create a climate for learning where learning is facilitated both mentally, by encouraging experimentation and allow mistakes.
Open-planned physical space is desired, because this will help to create an environment which encourages more interaction between employees and the effect of hierarchy will also be minimised. For an organisation to have learning characteristics, it’ll have to rely on the functioning of internal organisational relationships and how the organisation interacts with its external environment. Internal organisational relationships have a big impact on how an organisation can transform into a learning organisation.
Most organisations in today’s society tend to be more modernist in terms of its social structure. They make use of the hierarchical structure, the high level of formalization, centralized decision-making and vertical communication in the form of instructions. This type of mechanistic structure produces predictability and accountability, but it restrains the level of flexibility, adaptability and the innovation of the organisations. For an organisation to have learning characteristics, an organic social structure is favoured over the mechanistic social structure.
Organic forms, characterised as informal, decentralised and requiring high degree of coordination across departments, are more likely to be innovative and to grant greater discretion to employees performing tasks since they are not bound by strict rules and procedures. The informal environment created by organic structure will encourage people to develop trust through social groups, and this trust is a vital element in team learning. In organic forms, systems and people are more proactive and adaptable to changing circumstances.
The adaptability and innovation developed through an organic structure supports the transformation of an organisation into a learning organisation. A learning organisation creates a ‘culture’ that encourages and supports continuous learning, critical reflection and thinking, innovation and risk taking informed by new ideas and organisational approaches. With a mechanistic structure, this cannot be achieved, because innovation tends to be limited in mechanistic forms of organisation where high level of hierarchical control, clearly defined roles and tasks, and centralised decision making impede flexibility and creativity.
So by changing the social structure of the organisation from mechanistic to organic form, the organisation is able to change and able to obtain the characteristics of a learning organisation. Apart from changing the internal social structure to make learning possible, the interaction between the organisation and its external environment is vital to the success of learning organisations. It is argued that an organisation’s structure should be based on the conditions it faces in its environment. Based on institutional theory, organisations adapt not only to the strivings of their internal groups, but to the values of external society.
Different environments can put different demands on the environment, such as technical, economic, social, cultural and political demands. By recognising these demands, the organisation can respond accordingly, through experience and learning. In institutional perspective, the environment is a culture that provides a more or less shared view of what organisations should look like and how they should behave. So the way an organisation responds to its external environment will determine its organisational performance. In extreme cases organisations that fail to change in line with the environment disappear as technology or markets change.
An organisation’s ability to thrive in a particular environment depends on how it fits with that environment and the nature of the transactions it can engage in. the degree of fit will be determined by the organisation’s ability to manage its adaptation to the situation in which they are obliged to live, as it changes. This adaptation is in fact the learning at the centre of the learning organisation. The success of learning organisations depends on two major factors. First, an appropriate social structure is needed for learning characteristics to be nurtured.
The organic form provides the vital ingredients which makes learning possible. The horizontal integration minimises the hierarchy of authority, resulting in a flatter organisational structure, this structure supports informal groups to form and teams are able to be created. Through informal groups, the sharing of knowledge can be achieved and trust is built. With low formalisation, the level of flexibility and adaptation raises, and innovation is promoted throughout the organisation. Second, the ability to recognise its eternal environment and to learn and adapt to it will influence the performance of learning organisations.
Fully utilise the elements of high flexibility and adaptability generated from an organic structure will enable the organisation to change with the rapidly changing environment, and this will give competitive advantage to the learning organisations to perform better in the society. In conclusion, having the internal organisational relationships alone will not bring success to learning organisations; the key determinant is how the organisations use their learning abilities to the full potential when interacting with its external environment, in order to be the cutting edge in this environmental flux and uncertainty.