Policy Research and Communications Branch
Public Service Commission
[ Version franšaise ][ Acrobat Version ]
As new demographics, new technologies, and new global structures become the order of the day, the very nature of work, organizations, and management is undergoing fundamental change. In this new hyper-competitive environment learning becomes the central focus as the human resource becomes the only resource around which a sustainable competitive or strategic advantage can be built. Managers need to learn ways of organizing that are less hierarchical, more democratic, and focussed upon skill and knowledge development.
"The challenge for leaders in the twenty-first century will be how to release the brainpower of their organizations" (Bennis, 1997).
"The dominant competitive weapon of the twenty-first century will be the education and skills of the workforce" (Thurow, 1997).
Hamel and Prahalad (Prahalad, 1997) emphasize that learning and competence will be the fundamental building blocks in the creation of a strategic architecture that links the past and the present and that competitive advantage will go to those organizations that succeed in building new competencies in new opportunity areas.
"Companies will have to unlearn their past and forget it! The future will not be an extrapolation of the past" (Prahalad, 1997).
Similar sentiments were echoed by Jocelyne Bourgon, Clerk of the Privy Council, in her Fifth Annual Report to the Prime Minister on The Public Service of Canada (1998). In describing the areas of the Public Service that require further improvement she said, "In human resources management, the goal is to become a learning and knowledge-based organization, one able to provide to provide people with the breadth of knowledge and experience necessary to advise and serve in a modern global environment."
However, while it is widely recognized and accepted in both the private and public sectors that this trend may be inevitable, the real challenge is how to actually transform an organization into a learning organization. As one writer puts it, "The chorus asking this question is growing. People in . . . public and private sector organizations are . . . seeking the Holy Grail of learning organizations to improve their operations and their results" (Willard, 1995). In fact, "The public sector has changed more in the last three years than in the last 30 to 50, and the rate of change seems to be accelerating. Agencies are asking how to bring about dramatic process improvements, organization culture shifts and agency overhauls" (Van Wart, 1994). This paper addresses some of the steps that might be taken in order to transform a government organization into a learning organization.
The concept of the learning organization was spawned several years ago but gained prominence with Senge's first book, The Fifth Discipline - The Art and Practice of The Learning Organization (1990). In general terms, a learning organization can be described as "one that seeks to create its own future; that assumes learning is an ongoing and creative process for its members; and that develops, adapts and transforms itself in response to the needs and aspirations of people, both inside and outside itself" (Navran Associates, 1993). David Garvin describes a learning organization as "an organization that is skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge, and modifying its behaviour to reflect new knowledge and insights" (David Garvin, Harvard Business School, 1993).
Peter Senge describes a learning organization as one that is structured in a manner consistent with the essences of human nature. Senge stresses the importance of the higher human essences, and argues that learning gets to the heart of what it means to be human. Furthermore, he opines that real learning is not restricted to understanding what is necessary to merely survive, "adaptive learning" but also includes "generative learning." This he defines as learning that expands a human being's capacity to create the results he or she truly desires (Senge, 1990).
While many organizations deal with change by simply adapting, and while adaptation is a form of learning, it is mainly reactive. If an organization is to survive its learning must be more deliberative, reflective, and anticipatory. The difference between an adaptive and a learning organization is subtle, yet profound.
"Both types [adaptive and generative] operate in the present. But the adaptive organization is slightly behind; it is just arriving from the past. The learning is slightly ahead; it is just leaving for the future" (Meyers and Hood, 1994).
