Tuesday, 23 July 2013

Can organisations learn?

Experiencing, Learning, Reflecting Can organisations learn, or can only people learn? Some thoughts on the subject.

If there is such a thing as "organisational memory" then organisations can learn, through the addition of new and improved material within that memory. That memory is held both in the knowledge bases and the process descriptions, and also in the structures, norms, behaviours, organigrams, and the stories that are told.As one project person said to me - "our standard process is made up of all the lessons we have learned over the years".

If there is such a thing as organisational capability, then organisations can learn if they improve or add to that capability as a result of experience. The capability is deployed through people, but the capability can be independent of the individuals, and the organisation can remain capable even through staff turnover. The capability is held in the routines, processes, manuals and training material.

If there is such a thing as deliberate organisational change, then organisations can learn. They can learn to operate in new ways, and pay attention to new things. They can learn to operate more safely, or with more focus on quality, or on the customer, or with due attention to diversity and inclusion. Partly this change represents in change in the people, and partly it represents a change in reporting, auditing and rewarding.

So, yes, organisations can learn. Organisations can modify their behaviour as a result of experience, and that, surely, is a form of learning.

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