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The Learning Organization

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Literature Review of the Learning Organization
The concept of the learning organization is something that all organizations today must use to be able to adapt to today’s every changing environment. Learning organizations tend to have a flat, decentralized organizational structure (Argyris, 1999). There are five components that make up the learning organization: personal mastery, systems thinking, mental models, building shared vision and team learning. The key to becoming a learning organization is to expand our capacity to new ways and patterns of thinking and to continue learning and cultivating new ways of thinking and problem solving. To reap the benefits of the learning concept, organizations must be adaptable and flexible. Senge defines the learning organization as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free and where people are continually learning how to learn together” (Senge, 2006, p. 3).
Personal Mastery
Personal mastery is the first principle and is one of the keys to the learning organization. We must be fully committed to the continual learning process. Personal mastery is something that cannot just be practiced occasionally but has to be practiced daily. Personal mastery defined by Peter M. Senge is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience and of seeing reality objectively (Senge, 2006). This principle is a constant and an effort for each person. This requires an individual to stay in a constant never ending learning mode. We should view our life as a “creative work” Senge says. We should strive to be proactive and not reactive. Personal mastery “is not dominance over people or things, but it can be a special level of proficiency-as demonstrated by a master craftsman who coaxes a work of art from the materials he has at hand (Distiller, p. 4).
We must have a clear vision of our goals to obtain personal mastery, but we must also maintain a grasp on reality. When there is a gap between our vision and perception of reality then this causes creative tension. We must learn how to effectively manage this gap. This tension can motivate us and for some it might cause one to give up. Tension, by nature, seeks resolution and the most natural resolution of this tension is for our reality to move closer to what we want (Senge, Society for Organizational Learning). One must be able to tell and see the truth. If we do not have a clear picture of the truth and reality, it will fade away when we lie or others lie.
One main problem that can hold an individual back from personal mastery is having a lack of self-esteem and self-worth or a feeling of being powerless. Our culture and society can reinforce these negative thoughts and feelings into making us believe that we cannot achieve our goals. This can be very difficult for us to overcome. If we allow this to happen, it can create a cycle that can be difficult to get out and can stop us from moving forward. To overcome this, we must train our subconscious. Our subconscious is able to handle far more challenging problems and can handle them more quickly that our conscious can.
Mental Models How we look at the world is a mental model. Mental models are the set of expectations people develop about each other (Grice, 2010). We use this to determine what is reality. In many cases our mental models are flawed. We must realize that these models are constant in our lives and shape how we act and think. A mental model involves how we perceive a person or a situation. We try to give a company a “face”. A key to this is realizing whom we are and where we want to go. Substantial social learning occurs through modeling, in which individuals acquire attitudes by merely observing others (Nelson, 2011 p.118). It is vital that we learn from these models. For an individual to learn from observing a model, four processes must take place (Nelson, 2011 p.118):
1. The learner must focus attention on the model.
2. The learner must retain what was observed from the model. Retention is accomplished in two basic ways. In one way, the learner “stamps in” what was observed by forming a verbal code for it. The other is through symbolic rehearsal, by which the learner forms a mental image of himself or herself behaving like the model.
3. Behavioral reproduction must occur; that is, the learner must practice the behavior.
4. The learner must be motivated to learn from the model.
Our mental models need to constantly change with our environment. A company must be willing to change. A key component is that we must be flexible to adapt to the world that is changing around us. We must be creative in our approach to working with mental models because with a changing world, in many cases, the models can be used effectively over and over again. For a company to stay competitive in today’s business market they must adapt to a new model more quickly than their competitors.
One reason that mental models are so deeply entrenched is that they are largely tacit (Senge, 1990, Volume 32, Number 1). In Ian Mitroff’s study of General Motors he found that executives thought, “Cars are status symbols. Styling is therefore more important that quality” (Mitroff, 1988 p. 66-67). We have to go beyond assumptions when we are working with mental models. We have to learn to restructure our view of reality in order for us to learn new ways and models to shape the future. Many times we do not understand the severity of how our assumptions affect how we perceive things. This assumption is a classic example of a mental model described by Senge, who wrote that our mental models are “deeply ingrained assumptions, generalizations, or even pictures and images that influence how we understand the world and how we take action.” For project managers, mental models influence the manner in which we choose to run our projects (Fitzgerald, 2003). Senge lists four core keys to discipline of mental models:
1. Facing up to distinctions between espoused theories (what we say) and theories-in-use (the implied theory in what we do) (Senge, 2006 p.176).