Senge separates significant organizational learning into five types which he refers to as "disciplines." The first is Personal Mastery which encompasses education, training, and development but also includes how we bring that knowledge to our organization and use that creativity to keep us and our organizations responsive to changing environmental circumstances. The second is the Mental Models - the way people cognitively and socially construct reality - we use for analyzing our organizations, our adversaries, and ourselves. The third type of learning involves the creation of a Shared Vision. This provides the basis for common concern and commitment so necessary for generating the focus and energy for learning. The fourth is Team Learning which is about alignment, harmonization of individual efforts, and commonality of direction. The fifth discipline is Systems Thinking which, according to him, is what makes all other types of learning work in harmony. A fundamental problem for business organizations is the failure to see problems as elements of systems failures. This problem in government is even more serious because public policy problems by virtue of their very "publicness" tend to be complex with diverse interconnected elements and interests.
When tied together, this means that managers must "understand and accept reality" (i.e., have accurate mental models), "accept a different orientation" which is more team-oriented, understand "that most of an organization's problems are not unique errors but systems issues," discern the "shortfall between the organization's present reality and its future possibilities" through a "shared vision," and "involve and empower people throughout the organization" by building on personal mastery (Senge, 1990).
Argyris and Schon (1978) define significant learning in organizations as the ability to detect and correct errors. They distinguish between single-loop and double-loop learning. Single-loop learning produces behaviour changes that are adaptive but do not produce significant value changes. This is the kind of learning that enables a person to cope with a particular situation without taking any steps towards resolving the underlying causes. Thus, this type of learning addresses only the symptoms and not the problem. By contrast, double-loop learning produces value changes from which flow behavioural changes. This is learning that questions and explores the underlying causes of a problem and seeks to find lasting solutions. Their thesis is that single-loop learning, apart from perpetuating the status quo, produces skilled incompetence, that double-loop learning can be taught to individuals, and can replace single-loop learning in entire organizations. In order for this to occur, however, the following conditions have to be present: strong motivation on the part of targeted recipients, substantial amounts of time (two to five years for major changes), and excellent concrete learning interventions. The similarity between Senge's approach and this one is evident.
It must be stressed that learning organizations do not just happen. Their creation requires conscious interventions to capture, store, disseminate, and use learning at the systems level to create innovative products and services. Since engaging an entire system, particularly a large one, in learning is a monumental task, the pure learning organization exist more as an idealistic construct than as a real phenomenon. "The learning organization is more of a journey than a destination. Each step along the way often holds unpredictable consequences that require revaluation and readjustments" (Marsick, 1997). However, some organizations are well on their way to becoming learning organizations.
The following are some characteristics commonly found in learning organizations:
- Creative activities involving problem finding, problem solving, and solution implementation. Traditional organizations are generally concerned with problem solving. This encourages Type III error which can be defined as the probability of solving the wrong problem when one should solve the right problem
- Diverse viewpoints and continuous questioning and inquiry
- Substantive conflict and discourages affective conflict
- Taking responsibility for mistakes and not blaming others
- Experimentation, innovation, and risk taking
- Employee empowerment
- Competitive learning
- Hostile power struggles
- Affective conflict
In short, individuals in an ideal learning organization will think critically and creatively, considering all the factors involved in understanding a situation, and will be sensitive to each other's points of view. They will communicate ideas and concepts both in inquiry and action by first establishing trust.
