Learning is perhaps an elusive term. Aren’t we learning every day? However, when one stops to think about what one is really learning every day, that might actually remain a question.
With the advent of the concept of learning organizations largely credited to Peter Senge’s ‘Fifth Discipline’, various books, authors and blogs have debated the concept of a learning organization and how to transform yours to become one. While the exact translation of the concept into reality continues to be a matter of debate, scholars seem to differ even on the most basic aspect – what is this learning supposed to look like? Does it entail behavioural change? Or are we speaking about learning in terms of new ideas? Does it mean effective knowledge management?
What we are left with not an iota of doubt about, though, is that as an organization we must continue to learn. Going back to the top – learning can be a somewhat deceptive concept. For clarity, it might then help to have team members ask themselves:
- What was that one big thing that I learnt today?
- What could I be improving through this learning?
- Is the change that I could make through this improvement aligned to what my organization needs me to focus on at the moment?
- To help your team members make this decision, the following practices before designing or implementing projects might be helpful.
A trending way of ideating in many organizations, design thinking can be particularly helpful when one sets out to make a change. However, it continues to be just as beneficial when one is reassessing one’s focus area for a project. While a process or a project might have existed over time in our organization and be doing well, it might help to stop and think through some of them. They might have been created as a result of a need at one point in time. What we might not have realized is that it might not be needed anymore at all.
Build a practice where team members continuously go back to stakeholders to understand what the project means to them, create a point of view around these responses, think of creative ways to address this, create a prototype, and test it. The learning that will come out of just this practice itself could be staggering.
Actively practice documented learning: One way that we might be losing out on our learnings is by not actively documenting them. Especially when projects are long and go on over a few months, it gets increasingly difficult to remember every learning at the end of the project. In the moment, a lot of the things that we are experiencing would be necessary to remember the next time we do this or any other project.
Build a habit amongst your team members to document learnings as and when they feel they take place. Simply carrying a pen and a notebook around, or typing it into one’s cell phone might be a great idea! Send out feedback surveys to stakeholders to document how they feel and what you could do better. Refer to this when you close the loop with them and your team.
Ask for reality
Especially when learning is not actively documented, we tend to follow assumptions. Make sure that your teams are not falling prey to the web of feelings – both positive and negative. Ask team members to continuously do a reality check of their surroundings and results of their efforts. Look for data points that define the current reality, speak with different people involved in the project or those impacted by it – a simple pulse check is all that is needed.
Deciding on the big shift
At the end of it, encourage a habit of asking ‘What is that one big shift that you are going to make?’ That perhaps is our biggest evidence of learning. Knowing what that one thing is that can take our project to the next level displays clarity, focus and an understanding of what needs to change and what our organization needs of us.
Every individual requires that constant feeling of learning and growing, especially an intrinsic one. As Human Resources, building such practices in our organization might go a long way in helping our people see how much they are learning – a result of which is organizational learning.