The Learning Organization

It is now common knowledge that the twenty first century presents absolutely new demands for making successful business. Both technological progress and financial crisis make companies take a new look at their structures and methods of work. Thus, those who want to stay afloat, seek for organizational renewal and growth. Of course, the solutions and ways out highly depend on the field an organization plays in, on resources and the overall state of the market. Nevertheless, there is one factor, which is inherently covenant to every business player. This factor is human resources. More and more organizations, with a significant rely on scholar research tend to understand that a new approach must be oriented to employee growth and development, thus providing a stress on system orientation and developmental learning.

Therefore, progressive companies tend to turn into learning organizations. It means that learning and training for employees become systematic, regular and consistent. Moreover, it becomes a way for transformation of every department and the enterprise on the whole.

The acceptance of this relationally new solution is of high necessity in today competitive business environment. The matter is, in comparison with this way out, other methods often tend to be short term and problems are free to arise again in the future (Gupta & Sharma, 2004). The task of learning organization is to gain a customer responsive culture, to maintain deep and keen knowledge of newly appearing products and processes. Hereby, we are going to review the literature on the matter in order to be able to form a sound and balanced notion of learning organization; in particular, we will study the five steps of building a successful team of a learning organization proposed by Peter Senge, a prominent American scientist, occupying the position of director in the Center for Organizational Learning.

Further, we will try to apply the acquired knowledge to IVIK Holding Group, Ltd., one of the leaders of modern market of air-conditioning systems. Having revealed the gaps or deficits in organizational learning, we will work out a program of overcoming those obstacles and make a conclusion on the practical effectiveness of learning organization through empirical research.

Literature Review of the Learning Organization

As this field is rather young, there are actually no distinguished boundaries for scholar research, and naturally there is much debate and controversy within the study process. On the whole, the research of learning organizations is tightly connected with the organizational learning, and thus it is often undertaken by organizational development and human resources development specialists. Generally, the researchers can be divided into two main groups. The first tend to describe linear hierarchical models which are believed to reflect the gradual progress of the company, while the second group proposes cyclical models. The first group is initially guided by Argyris (1977) and followed by Swieringa and Weirdsma (1992), and Torbert (1994). Argyris (1999, p. 31) underlines that in new circumstances in order to maintain competitiveness it becomes necessary to reduce the working the staff and thus rise effectiveness of the restructured departments, to learn the outside environment and present creative solutions. “This requires co-operation between individuals and groups, free and reliable communication, and a culture of trust,” Argyris (1999, p. 31) notes. The followers of linear models tend to allocate organizational processes by several levels (from 2 to 8 or more). By contrast, cyclical models present organizational learning as a continuous process.

Kolb, Dixon, and Garvin present models with a series of stages that include (1) the generation of information on internal and external performance; (2) the integration of information into the business context by means of training and conferencing systems; (3) the collective interpretation of information stimulated by improved interaction and less hierarchy; and (4) the encouragement of the employees to the development of actions as a result of those interpretations (Easterby-Smith et al., 1999, p. 10). Miner and Mezias (1996) prove that it is time to refuse conventional positivist methods and emphasize the importance of qualitative methods, applied research and such modeling tools as simulations. At the same time, Elmes and Kasouf (1995) add the significance of language analysis and the application of stories, the development of multifaceted case studies and cognitive mapping. As for theoretical base, learning organization is tightly bound with such scientific discipline as knowledge management represented by a number of academics including Baruch Lev (at the New York University), Ikujiro Nonaka and Hirotaka Takeuchi (Hitotsubashi University), Thomas H. Davenport (Babson College) and Thomas A. Stewart (Harvard University).

Trial and error technique has led to a wide range of strategies, tactics, methods and tools on the basis of different implementation approaches, and is still hard to say which are the most or the least effective. It should be remembered that “Learning is a notoriously difficult process to investigate empirically, which is why most researchers have taken the easy option by objectifying it and focusing on outputs” (Easterby-Smith et al., 1999, p. 12).

However, despite the existing controversies, there is a certain system of pillars applied widely at modern learning organizations. These are five characteristics proposed by Peter Sagne. The first is system thinking. It presents the idea that all the components of production and business should be seen as bounded objects in relation with the whole and never isolated. “Learning organizations use this method of thinking when assessing their company and have information systems that measure the performance of the organization as a whole and of its various components,” Argyris (1999, 55) explains. Some scholars believe that all the components must be apparent, while O’Keeffe (2002, 130), for instance, considers that they can be acquired gradually, step by step. The second pillar is personal mastery, standing for personal interest and motivation of an individual for learning and training practiced in daily life. Here it is underlined that incidental and forced learning will do no good, but sustainable culture of learning should be promote among employees. The third pillar is mental models, involving both the employees’ assumptions and intentions and the memories of organization on the whole. “In creating a learning environment it is important to replace confrontational attitudes with an open culture that promotes inquiry and trust” (O’Keeffe, 2002, 134). The next characteristic is shared vision. It goes without saying that any organization will benefit from common identity providing focus and stimulus for learning. Finally, individual learning is to constitute team learning. When the employees are united into one community with the same interests, goals and vision, it helps to improve problem solving capacity of the company and cross the boundaries. “Team learning requires individuals to engage in dialogue and discussion; therefore team members must develop open communication, shared meaning, and shared understanding,” O’Keeffe (2002, 136) emphasizes.

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