The following are some generic thoughts on barriers to becoming a learning organization and solutions for overcoming these:
- The unconscious assumption that "I know all I need to know"
- Discomfort at having to give up cherished opinions or beliefs
- Fear of becoming temporarily incompetent until a new skill is learned
- Unlearning what has worked in the past but is no longer effective
- The feeling of being too busy
- Sheer mental laziness
- Management decisions that are not to be questioned
- Inability or failure to understand barriers
- A blaming rather than trusting culture
- An environment where questioning and/or challenging are not encouraged, or worse, actively discouraged
- A "knowledge is power"syndrome that blocks the sharing of learning
- The famous "Not Invented Here" syndrome
- Management behaviour that says "our subordinates have to learn, but not us"
- Organizational silos that impede cross-functional co-operation
- Lack of training time, materials and resources
- Satisfaction with the status-quo
- Punishing mistakes rather that treating them as necessary learning experiences
- Failure to encourage innovation
- Lack of recognition for improving capabilities and contributions
- Lack of standardization mechanisms to capture and spread improvements as they are developed
- Lack of knowledge transfer or cross-fertilisation mechanisms
The following are some suggestions for overcoming the barriers cited earlier:
- Steering committees that prioritize and lead change
- Central"teaching" organization to develop adapt and deliver training materials
- Network of trainers or teachers - often specialized in various subjects
- Strong R&D organization to lead innovation
- Network of generic subject matter experts to support cross-fertilization
- Employee suggestion scheme organized for fast feedback, high acceptance rate and frequent recognition
- Management learn faster and better when also required to teach in training cascades
- Teams are more effective than individuals in problem solving and improvement projects
- Short cycle times provide more cycles of learning in a given time period, accelerating the experience curve
- Lack of time and mental laziness are real issues
- Cross-fertilisation within and among organizations must be actively supported
- Periodically new methods, procedures, know-how etc. have to be standardized, to provide a stable platform for another round of learning
- Innovation must be actively encouraged, and successful ideas recognised and rewarded
- Leaders with a global orientation, the ability and willingness to accommodate and guide rapid change
- Encouragement of experimentation and intelligent risk-taking
- Drive for continuous improvement
- Fact-based decision making premised on a clear mandate and vision
- Openness to new ideas and paradigms
- Active promotion of innovation
Kanter, Stein, and Jick (1993) in describing US government organizations, said:
. . . it is a "sad fact . . . that, almost universally organizations change as little as they must, rather than as much as they should. If this has a ring of truth for private sector organizations, it should have a deafening clang for public sector organizations whose pride formally has been stability and caution. Public sector organizations even those whose missions are seemingly over, certainly die far less frequently than their perishable private sector counterparts. Yet clearly the rules are shifting for the public sector as the nation becomes more serious about a $4 trillion deficit, run-away sectors such as health care, corrections, and social security, and cost containment in both government revenues and expenditures."
Defining precisely the kinds of activities that are necessary for the creation of a learning organization is an important step towards becoming a learning organization. Boydel (Boydel, Pedlar & Burgoyne, 1991) describes three ways that companies learn: implementational learning, improvement learning, and integrational learning. However, he provides no clues as to the relative importance of these three types of learning and how to achieve balance using this approach. Marquardt and Reynolds (1994) provide the following 13 Steps for Building an Organization's Learning Capacity:
- Transform the individual and organizational image of learning
- Create knowledge-based partnerships
- Develop and expand team learning activities
- Change the role of managers
- Encourage experiment and risk-taking
- Create structures, systems, and time to extract learning
- Build opportunities and mechanisms to disseminate learning
- Empower people
- Push information throughout the organization and to external associates
- Develop the discipline of systems thinking
- Create a culture of continuous improvement
- Develop a powerful vision for organizational excellence and individual fulfilment
- Root out bureaucracy
Putting Theory into Practice
While the theory and underlying logic behind learning organizations are well developed, hardwiring the learning is much more problematic, as not much exists by way of practical guidelines for traditional organizations wishing to make the transition to learning organizations. Comprehensive methodologies have only recently started to emerge (Redding) and must stand up to scrutiny and the test of time. Moreover, there is no standard formula as what may be effective for one organization may not be effective for another. The transition is, therefore, mainly one of trial and error, retaining those practices which are effective, and discarding and forgetting those which are not. For example, care must be taken in what Marsick refers to as "sculpting" a systems-level learning infrastructure because "systems learning looks different because of variations in industry and organizational culture; the stage of development of the business; the degree to which work is routine or non-routine; who holds the knowledge for the organization, and whether it is tacit or explicit; and whether expertise is stored in people who continually exercise judgment or in standard systems and processes" (Marsick, 1997).
