Three keys to building a learning organization

Through learning we re-create ourselves, thereby extending our capacity to create. This, then, is the basic meaning of a ‘learning organisation – a body that is continually expanding its ability to create its future.

  1. Personal Mastery: An organization’s capacity for learning cannot trump that of its members. Which is why personal mastery – or the special level of proficiency that drive people to be lifelong learners – is an essential cornerstone of any learning organization.  Personal mastery is the discipline of continually deepening one’s personal vision – the reason why people with a high level of personal mastery are able to consistently realize results that matter most deeply to them.

    But surprisingly, few organisations encourage the growth of their people in this manner, resulting in vast untapped resources. Employees enter organizations as bright, enthusiastic individuals with a strong desire to make a difference, but soon enough, they lose that sense of commitment and zeal and put in their time to do what matters to them on the weekend. Contrarily, few people work to rigorously develop their own personal mastery. They have little clarity on the things that really matter to them and consequently don’t live their lives in the service of their highest aspirations.

    To expound on this, it can be said that with most people spending at least a third of their day at work, the need for jobs that are fulfilling has become a prerequisite. Millennials, in particular, are always looking for opportunities that help them evolve as they accomplish their vocational goals. But often that means evolving right out of the company. This is a very common challenge faced by all organizations.

    To marshal the power of millennials to grow a company, one has to evolve with them, whilst helping them evolve. As employees, they will tend to push for change – both personal and organizational.

    One way to appropriately respond to this trend is to actively encourage them to get involved across different parts of the business. Another way is by making them accountable for the growth of certain verticals, giving them full or partial rein to ideate, experiment and pivot if and when necessary. Managers should also invest in skill-based training for their subordinates. Typically, they have a standard series of training programs and employees are compelled to participate without even being consulted.

    By keeping them engaged and constantly learning, their passion and energy would help the organization evolve too.

    To sum it up, the connections between personal learning and organizational learning lies in the reciprocal commitments between individual and organization – something that establishments need to be cognizant of.
  2. Building a shared vision: The idea of binding radically different people together around a common identity of the future can sound like a herculean task, but need not be. Replacing platitudes with a clear set of principles and guiding practises can drive people to excel and learn, not because they are told to, but because they want to.

    When asked about what the most striking feature of being part of a great team is, most talk about the overall meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about purpose – of being part of something larger than themselves.

    But often personal visions of leaders seldom get translated into a collective vision that can spur an organisation. In such cases, what typically lacks is the discipline for translating individual vision into a shared vision.
  3. Team-learning: This is vital because groups of people – and not one person – form the fundamental learning unit in a modern organization. When a team truly learns, they not only excel at the task in hand, but also trigger rapid learning among individual members as well.

    And the first step is by initiating a ‘dialogue’ – fundamentally different from a ‘discussion’, in the sense that while the latter translates to hauling ideas back and forth in a winner-takes-all competition, a dialogue in this context allows the group to discover insights not attainable in isolation.

    Furthermore, opposed to a ‘discussion’ (as we commonly understand it), a ‘dialogue’ is a process that allows members of a team to think together. The primary purpose is to build on ideas rather than diminish them – the point of which is completely missed in a discussion.


Having listed the key disciplines that form the fabric of a learning organization, it is important to understand that to practise any of these is to commit to becoming lifelong learners. The more one learns, the more acutely one becomes aware of one’s ignorance. Thus, an organization is always in the state of practising the disciplines of learning, and never, in essence, arrives at excellence.

Through learning we re-create ourselves, thereby extending our capacity to create. This, then, is the basic meaning of a ‘learning organisation – a body that is continually expanding its ability to create its future.

Anu Thomas, Senior Content Editor at Quest Alliance

Author: thelearnerbyquest

Quest Alliance's space for reflection on the education sector

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