Business Agility and The Learning Organisation

Business Agility and The Learning Organisation


I recently worked on a "Tiger Team" tasked with generating ideas on how we attract and retain talent, help our employees up-skill and re-skill, to ultimately make us a more effective and successful learning organisation.

I began thinking about our challenge from the perspective of how to define or benchmark the organisation and those characteristics we should be striving for; we’d talked a lot about the culture and in my mind, this is hugely important but very difficult to tackle bottom up. Nevertheless, in my recent studies the business concept of the “Learning Organisation” coined by Peter Senge, which you may already be familiar with if you enjoy reading about organisational theory 😊, was covered and I thought I might share a few ideas and notes. I hope this will be of some use from the perspective of our research stage.

One of the overarching aims/benefits of the learning organisation is around the competitive advantage it provides and improved business results, which I was sure the executive team would like the idea of. A caveat here is that there are not many true learning organisations.

Defining the learning organisation

Anders Örtenblad wrote a paper called “What does “learning organization” mean?”, in which he says:

To begin with the label of learning organization, individual learning in a work-place or organizational context – without any connection to any organizational dimension – is not sufficient for something to be classified as organizational learning or a learning organization.

Örtenblad describes four versions of a learning organisation, which I have summarised below, running horizontally at the top and the three perspectives vertically to the left. The ideas here relate to another concept I’d been looking at of “Agile & Collaborative Cultures”; there is a lot of emphasis on sharing knowledge, collaboration, leadership style, error learning (risk-taking and the associated challenges of blame/fear). I wondered if we could determine our existing capabilities along these lines.

Key Elements that underpin a Learning Organisation

According to Peter Senge (who I mentioned above) there are 3 key elements. These are notes from something I watched, so please excuse the brevity… I can probably find the source again if required:

Do you have tools?

  • There are tools for fostering aspiration
  • There are tools for encouraging building personal mastery
  • There are tools for building a shared vision
  • Creative tension is a very basic tool
  • There are tools for fostering reflection. The ladder of inference is a tool that we found, once people learned, they never stop using it.
  • Tools for systems - understanding and seeing larger systems; system archetypes

Do you have a guiding philosophy or guiding ideas?

  • Need to have a commitment to it
  • What does the organisation stand for?
  • Companies who by their philosophy, by their actions, by their day-to-day practice – dedicated to the continual development of their people
  • Philosophic framework

Do you have time/learning infrastructures?

  • Time for reflection
  • Way to organise and study what's being learned in other places
  • Co-ordination and collaboration
  • Sharing data
  • Bring people together (NOT watching PowerPoints!) for real learning
  • World cafes - a way to organise big meetings

Driving the new learning organisation: the potential of L&D

The CIPD has a great report that’s worth reading (available at this link - I have an account, but I think you can get to the information without it – there is also a bit more info there if you are interested) which I have also attached. It’s a bit more current (2017) and at the beginning reflects on Senge’s original work and build upon/updates it.

There is also an infographic that accompanies the report with a breakdown of the key characteristics as they see them:



I’ll leave it there, it’s already quite a long post! The CIPD report is well worth a scan (and a little more if you have the time).