While these broad theoretical guidelines are useful at the conceptual level, they are of limited value in enabling an organization to go from theory to practice of building a learning organization. According to Dolan, "the theory of the learning organization is useful in raising questions but has limited practical applications" (1995). Adding to this difficulty is the fact that documented examples of public sector organizations that have become learning organizations are very rare. An exhaustive search by the author has, to date, turned up only a handful of such organizations. The one that will be used in this paper to illustrate the transformation process is English Nature, the British government's adviser on nature and conservation. This organization was able to make significant strides towards becoming a learning organization by using a "Six Step Approach" formulated around the 13 principles mentioned earlier (Marquardt and Reynolds, 1994). An examination of their model may inform on some of the initiatives that government organizations can do to embark on the journey to becoming a learning organization.
Get the support of relevant senior staff, especially for changes related to the wider issues of organizational management.
This requirement will be discussed extensively relative to the other five, because of its importance in the transformation process and the fact that the others tend to flow from it. In other words, if this is not in place, the change effort will be doomed from the start.
Senior managers can act as role models for the rest of the organization. "This role modelling should cover an open, available, supportive, and visible management style, where mistakes can be admitted to. They will also need to be involved in learning reviews, networking, and working in a non-bureaucratic way" (Dolan, 1995).
But not only is senior management support an issue here, so is leadership quality, and style. Learning organizations require leaders who can influence the processes and structures that encourage double-loop learning. Learning is a necessary but not a sufficient condition for achieving competitive or strategic advantage. Like competencies, and diversity, learning must be goal-driven rather process-driven and tied to the larger corporate strategic objectives. It must also be part of a well-integrated building a learning organization strategy. Therefore, without proper guidance at the most senior levels, it is conceivable that inappropriate or irrelevant learning might take place (Locke, 1997).
In this transformation the importance of the role of leadership cannot be overemphasised. A number of very significant changes will have to occur for a government organization to become a learning organization. Major adjustments will have to take place in the attitude, role, and orientation of leaders and managers. "Tomorrow's manager will need to understand business at a far more global and synergistic level than ever before, and to feel comfortable leading people who have learned to manage themselves" (Gibson, 1997).
According to Hamel, "If you want to create a point of view about the future, if you want to create a meaningful strategy, you have to create in your company a hierarchy of imagination. And that means giving a disproportionate share of voice to the people who have until now been disenfranchised from the strategy making process. It means giving a disproportionate share of voice to the young people. It means giving a disproportionate share of voice to the geographic periphery of your organization - because, typically, the farther away you are from headquarters, the more creative people are: they don't have the dead hand of bureaucracy and orthodoxy on them. And it means giving a disproportionate share of voice to newcomers" (1997). The essence of leadership will be the senior executive's ability to distinguish between what they are still able to contribute and recognising what they need to learn from others. A recent example of the operationalizing of this requirement can be found in the Employment Equity Act (1996) which enables the learning organization by creating a diverse workforce with its accompanying synergy, innovative thinking, and diverse viewpoints.
According to Senge, our leaders need to be thinking seriously about how they think, because if we approach the future with traditional mindsets, the future will leave us stuck in the present. According to Senge, the "command and control" organization is the antithesis of the learning organization as it stifles imagination and intelligence. "The trouble is that most business relationships work like dysfunctional families. Everybody is just basically concentrating on just pleasing the boss and avoiding getting their ass kicked, rather on building real relationships." However, such forms of top-down control-dominated organizations cannot cope with the new business environment. Therefore, "we have massive institutional breakdown and massive failure of the central nervous system of hierarchical institutions in the face of growing interdependence and accelerating change" (Senge, 1997).
The manager's challenge in these changing times is to find creative ways to capitalize on change. Empowerment and innovation lie at the heart of this effort. Empowerment means equipping all staff to make decisions that will lead to the desired results. Innovation involves encouraging staff to continuously improve products and services and/or reduce costs. Empowerment and innovation also often imply reducing control. It is recognized that the "concepts of control and accountability are essential tools. If we don't hold on to them, empowerment could turn to anarchy and innovation to chaos. But these concepts need to be broadened. Accountability needs to include not only reports on results achieved by an organization but also plans for meeting its mission and managing its resources. Similarly, control should include a means of creating conditions that lead to achieving objectives. This will involve getting rid of unnecessary controls and ensuring that those remaining are as unobtrusive as possible" (Meyers and Hood, 1994).
