Leading a Learning Organisation

How do we create the conditions for people to work at their best?

Agile organisations adapt.
To adapt successfully we need to learn.
To learn we need to listen.
To listen we need to trust each other.

No trust > No listening > No learning > No adapting > No agility.

Adapting at scale requires trust and listening at scale.

The alternative is to scale management and control.

Peter Senge, author of the The 5th Discipline, codified some of the disciplines that he observed the most innovative managers using. 

He believes that organisations either have a learning character or a controlling character and that if we want to encourage systemic learning these 5 disciplines will support the journey.

Learning Organisation. Senge &
The Learning Organisation by Peter Senge. Illustrated by Tanmay Vora

So what are the 5 disciplines? 

1. Systems Thinking

This refers to stepping back and looking holistically at the systems and modelling people’s influences, interests, needs and challenges. This helps us to understand what are the levers for change available to us and what are the likely systemic causes of resistance. 
For me, systemic coaching and systemic constellation work can be a great enabler here and helps to evolve systems thinking in to systems feeling.

2. Mental Models

This refers to having a shared set of mental models that guide a team and organisation on how they work and interact with each other e.g. “Agile” & “Design Thinking”. Sometimes these are explicit and written down but often they are implicit and just form part of “how things are done around here”. With changes in leadership, this can be a time when expectations become misaligned, results not realised and painful transitions can be experienced.  

Taking a conscious, systemic perspective and aligning on mental models helps leaders to reduce these pains and smooth these transitions.

3. Shared Vision 

The Visionary leadership style was identified by Goleman, Boyatzis & McKee as the most impactful positive leadership style observed in their research featured in “The New Leaders” so we neglect it at our peril.
The benefit of a Shared Vision is that it unites people around a common purpose and creates intrinsic motivation amongst those involved. It is also a lot easier, cheaper and more fun to inspire people to work towards a compelling purpose or opportunity than it is to control people to do work that does not inspire them with a raft of managers.
Of course, everyone in the company does not have to be involved in creating the Vision statement but a meaningful shared vision that is congruent with Values, Customers, Stakeholders and Employees can provide a unifying opportunity.  

4. Personal Mastery

Refers to developing self-awareness and the lifelong-learning mindset. As a leadership team this refers to developing a greater understanding of our patterns and the impact we have on others as well as the patterns of the organisation and how we can interact with it to achieve the results that align with our ambitions.
Pausing, taking alternate perspectives, 360 feedback and coaching enables us to see things about ourselves that we usually don’t observe.

5. Team Learning

When we look at the nuts and bolts this sounds obvious. Of course we want to invest in continual improvement and developing improving systemic awareness, mental models and skills to continue to thrive and adapt, in service of the Shared Vision. Bit do we really do it? 
Personally, I love the inclusion of the Team learning element in this model. Many technical and business teams these days practice things like stand-ups and retrospective meetings to reflect and learn but do we do the same at all levels? How many leadership teams work with a coach to help them increase their overall performance and systemic awareness and capability?