February 23, 2018

Is individual learning enough to deliver organizational learning?

You’ve heard it before. You might even have said it yourself…

“Training doesn’t work.”


“When I get back to the workplace, I find it very hard to apply what I’ve learned.”

These can be opposite sides of the same coin – a disconnect between individual learning and organizational learning.

The thing is…

We can train as many individuals as we like in new skills, but if the organization doesn’t learn anything, the organization’s overall behavior and performance won’t change.

So what has to happen for an organization to learn?

Peter Senge, a leading authority in this area, would say there needs to be a shared vision of a compelling future; shared models and understanding of how things work; unbiased dialogue; an understanding of the systemic and dynamic nature of things (in which cause and effect may be separated in both time and space); and personal acceptance of both responsibility for outcomes and the need to improve personal performance, which he calls “personal mastery”.

In balder terms, the leaders of the organization need to go on a learning journey together and take a critical mass of the workforce along with them.

Peter’s prescription shows why “gaming” the system can be so damaging to progress because it makes learning by the organization and the wider enterprise impossible. His conditions are not met when players manipulate things for their own ends. Examples are all around.

He also says that the key enabler of the conditions for organizational learning is the quality of the relationships amongst the participants.

So you might like this reminder…

Take care to distinguish between individual learning and organizational learning. If you want the latter to occur, you might need to deliver more than just the former.

And you might like to apply your skill in relationships to the organizational learning on which we all depend.

How strong is the connection between individual learning and organizational learning in your world?

Where should our cash go – retaining people or training people?

How is it that organisations are content to go on spending £100ks or $100ks or more per month on salaries of people doing their jobs badly, but not a few £k or $k teaching them how to do their jobs well?

In recessionary times, many organisations cut “unnecessary” expenditure – such as external training and help – and conserve cash to meet on-going payroll of permanent staff. Now I’m all for keeping the team together, but this is nuts. We’re in a rapidly changing world and our people need to learn fast. What’s the point of paying people to do the job wrong, or even the wrong job? Then we really are wasting our money and piling up problems for the future.