Put another way, "The professional manager has to spend so much of his or her life measuring and controlling, and that is what the business schools teach us, quite properly; but experience goes on to teach us that what we cannot measure and control can prove to be as important as what we can" (Parker, 1994).
Introduce systems of work that bring action, review, and application of learning so closely together that their boundaries become hard to distinguish.
For example, facilitation training is provided to help group leaders tap into the expertise of employees in order to solve problems and promote action.
Introduce working practices that enable staff to network freely, move between jobs, as required, and have ready access to senior staff.
Encouragement and support are given to small teams formed to explore new ways of dealing with current problems. Often these teams comprise individuals from diverse backgrounds who would not normally get together. This helps to break down hierarchical barriers and foster better working relationships with outsiders. It also gives people the confidence to learn from each other.
Get senior staff to network outside of the organization and report back on a regular basis.
These activities enable an organization to stay in touch with and make more significant contributions to the community, while promoting the development of allies for the future.
Support as much learning as possible so that staff develop the learning habit and learn to question the existing systems.
Training would be an integral part of this exercise and should be used in creative ways (McCrombie, 1996). For example, English Nature reviewed its rules on funding private study and decided that managers should encourage and fund training and skills development for any interested employees, even if such training had no immediate relevance to their jobs. Their goal is to develop a habit of learning and they recognize that they cannot predict the skills that may required in the future. This is referred to by Snow and Snell (1993) as building in"slack" to enable an organization to respond quickly to new opportunities or unexpected changes in its strategic direction. It must be emphasised, however, that training solutions cannot by themselves bring about the learning organization. Such initiatives must be part of a larger well-integrated building a learning organization strategy that is linked to clearly delineated corporate strategic objectives.
Introduce new ways of learning so that a wide range of learning opportunities and options are available to meet individual needs and preferences.
For example, English Nature set up a learning centre that will be updated and promoted on an ongoing basis. This centre provides a wide array of learning materials that allow employees to learn in ways and at times that they find convenient. In addition, the organization continues to offer a"dating service" to encourage mentoring and coaching and to encourage employees to take a broader view of learning.
In general, it is necessary to co-operate with partners and colleagues in other organizations by holding joint events, sharing resources, and swapping ideas.
Ours is a time of rapid and accelerating change. To stay relevant and effective during such times, an organization must change at least as fast as its environment changes. To be innovative, the organization must change even faster and it must anticipate the future. This means it must become a "Learning Organization."
There is no quick-fix in this endeavour and organizations must customize their approaches using certain principles as guidelines. Not only is there a need for radical organizational transformation and new management paradigms in the private sector. This requirement is very much a part of the new realities of the public sector. However, there are not many examples of public sector learning organizations, which in itself, may be indicative a deeper dilemma. This is not to say that efforts are not being made in this direction by public sector organizations. In fact within the Public Service of Canada, for example, there are notable recent initiatives in this direction. These include the adoption of system-wide, value-driven change such as staffing reform, recruitment reform, information-technology infrastructure, universal classification system, etc. However, although these are significant steps in the right direction, the greater part of the journey still lies ahead of most public sector organizations.
A developing a learning organization strategy, in the government, must emphasize assessment of its present status, proper validation tools for measuring progress, and be an integrative system that is linked to a clear corporate strategy objectives.
1. The views expressed in this document are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Public Service Commission.
Edgar H. Schein
See the full original:
NL_TI_Edgar H. Schein
LJ_FNF: AZ NLW JE
NL_TI_Edgar H. Schein
"Chapter 5: Forming a Learning Network
"Traveler, there is no path, paths are made by walking."