2. Recognizing “leaps of abstraction” (noticing our jumps from observation to generalization) (Senge, 2006 p.176).
3. Exposing the “left-hand column” (articulating what we normally do not say) (Senge, 2006 p.176).
4. Balancing inquiry and advocacy (skills for the effective collaborative learning) (Senge, 2006 p.176).
The entire basis of mental models is for a company or an individual to check their reality and be able to anticipate change and to change the mental model of the organization among all the employees. In changing our mental models we can learn new ways of thinking and develop new skills.
Building a Shared Vision
Many times organizations have a hard time translating the organization’s vision into words. Creating a shared vision within an organization conveys a picture that everyone shares so that all employees can adopt the vision as their own. For people to adopt to a shared vision it must be compelling. People must be willing to follow the vision. We can use this as a powerful source of energy. The vision must be successfully implemented through communication and invitation. The most successful visions build on the individual visions of all employees at all levels of the organization (McHugh, 1998 p. 209-220). The creation of a shared vision can be hindered by traditional structures where the company’s vision is imposed from above (O’Keeffe, 2002 p. 130-141). When everyone comes together, they see themselves as a vital part of the organization. Each person shares responsibility for the organization as a whole. When people come together, they are able to see and understand the vision with more clarity. When people come together, they realize that the vision does not solely rest on one individual’s shoulders. When we share the vision we are inspired to learn and excel. It must be shared continually throughout the organization. However, there can be a challenge among employees to capture real commitment towards the vision. When there is a genuine vision (as opposed to the all-to-familiar ‘vision statement’), people excel and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to. Many leaders have personal visions that never get translated into shared visions that galvanize an organization. What has been lacking is a discipline for translating vision into shared vision – not a ‘cookbook’ but a set of principles and guiding practices (Senge, 2006 p. 9). The practice of shared vision involves the skills of unearthing shared ‘pictures of the future’ that foster genuine commitment and enrollment rather that compliance. In mastering this disciple, leaders learn the counter-productiveness of trying to dictate a vision, no matter how heartfelt (Senge, 2006 p.9). Such a vision has the power to be uplifting and to encourage experimentation and innovation (Smith, 2001). Senge identifies five skills in building a shared vision: encouraging personal vision, communicating and asking for support, vision as an ongoing process, blending extrinsic and intrinsic visions and distinguishing positive from negative visions. Shared visions often start out as personal but grow into a shared one because peoples’ values encompass concern for family, organization and community. In becoming a good leader, one must be willing to share his vision. One must not forget that building a shared vision is an ongoing never ending process. It is vital for extrinsic and intrinsic to coexist together. Fear and aspiration are two sources of energy. Fear can only produce changes for a short time period, but aspiration is a continued source of learning and growing.
Team Learning
Team learning is the art of bringing the disciplines of personal mastery and shared vision together. The team learning process starts with communication that each team member is valuable to the team and each person is crucial for its success. For a team to be a cohesive group, an emphasis must be placed on learning. Team learning involves the aligning the skills of team members in a way that promotes performance (Grice, 2010). Functional team intelligence can exceed the sum of its members, but a dysfunctional team’s intelligence can be far lower than that of just one of its members. A learning team must maintain team cohesiveness and effectiveness. Team effectiveness can be defined as achieving four performance outcomes: innovation/adaption, efficiency, quality, and employee satisfaction (Daft, 2011 p. 305). Team cohesiveness is defined as the extent to which members stick together and remain united in the pursuit of a common goal (Daft, 2011 p. 305). Peter Senge draws on conversations that he had with physicist, David Bohm. He identifies three conditions that are necessary for dialogue to occur: All participants must "suspend their assumptions;" all participants must "regard one another as colleagues;" and there must be a facilitator ( at least until teams develop these skills ) "who holds the context of the dialogue." Bohm asserts that "hierarchy is antithetical to dialogue, and it is difficult to escape hierarchy in organizations" (Senge, 1990, p. 245).
Before a team can learn, it must become a team. In the 1970s, psychologist B. W. Tuckman identified four stages that teams had to go through to be successful:
1. Forming: When a group is just learning to deal with one another; a time when minimal work gets accomplished.
2. Storming: A time of stressful negotiation of the terms under which the team will work together; a trial by fire.
3. Norming: A time in which roles are accepted, team feelings develops, and information is freely shared.
4. Performing: When optimal levels are final realized – in productivity, quality, decision-making, allocation of resources, and interpersonal dependence.
Tuckman asserts that no team goes straight from forming to performing."Struggle and adaptation are critical, difficult, but very necessary parts of team development." (Robbins and Finley, 1995 p. 187).
Systems Thinking
Systems thinking requires us to have a “metanioa” which means a shift of mind. The discipline of system thinking is the most complex and extensive. In order to reach ones full potential using systems thinking, one must use all four disciplines: personal mastery, mental models, building a shared vision, and team learning. In using system thinking we must view the big picture and not just one part of the picture. It is the complete opposite of what we are used to thinking. We must have a shift in our old paradigm of thinking to a new paradigm.
