Want 16 Ways to Foster Learning in Your Organization?

Use These 16 Tips to Create a Learning Organization

In a learning organization, coworkers train each other and share information from conferences, field trips, and customer visits.
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Are you interested in helping your organization become a learning organization? In an earlier article, what this means for an organization was discussed. The special role and responsibilities of leaders in forming a learning organization were stressed as all good things must spring from the top if their continuity is to be ensured.

To become a learning organization, however, everyone in the organization must contribute.

Following are ideas about how you can ensure the development of this environment at work. (They are in no particular order; the more you do, the better your results.)

  • Read together. Form a book club at work. One printing shop, with thirty employees, set aside two lunch hours per week to read and discuss the book, The Goal, as a group.The marketing staff of a software development company voted on a book to read. The department members took turns leading the discussion of various chapters at staff meetings. The leadership team in a student health center read, "Leading Change", together. The group discussed concepts and chapters at their weekly leadership team meeting.
  • Attend training and conferences. A recent study by the American Society for Training and Development suggests that there is a direct “causative relationship between training and performance but doesn’t prove it.” (The ASTD Benchmarking service continues to gather data each year which may prove the relationship over time.) Create the expectation that anyone who attends training or a conference will make presentations to other staff about the most important learning they took away from the event.
  • Provide alternative sources for learning such as CDs, webinars, and other online learning.
  • Debrief every project and initiative. If you have developed a new product, designed an ad campaign, or purchased new equipment, to cite a few examples, don’t just move on to the next activity. Bring together everyone in the organization who contributed to the success or failure of the initiative.
  • Debrief what went right, what went wrong, and what you will do differently in the future. Learn from each project, initiative, and activity. In the debriefing process, seek not to place blame; aim for shared understanding. In the process, create an environment in which people feel safe to share the truth about what really happened.
  • Build individual development plans quarterly. The individual development plans should list negotiated expectations for growth and learning over the quarter. These plans may include cross-training, skill stretching assignments, and representing the department at organization-wide meetings, as well as education.
  • Put each person directly into contact with customers. When each individual personally knows customer needs, she is enabled to make better decisions to satisfy the customer. Remember also, the internal customers. Anyone to whom you provide a product or a service internally is also your customer.
  • Promote field trips to other organizations. Even organizations in different industries can provide opportunities for learning. See and learn what others are doing about the challenges you experience in your organization. I have found non-competing companies surprisingly gracious about sharing information.
  • Meet regularly across departments, or in a smaller organization, as a whole company. Even in a larger organization, bring the whole company together, at least quarterly. People have to understand the whole work system; otherwise, they improve just their small part of the system. While these small improvements are important, they do not necessarily optimize the success of the entire system. This is an area in which every technological advancement makes meeting easier.
  • Use cross-functional teams to solve problems, scout for new opportunities, and cross-fertilize units with new ideas.
  • Pay for education for all employees. In fact, some forward thinking organizations have determined learning is so important, that they pay for any educational pursuit, not just those related exclusively to the individual’s current job. The goal is to foster learning and they presume that any investments in learning translate into more effective work performance over time.
  • Coach improved performance from all members of the organization. Work constantly to enable people to set and achieve their next goals. Spend time with people thinking about and planning their next objective.
  • Form study groups. Internally, and even externally, these groups can focus on creating a learning organization or any other topic that interests you. Check Peter Senge's Fieldbook.com website for more information about organizing these groups. There may be people, who are close to you geographically, seeking members or holding group meetings.
  • Take time to read, to think, to talk about new ideas and work. Create discussion areas, conference rooms, and break areas that foster people communicating.
  • Hold brainstorming (idea generation) sessions on specific topics. Bring "experts" in to help you. As an example, a technical writer can add value to a discussion about print presentation.
  • Foster an environment of collegiality. I attended a meeting led by a young manager. I watched the interaction for a few minutes as she provided direction and led a discussion. The most striking feature of the interaction was that she talked to the group as if they were all colleagues working on the same goal. She demonstrated no need to be more important than any member of the multi-aged group.
  • Use your performance management system effectively. In addition to the development plan, mentioned above, provide 360 degree feedback from peers, reporting staff members, and the boss.