- Antonio Machado
What is a Learning Network?
A learning network is a group of organizations that come together for collaborative learning resulting in behavioral change that creates value for each organization.
In periods of constant discontinuous change, there is a need to manage environmental dependencies. That is, firms need to not only understand but also to create strong linkages with customers, suppliers, distributors, regulators, and others who impact their business. One approach to making dense linkages with these parties is through the creation of a learning network. Further, a learning network can help a firm to introduce external perspectives into the organization to illuminate blind spots and provide external feedback to the organization.
The building of a learning network is focused on boundary work, that is,
1) creating boundaries which allow useful collaborations to take place between
emergent or potential systems, and
2) spanning "hard" boundaries to allow collaborative work -- such as across company
divisions, between firms, or among groups of organizations with shared interests or
The goal of the learning network is to move beyond "data exchange," the transaction-based sharing of company information, to interactions where new knowledge is co-created and creates value for member firms.
In order for the learning network project to be successful, the interested organizations must deal with differential power among the stakeholders; cross-organizational mission, goals and norms; dedicated and trained participants; and a win-win orientation.
Each member in the learning network needs to engage in an internal process of experimentation, application, and dissemination of knowledge gained through the learning network activity. That is, each member organization must form an internal group (parallel learning group, see Chapter 4) that commits to the process of the network. The network meets and communicates on a regular basis to share what the internal groups have learned within each organization, and to engage in collaborative projects across organizations. The members commit to mutual problem-solving activities, support of network activities, and rotating leadership of the network. The nesting and iteration between the internal groups and the network are what take the outcomes of network activity beyond data exchange.
A learning network involves first the sharing of common goals among the members. Each member will engage in an internal learning function through the formation of an internal group to experiment with the agreed upon goals, and to engage in peer learning and teaching activities. The network will then meet to share what they have learned internally in their home organizations, and actions they have implemented based on those findings. They will also commit to mutual problem-solving activities on an ongoing basis. This format for meeting across organizations has several advantages:
- It moves the shared dialog beyond data exchange and into the realm of experimentation and implementation, ensuring double-loop learning
- It utilizes collaborative learning methods
- It requires commitments by the member organizations
- It leads to capabilities in sustaining and diffusing knowledge
One of the key advantages of the learning network is that unique perspectives can be introduced into the organization, which can help to illuminate blind spots and provide external feedback to the organization. The new repository of best practice knowledge is among the community of practitioners who face similar challenges and can exchange practices and experimental approaches with each other.
In forming the learning network, there is both a process and a method, but there is also an emergent process that comes from tapping into the tacit knowledge of the network members. Like a blueprint for a home, all the materials, dimensions, and details may be represented, but the home itself is built through ongoing discussions and decisions between the architect, builder, subcontractors, and future owners. There are hundreds of adjustments to the blueprints that take place in the course of actually erecting the structure, and those adjustments are generated through the interface and interactions of the parties involved. Owners change their minds, contractors make adjustments to the ideal world of the architect, and subcontractors agree on how to best integrate their activities. The final product, a three-dimensional structure on living ground, is of another reality than sheets of printed blue paper.
Steps for Forming a Learning Network
The steps outlined below are the blueprint for the learning network. They are intentionally general (to see how the process has worked in examples of learning networks, see Chapter 6). While one cannot build a learning network without a plan, the network evolves its structure through mutual practice, agreement, discussion, and experimentation of the members. Another important point is that the stages outlined below can happen in parallel; for example, the formation of the internal group can happen in parallel with the formation of the learning network. The internal and external activities complement and support each other. For each network the importance or relevance of each stage will be different as the practice of learning across boundaries evolves.
Form the internal groups
- Cultural and collaboration assessments (see Chapter 2)
- Build boundary-spanning competencies internally (see Chapter 3)
- Create internal mission and goals (WIIFMs - "What's In It for [Us]?")
