There are those who assert that organizations will remain relevant, survive, and even flourish in a fiercely competitive and changing environment only by becoming a learning organization. The term first came to fore in the 1990’s spurred by Peter M. Senge’s The Fifth Discipline, discussed and explicated further in many articles, publications, workshops, and websites. Learning organization as a term is its own weakness, often literally attributed to practices and rituals related to learning. If that were so, schools, ipso facto, are learning organizations. Not necessarily.
Becoming a learning organization means embracing a way of life and culture in an organization whose members are constantly seeking to acquire, create, or share knowledge. It is a tolerant environment, where open discussion is the norm. The thought processes are nothing but holistic and systems-inspired. Such learning organizations can expect to be ahead of their competitors.
In the almost three decades since Senge’s seminal thoughts, there is no definitive guide to confirm whether an institution is a learning organization. To some it is just an ode to an ideal world, not specific enough to be understood and implemented away from the rarefied air of the corporate boardroom. These are legitimate obstacles that should be overcome. Transforming into a learning organization is probably one where the process is its own reward. According to Senge, the organization should achieve mastery of five dimensions: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning.
Organizations could be in several stages of development in any of the five dimensions, although this may be difficult to express in specific measures, and do not have start-stop dates, unlike classroom training program or an online course.
The single, powerful common bond for all these dimensions is leadership. The leader should provide the common vision to be shared, the related strategies and policies to implement, and ensure that the atmosphere exists that encourages continuous lifelong learning. Of greater challenge is the leader’s role as steward whose responsibility is not just to the present but to the future, and ensuring that the organization will continue to be better. On that there are no guarantees. All he can do is to make sure that the organization can take care of itself and learn on its own.