There is an idiom in English language. “All good things must come to an end”. That is nothing great will last forever. And so it is with civilisations, countries and organizations including companies. Civilisations like Greek, Indian and Egypt have lost their status and so have countries like England, France and Germany. Tom Peters and Robert Waterman researched and put together a list of organizations that they said were excellent (Please refer to the book “In Search of Excellence”). They put together a list of companies they felt were great but by the end of 10 years, 7 out of 10 companies had lost their status. Companies like Nokia, Firestone and Toshiba which were industry leaders are now struggling to survive.
A key question that keeps on bugging us is that can we design Learning Organisations? Smart machines are machines that can think, that is they can process new data and adapt themselves based on the incoming data. Can we, human beings design organisations that change with time?
This should be feasible provided we can break “The Trap of Success”. Success is the biggest block to learning. Success reinforces our mind-sets and reinforces our beliefs. It makes us repeat what we did before in a changing environment while the competitors try new things and hence one day competitors overtake successful companies till the time, another company comes and changes the rules of the game. How can companies avoid this trap?
The key to avoiding trap of success is to keep on questioning our mind-sets especially the mental models that helped us win. We all are more comfortable with and like people who share our mental models. But this creates a trap. Its like everyone is looking in same direction and the group fails to watch its back. We all have blinders, a group with same set of blinders would fail to look at 360 degrees.
The easiest way to look at 360 degrees is by allowing a diverse group of people to challenge our mindsets. That is have teams of peers with no hierarchy so that people can challenge each other’s mindsets and the team would not only be taking optimal decisions but would also be creative or innovative. For this we need to structure an organization around teams (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2015/02/26/team-based-on-organisations-a-new-organisation-structure/ )
Teams allow us to develop an organisation without hierarchy and where people can question each other and challenge each other’s mindsets. This not only improves quality of decision making in the teams but also makes them more creative and innovative. Teams built around roles and without hierarchy would encourage people to take on roles of others just like in a game of football or basket- ball unlike Cricket where the captain takes all the decisions (https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/03/18/building-football-teams-at-work/). An unlikely fallout of it is increased ownership of employees, which in a competitive market is a big advantage.
We can design a learning organization by designing an organization around teams and
- building a culture where people affected by a decision or people taking a decision can participate in decision making. Decision making is by and large by consensus.
- Providing psychological safety to staff and assuring them that they would not be punished for calling out if they are affected by a decision or in a discussion, and https://rajneeshrastogi.wordpress.com/2017/03/15/indian-experience-with-democracy-2/
- promoting diversity. Diversity not only in demographics but also diversity in thoughts.
- Processes that facilitate team members to cooperate and collaborate and not compete with each other.
Is that all what we need to develop learning organizations? There is more to it but then teams is a good starting point.