At this stage, it is important for the internal assessments to take place. The internal groups may form before entering the learning network, or as a result of initial meetings with potential consortium members or a pre-existing learning network. The need for the internal groups is to form a parallel learning activity. This group will need to engage in a process of thoroughly understanding its own organizational culture, and sharing mental models of that culture with each other. Also, the group should engage in a collaboration assessment to understand any stumbling blocks to collaboration in the organization. Addressing the stumbling blocks is an area where the learning network can assist the internal group to make positive changes in its collaboration climate. It will be important for the internal group to be clear on its own WIIFMs ("What's in It for Me?") in order to sustain involvement and momentum. An additional benefit of internal groups, who are engaging in their own assessments, learnings, and dissemination activities, is that they guard the consortium against any free riders, those that participate but do not contribute.
Form the network
- Determine a purpose
- Define the membership
- Make contact
- Exchange information
This stage involves creating the initial concept for the learning network. The purpose or organizing principle of the learning network will be proposed by either the lead organization or the network facilitator who is forming the learning network. This purpose will help to define the proposed membership of the consortium -- the group of organizations who might have interest in the purpose, or could contribute to learning around the purpose. This purpose will likely be modified many times in the course of the evolution of the learning network.
When the proposed membership is in place, the lead organization or facilitator will need to make contact with the proposed members. If the organizations are large, it will be important to 1) make contact at as high a level in the organization as possible; 2) have endorsements for the consortium concept from well-known authorities or high-level corporate officers; 3) devise a crisp and business case-oriented executive summary of the aims of the learning network and the possible beneficial outcomes; 4) allow adequate time for responses to come back; and 5) be steadily persistent in pursuing responses from the proposed member organizations.
Once contact is made, information from each potential member should be gathered, including personal information from each organizational representative and an overall company profile. An initial one-on-one meeting between learning network facilitator and each company will help to determine what the proposed member might learn and contribute to the effort. An initial group meeting is also helpful to support information exchange and begin the creation of common ground. This can be a short, one-day meeting where the relationship-building and information exchange processes are furthered.
Create the network structure
- The convocation meeting
- Build network mission/goals
- Decide structure and duration
The convocation meeting of the learning network members has the express purpose of building common ground through the creation of vision, mission, and goals for the group. The narrower the definition of the mission for the learning network, the more focused and quickly results will be seen. A broader definition may have longer term change effects, but the risk of loss of motivation and unforeseen market changes mitigate against this approach.
The convocation meeting could be run as a "Future Search" conference, a proven approach to bring large groups from the current state (an underorganized system), to a desired future state (the vision/mission/goals of the group and the formation of the learning network) through skillful use of graphics, brainstorming, participant involvement, and building on the present moment. Aspects of open space technology may also be helpful to create the flexibility which allows tacit knowledge to emerge.
There are numerous possible structures of the learning network, and a few case examples of these are offered in Chapter 6. It is useful at the outset to contract among the members for the duration of the learning network activities. This could be one year initial cycle of work, followed by an evaluation and re-contracting for additional time if the activity meets the continued needs of the members. This boundary definition helps in creating milestones and maintaining energy and commitment in the network. It also provides an opportunity for new persons to join and old members to retire from the internal groups.
Another important consideration in structuring the learning network is to determine the external environment that the members represent. That is, will the intent of the network be to learn in reference to local, national, or global conditions? This will be determined by the composition of the member companies and their locations. In the case of multinationals, will the internal group include non-home based employees? If so, how will their local market considerations be dealt with internally and in the context of the consortium activities? How will this impact communications and inclusion issues? If member companies are from mixed national cultures, how will this impact the functioning of the network? These parameters need to be made explicit in the formation of the learning network.
