What is a learning organisation and how to achieve it?

Adrian Rutkowski
HR Specialist

As organisations strive for more efficiency, many have turned to the concept of a learning organisation. With a developing Learning and Development (L&D) department, our goal for 2023 is to fully implement this approach at Sonalake.

As an organisation that already takes an Agile approach to work, encourages knowledge-sharing practices and avoids silos, we feel it’s the next step to improve and push our organisation forward. But what does that mean exactly? In this post, I will explore the concept of a learning organisation, how you can achieve it in your own organisation and what to expect along the way.

What is a learning organisation?

In general terms, a learning organisation constantly improves its capabilities by learning from its experiences and sharing those lessons with others. Not only is it concerned with acquiring new knowledge, but also with creating new knowledge and putting it to use. One of the goals is to develop a culture of continuous learning, in which all members are encouraged and supported to learn from their experiences.

The concept of the learning organisation was first proposed by Peter Senge in his book The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization (1990). Senge identified five disciplines that are necessary for an organisation to become a learning organization: systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, shared vision, and team learning. He argued that these disciplines must be integrated and practiced together in order for an organisation to truly learn.

Learning organisation

Since Senge's book was published, the concept has been widely adopted and used in many different contexts. Organisations have been trying to become more like learning organisations in order to improve their performance and competitiveness. However, there is no single recipe to follow; each organisation must find its own way of doing things based on its unique circumstances.

A learning organization must constantly evolve and improve its processes and procedures based on the lessons learned from experience. In order to be truly effective, it must have a culture of continuous learning, where employees are encouraged to experiment and take risks in order to learn from their mistakes. Additionally, it should have systems in place to capture knowledge and best practices so that they can be disseminated throughout the organisation. Finally, it should have leaders who are committed to guiding their employees through the process of continual learning.

In our company’s case, the notion of a learning organisation is the next step of growth. Agile thinking, change management, lifelong learning and adaptability are practices that already support us in achieving that approach. We also have systems in place when it comes to our training budget, support in choosing training, career development (no matter the level or age), innovation and experiment projects and knowledge-sharing.

As an organisation, we need to constantly evolve and adapt to change, especially in times of rapid technological, social and economic changes. We need to be more flexible and open to new ideas, a place where employees are even more encouraged to learn new skills and share knowledge. It also influences employee satisfaction - they feel valued and are given the opportunity to grow. No wonder we’re aiming to achieve this status with our L&D department.

It’s good to keep in mind that the status itself comes from ongoing work and is not set in stone. There might not be any end line. But it’s an idea that shines bright in our OKRs and sets their course.

Benefits of a learning organisation

Employees of a learning organisation are encouraged to continuously improve their skills and knowledge. This leads to benefits such as:

  1. Increased productivity and quality of work
  2. Improved employee morale and motivation
  3. Enhanced creativity and innovation
  4. Greater adaptability to change
  5. Improved customer satisfaction

Challenges of becoming a learning organisation

All that sounds great, however, becoming a learning organisation is not without its challenges. There can be many. They are certainly not the only ones, as it greatly depends on the organisation.

One of the biggest challenges is ensuring that all employees are engaged in the learning process. This can be difficult to achieve if there is a lack of buy-in from management or if employees feel that they do not have the time or resources to dedicate to learning. Lack of infrastructure and systems supporting organisational learning can also very much inhibit it.

Challenges of becoming a learning organisation

Another challenge is maintaining the momentum of learning once it is established. It is important to keep employees motivated and invested in the process, otherwise it can quickly fizzle out. Organisations can do this by ensuring that there are opportunities for career development and growth as a result of learning new skills and knowledge. It is important to remember that a learning organisation is not about creating a group of experts. It is about encouraging all employees to be lifelong learners who are always looking for ways to improve and grow.

Finally, sustaining a learning organisation over the long term requires ongoing commitment and investment from all members of the organization. That's why it’s great when it becomes ingrained in the culture, and a part of everyday life in the organisation. But there’s a challenge here too - it can be difficult to create a shared vision and culture of learning within an organisation.

How to achieve it

Organisations learn by doing. They implement new processes, try out new ideas, and see what works best for them. The key to becoming a learning organisation is to have a system in place that allows you to quickly and easily test new ideas and make changes based on what you learn.

There are many different ways to develop a learning organisation. Here are some common strategies:

  1. Encourage employees to learn new things

Our training budget, which is available to everyone, and growing communities of practice already help us here! We also support employees with 3P meetings (yearly discussions about performance with a focus on further career development) and substantive help from Engineering Managers.

  1. Create a culture of lifelong learning

Organisations can achieve this by offering opportunities for professional development and continuing education. Our 3P process is also a real help here, although we encourage people to think for themselves about what they need the most, to ensure proactive ownership of their own growth. We keep them updated about the ways the L&D department can support them as well.

  1. Encourage open communication and collaboration

It is crucial to promote an exchange of feedback (and the skills to do it). We tackled this with ongoing editions of soft skills training that covered how to give and receive feedback, amongst other competencies. We also have a goal for this year to further develop Communities of Practice and bring more life to them. Another initiative involves inspiring individuals to do presentations about their work and participate in the experimental innovation activities and sandboxes that we offer.

  1. Invest in new technologies and tools

This can help employees learn more efficiently and effectively. It might involve an e-learning platform or other tools, depending on the organisation. Last year we improved the training ticketing system and this year we added new functionalities to it, following feedback from employees. We’ll also consider additional tools, but we’re not that keen on internal e-learning platforms. Instead, we gather information about external knowledge sources.

  1. Encouraging employees to share their knowledge with others

Knowledge sharing can be done through mentoring or other means. In our case, it's crucial that it flows between or outside of project teams to prevent the formation of silos. We want to emphasise this further in 2023, utilising communities of practice, presentations and blog posts.

Embrace the learning culture

A learning organisation is one that encourages and facilitates employees to acquire new skills and knowledge through an open-minded focus on continuous improvement. It can be achieved by first understanding the concept of a learning organisation and then implementing key strategies such as providing effective leadership, creating an open communication system, encouraging employee development and monitoring progress. By doing so and overcoming challenges along the way, organisations can create a culture of learning in which employees are empowered to achieve their goals and they help the company to thrive and adapt.


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