Learning is essential for any NFP organisation to be able to adapt to ever changing conditions and survive.
Peter Senge is an expert on building a culture of learning, and says ‘learning organisations’ are those organisations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning to see the whole together.
But what does this actually mean and why is it important for the sustainability of your organisation?
In his book The Fifth Discipline, Senge outlines the following five characteristics of a learning organisation:
1. Personal mastery – individuals are motivated to learn and improve, have a clear personal vision and are able to see reality objectively.
2. Mental models – there is a shared understanding of assumptions, generalisations and frameworks that influence how staff see the organisation and how they go about doing their job.
3. Building shared vision – there is a process of building a shared vision of the future to gain commitment, support and buy in from staff rather than compliance.
4. Team learning – the organisation works to get teams in sync with each other and removes assumptions so the team can learn faster together and is better equipped to achieve team goals.
5. Systems Thinking – individuals understand the relationships within the organisation and work to remove the obstacles that impede them from working together as a whole.
Developing a culture of learning is more than offering training opportunities to your staff. It is about providing a safe learning environment where employees feel supported to try new things, encouraging collaboration and sharing of knowledge and finding better ways of achieving the goals of the organisation while allowing time for individuals to invest in their own development.
The benefits of developing a culture of learning are many, including being innovative when faced with challenges, improved problem solving, retention of employees through a commitment to the organisation and stronger communication limiting information silos between different teams or offices. Moving towards becoming an organisation with a culture of learning requires a commitment from all of the employees of the organisation and it needs to be part of the organisations long term goals.
A learning organisation:
- Is open to new ways of doing things rather than doing things in the same way because that is “how it has always been done”
- Is respectful of the differences between individuals (ways of doing things, ways of thinking, way of communicating and so on)
- Does not punish individuals for taking risks or trying new approaches, rather they learn from the outcomes
- Shares knowledge and best practice and has a structure for doing so in a methodical way
- Encourages collaboration, communication and problem solving as a team
- Has a leadership team that seeks input from employees about the direction of the organisation and their ideas around improvements; treating the employees as the experts they are
- Has employees who want to participate and feel their opinion is valued resulting a higher morale and employee engagement levels
Developing a culture of learning requires time, patience and a strong commitment from all levels of the organisation. Organisations need to accept that developing a culture of learning is a long term strategic goal and it may take many years to fully reap the benefits, but as areas of the Australian NFP sector continue to receive funding cuts building smarter ways of engaging and keeping employees and sharing information is becoming more crucial.
Read more about the theory and practice of learning organisations here.
Have you taken steps to develop a culture of learning in your organisation? What do you think of this theory? We’d love to hear your thoughts and experiences in the comments below!