Build common ground
- Engage boundary-spanning skills
- Form dense networks (conduits)
Following the convocation meeting, each internal group works on its collaboration assessment. In parallel, the learning network becomes fully operable. As an outcome of the convocation meeting, it is critical to have agreements on technology platform(s) for the development of the learning network. It is highly advisable to settle on a maximum of two forms of communication; most common choices are email and phone or Lotus Notes and phone. Videoconferencing as a medium for one-way presentations, or as the medium for subcommittee representatives is useful, but this tool will likely not be useful for the overall work of the consortium. The use of conferencing software and Extranets are also important areas for exploration as the consortium develops. There are an increasing number of collaboration software programs that are based on the World Wide Web. However, there are not infrequently sticky issues around firewalls and access to these programs across organizations. A cross-organizational Technology study group may be the first action that the learning network makes to further networks and engage the boundary-spanning activities.
The formation of dense networks, or conduits, for the growth of the learning network is critical. The two components of successfully "densifying" the intercompany networks are the development of the boundary-spanning skills, and the furthering of interdependence among the parties. When the organizations in the consortium have pre-existing relationships -- customer/supplier, tech partners, etc. -- the process of building interdependency will be to discover and map the existing relationships between the companies. This process in itself is powerful learning for the network as a whole. Some astounding discoveries can be made if the two organizations are large, both about existing interdependencies and about the difficulty of acquiring the information.
While companies can be interdependent transactionally, true interdependency between groups of firms involves shared need, knowledge and compatibility of outlook, and commitment to the value of the network. There must be multiple levels and frequency of contact. The relationship will be strongest between firms who solve problems together, share outcomes, and take the risk to question existing assumptions. In addition, interdependency and trust are enhanced when network members follow through on commitments, feedback, and new insights. A norm for the learning network around "closed-loop" activities -- projects that complete all stages of work including implementation, measures, evaluation, feedback, and dissemination of learning summaries -- will feed the high levels of trust and commitment desired. These are the factors that build relationships between firms. These interdependencies will create value to each firm to the extent that each has been able to develop and disseminate the boundary-spanning competencies of their organization.
Engage in collaborative learning
- Create and execute programs
- Share resources
- Capture and transfer learnings
As the progress from information exchange and common ground creation to collaborative learning takes place in the learning network, further interdependencies can be created. This phase marks the transition to value creation activities for the learning network. Projects can take the form of research, standards activities, experimentation, problem solving, or peer teaching seminars. The ongoing support and invigoration of the internal groups is central at this stage so that each firm is able to effectively capture and transfer the learnings from the intercompany network programs. The broad dissemination of learning and constant refinement of boundary-spanning competencies -- the work of the internal group -- will carry the learning network forward.
Evaluate and sustain the network
- Review business measures
- Evaluate the process and make adjustments
- Reinforce rewards and incentives
One aspect of value creation for the learning network must be business outcomes or measures. How much has the company saved through shared resources? What has been the bottom-line impact of new sources of learning? Are there specific new technology applications that have emerged from the network activities that are now producing profit or cutting costs? Are the internal groups vital and exciting organizations that are adequately rewarded and incentivized to continue the network activity? Has the senior management of the organizations been informed of the learning network activity, and has feedback been received and acted upon?
Close the learning network
- Design closing meeting
- Assemble learning history
- Establish mentors
Each learning network will have a natural life cycle in the minds of each member organization. Once the initial contracted period of activity has concluded, the network members should decide if they would like to re-contract. If not, then a formal closing meeting should be scheduled. This meeting should focus on celebrating the boundary-spanning skills growth that has taken place in each member organization. It is appropriate to reward and pay tribute to outstanding contributions from individuals and member firms, especially those that have made the most progress in reaching their goals. Another point of the meeting is to bring together the learnings from the organizations in some final form. A third purpose for the closing meeting is to create a core of mentors from the learning network who will be available for some period of time (perhaps two years) to mentor others in each organization who may wish to initiate a learning network. By combining a written summary and learning history of the group, and having a committed body of mentors who "embody" the learning, more effective transfer and dissemination can take place. "
See the full original http://www.learnmaster.com/products/chapter.html