“The organizations that will truly excel in the future will be the organizations that discover how to tap people’s commitment and capacity to learn at all levels in an organization.” – Peter Senge
Creative… innovative… proactive… are these the words you would use to describe your organization? Or does it feel like you and your team are always a little bit behind the curve and doing what you can to just survive? The difference lies in what kind of learning culture your organization promotes.
In my last post, I focused on the power that Social Learning can have and the importance of learning by example in organizations. Leveraging the knowledge of experts within your organization is a great way to increase the overall knowledge base, as well as the potential for adaptive learning.
What is adaptive learning? Actually, it’s quite simple: identify a problem or an obstacle preventing you from getting somewhere, and then work to solve the problem.
However, there are limits to adaptive learning. Increasingly, 21st-century organizations require something called generative learning — changing the parameters, and discovering new ways of perceiving and thinking about our problems.
Promoting this type of learning in your organization requires much more than learning purely by example. It requires a learning culture. Organizations with strong learning cultures have some distinct elements that differentiate them from the rest of the pack.
5 Basic Elements of a Learning Culture
- Belief in people’s ability to learn. It’s not just finding naturally curious people, it’s also encouraging current members of your team. This requires confidence in people’s ability to change—both their environments and themselves.
- Time and a degree of creative freedom. Don’t be afraid to give people the time they need to explore and discuss new, out-of-the-box ideas. Give your team a real-life challenge to focus on rather than a theoretical scenario.
- Open communication. Empower people to submit ideas and suggestions without fear of derision. The goal is to create a climate that nurtures critical thinking, where challenging authority and speaking up are encouraged.
- Collaboration is encouraged. Competition is not always the best way to achieve results — every member of the team should recognize that in many situations interdependence and collaboration is far more effective.
- Reinforcement of positive learning behaviors. Often, employees are asked to maximize results, efficiency, and productivity, even when it comes at the expense of continued learning. Therefore, it’s vital that organizations provide their teams the tools, infrastructure, and support they need to learn.
It can be quite difficult to incorporate some of these elements into an organization (that’s why more organizations don’t try). What’s more, there is a general bias toward linear, short-term planning that often comes at the expensive of systemic, long-term planning. Another inhibitor to learning cultures is the myth that leaders always have to be in control, dogged, and dominant. This inclination can quickly stifle a learning culture.
However, the results are worth the effort. Rather than just surviving, your organization could be thriving by enhancing its capacity to create. I work with teams to help them create a self-facilitating Community of Practice that supports both adaptive and generative learning that is built, owned, and managed by your team. Contact me to learn more or download my special report Leading a Purpose-Driven Team.