Systems thinking is the ability to see the synergy of the whole rather than just the separate elements of a system and learn to reinforce or change whole system patterns (Daft, 2011 p. 142). David McCamus, former chairman and CEO of Xerox Canada, calls “peripheral vision”- the ability to view the organization through a wide-angle lens, rather than a telephoto lens-so that they perceive how their decisions and actions affect the whole (Senge, Roberts, Ross, Smith, Kleiner, 1994 p.87). Actions of one part of an organization affect the organization as a whole. Often we get so focused on fixing one problem that we do not realize the affect that it could have on the rest of the overall picture. It can make the system as a whole operate less effectively. In our blurred linear thinking, we will break down the problem into small pieces in order to fix it. We must focus on the system as a whole and not on just one single complex issue. We need to realize the correlation between actions and consequences and that there can be a lag time before we see the consequences.
Systems thinking is a conceptual framework, a body of knowledge and tools that has been developed over the past fifty years, to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see how to change them effectively (Senge, 2011 p.7). It is critical that we learn to see things as a “whole” and not “snapshots”. More systems thinking is needed today as we are overwhelmed by complexity. Systems thinking enables leaders to look for patterns of movement over time and focus on the qualities of rhythm, flow, direction, shape, networks of relationships that accomplish the performance of the whole (Daft, 2011 p.143). Systems thinking cannot happen overnight but is developed and fostered through a lifelong commitment.
Evaluation of Learning Organization Pillars Within Jim King Ministries
I feel that my organization has a high level of personal mastery. However for my organization, the vision that we have does not come from anyone within our organization. It comes from God. Our organization seeks constantly to obtain God’s vision for our organization. Through seeking God our vision as a ministry has continued to grow and become broader. However, we as an organization have the choice to either follow His plan or we can choose not to follow His plan. I have been around the organization for thirty years and have seen the leaders within my organization continue to follow the vision or calling, from our family moving to Ukraine to starting an orphanage in Ukraine.
As a non-profit organization our mental models are built around meeting the needs of others and fulfilling the vision that God has for us. As an organization we do extremely well at managing our mental models. We cannot and do not make assumptions or generalizations based on past experiences. Our organization works with people from many different cultures and ethnic backgrounds. We have experienced in working in other countries that we have to adapt to the culture that is there. As an example I will use the starting of Bible Schools in a video format. In many of the countries where we have started these schools, the people cannot afford to move to another city to attend school. We found that in having the classes in the local church that they are more effective and more people are able to attend. My organization spends a great amount of discussing and reflecting upon the activities within it to obtain new mental models in the approach of how to relate to our donors.
For us as an organization, it is important for us to effectively set forth a good image for people, churches, and donors. It is our experience that people who view our organization with a good mental model are more likely to donate to our organization. In today’s down turn in the economy people are more reluctant to give to an organization that they do not have a good perception of. We strive to set forth for our donors a mental model in which they can see as one that we are fulfilling the vision God has for us, and that we appropriately use and manage the donations that are contributed to our organization.
The shared vision in our organization is one that we all work together as a team to fulfill the vision that God has for us. Each of us plays a role in continuing fostering our share vision. The president of my organization does a wonderful job of relaying the vision for the organization. However it is something that is imposed from the top. Each of us within the organization has a choice of whether we as an individual want to be a part of the vision. We also then have to relay the vision to the churches that the president speaks at and also to our donors. The organization uses this in giving a mental picture of what we are doing and where we are going as an organization.
My organization functions very effectively in team learning. We have an extremely cohesive team because we are united in the pursuit of our common goals and vision. In my organization not one individual feels left out or overlooked. We are able to have open and honest communication, which is a key in our organization having effective team learning. A major factor in the organization fostering team learning is that we daily talk of the task and projects that we have ongoing and what we need to do to complete each of them. There is a high degree of employee satisfaction with in my organization. We also try in many cases to promote and increase performance by assigning tasks based on individual skill sets.
Systems thinking is something that I feel that my organization needs improvement in. We as an organization need to have a shift of mind. My organization does a wonderful job of seeing the whole picture. I feel that our organization does not have to deal with a lot of complex problems or issues. Those in our organization realize that each decision or action we do and make will have consequences or effects. We are a small organization; therefore, it is easy for us to see the organization as a whole.
