Thursday, 19 July 2012

Teams that don't want to learn

Why do you get teams or organisations that just don't want to learn?

Take the example of one company, with dysfunctional project management practices. They have had several external audits which tell them that their practices are dysfunctional, and that they need to introduce proper planning, proper communication, and proper risk management, and yet they don't change. They continue as before, and their projects are delivered late and over budget.

Why? They have the knowledge, but they don't take the action.

This, of course, is the phenomenon addressed by the well known book "the Knowing-Doing Gap", which describes several reasons by teams and organisations will not learn, including the following -

  1. They haven't made a close enough link between knowledge and action.  They think that gaining knowledge, for example through the external audits mentioned above, is sufficient in itself. Certainly the company we studied had not committed to taking action as a result of the audit.   
  2. "The way we have always done things" is a very hard habit to break.   Much work is done through habit, and those habits have been built up and reinforced over the years, without being challenged.  New knowledge challenges old knowledge and old habits, and old habits die hard (the curse of prior knowledge)
  3. They are disempowered. I argued recently that although knowledge management can support empowerment, it requires empowerment in the first place. Teams which are disempowered cannot learn.   
  4. They understand the how, but they don't understand the why. They may have imported tools and techniques and processes, but they don't understand the philosophy behind them, and so they cannot make them work.   
You can you lead a company to knowledge, but you can't make it learn. 

 To become a learning organisation requires more than just effective knowledge management, it requires a commitment to learning and a commitment to change.

The organisation must accept that if knowledge is gained, then it must lead to action. It must accept that that action may often challenge the status quo, and will frequently the way things are already done.  They must not just accept this, they must welcome it, and must empower the teams and individuals within the organisation to take action on their own learning.  And they must also realise that when the organisation adopts  new techniques and new approaches, they have to understand the philosophy behind them, as well as the practices themselves.  Only though this approach, can an organisation hope to become a learning organisation.

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