Recommended Final Solutions to Identified Problems
In my organization our vision has two parts to it. First, foremost our vision is to follow what God is telling us to do, but with have to have a personal vision to want to follow his plan for our organization. It is a choice of whether or not we want to follow His vision for us. We as an organization always will have to face the challenge on whether or we as an organization want to follow the vision. At times it may not have always been easy. This is exemplified in the fact that our president of the organization moved his whole family to Ukraine in 1994. As an organization we have to always be ready and will to continue to follow the vision God wants for us. In many cases the vision is only giving to us piece by piece.
As a ministry one of our main goals is to meet the needs of others. In doing so, we need to always have a change in our mental models in how we can better meet the needs of others. A problem can arise if we are unwilling to do so as an organization. A major challenge within our organization is mental models. As an organization we do an excellent job of managing our own. The challenge lies in the fact we must have people outside of our organization to have a good mental picture of our organization. We want them to think positively about our organization and that we are going a wonderful job in following our vision. A way we can solve this is to always follow our vision and to be wise in how we spend the donations we receive. We can improve this by improving our perceptual screen which is the window in which we interact with churches and donor to influence the quality, accuracy, and the clarity of what we are trying to communicate.
In being a donation-based organization we have to good donor relations. This is something we need improvement on. This is something that can always be improved on. We can improve this by giving updates to donors who gave towards specific projects. We purchased new software program at the beginning of the year in order to help us to improve our donor relations. However, we have done very little with the software because it is more complex than the other program we are currently using. The solution to the problem is to do the training program for the software. I suggest that we spend a minimum of three hours per week learning the software and its features.
One area that we can greatly improve on is goal setting. We as an organization need to set more goals as an organization for us to become more effective. After we set goals and during the process we should use the acronym SMART which stands for specific, measureable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound.
I believe the biggest area that needs improvement is our use of social media and our website. Recently we had our website redone. Because we are constantly in gauging in new projects we can use the website and social media to keep donors and potential donors informed of how the projects are coming. This will also give us a way to expand our donor base. I advocate that we should weekly should the web designer new information to update the site with. Also we should make multiple posts a week on our blog page on the website and on social media.
Reflections on Learning I have always tried to incorporate my faith into my business concepts. I believe that your faith should be used in business the same way it is used in your personal life. I think by ability has been affected to integrate business concepts with my faith. I feel that has given me more tools and ways to incorporate them. Also the concepts that I have learned for business can also be used in my personal life. My perception of my relationship with my employer has not changed since the beginning of the course. The course has given ways to improve and build the relationship in order to make it stronger.

References
Senge, Peter M. (2006). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency Doubleday.
Distiller. (no publishing date). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Audubon Area Community Services, Inc. Retrieved July 25, 2011, http://www.audubon-area.org/newFiles/sengesum.pdf
Senge, P. M., Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross, George Roth, Bryan Smith, and Art Kleiner (1999). The Dance of Change: The challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations. New York, Currency Doubleday.
Senge, Peter. The Five Disciples of Learning Organization. Society for Organizational Learning. Retrieved July 25, 2011, http://www.solonline.org/organizational_overview
Grice, Robert. July 17, 2010. Understanding Peter Senge’s Vision of the Learning Organization Model in Business. Retrieved July 25, 2011, http://www.helium.com/items/1894142-peter-senge-learning-organizations-systems-thinking-fifth-discipline
Nelson, Debra, and Quick, James. (2011). Organizational behavior: Science, the Real World, and You, 7th edition. Mason, Ohio: Southwestern Cengage.
Senge, Peter. The Leader’s New Work: Building Learning Organizations. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sloan Management Review. Fall 1990. Volume 32, Number 1.
Mitroff, Ian. (1988). Break-Away Thinking. New York: John Wiley and Sons.
Fitzgerald, Donna. (2003, April 2). How to Understand the Bias of Mental Models. Retrieved July 25, 2011, www.TechRepublic.com
Smith, Mark K. (2001) Peter Senge and the Learning Organization, the encyclopedia of informal education. Retrieved July 25, 2011, www.infed.org/thinkers/senge.htm. Last update: September 03, 2009
Senge, Peter M. (1990). The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization. Currency Doubleday.
Robbins and Finley, 1995, p. 187
Daft, Richard L. (2011). The Leadership Experience 5e. Mason, Ohio: South-Western Cengage Learning.
McHugh, D., Groves, D. and Alker, A. 1998. Managing learning: what do we learn from a learning organization? The Learning Organization. 5 (5) pp.209-220.
O’Keeffe, T. 2002. Organizational Learning: a new perspective. Journal of European Industrial Training, 26 (2), pp. 130-141.
Argyris, Chris. 1999. On Organizational Learning. 2nd Ed. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.
Senge, P. M., Roberts, C., Ross, R. B., Smith, B. J., Kleiner, A. (1994). The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook. New York: Currency Doubleday. P.87…...

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