The Learning Organization

By Schachter, Debbie | Information Outlook, December 2006 | Go to article overview

The Learning Organization

Schachter, Debbie, Information Outlook

Several years ago, as an MBA student, I had the opportunity to be introduced to the disciplines of organizational design and organizational development. In particular, I became interested in the concept of the learning organization. Perhaps it is not surprising that this form of organization would attract the attention of a librarian, given that it purports to embody an ideal state of information sharing within an organization--particularly in knowledge-based organizations whose value is based on their "human capital."

The learning organization values knowledge development as a natural byproduct of daily commercial activity. It encourages information sharing between individuals through a variety of formal and informal routes. It provides ongoing value to the organization through the stimulation of innovation, through the effective sharing of information leading to knowledge development. Because organizational learning may develop as an organic method in organizations rather than only defined as a set of planned strategies, it may have greater buy-in from employees than a specifically developed set of processes. Individuals make up the success of the learning organization as, naturally, they are the ones developing the information (and ultimately knowledge) networks.

The learning organization is one that values learning from mistakes as well as successes. Undertaking formal post-project reviews after both successful and unsuccessful projects is an example of structured organizational learning. Executive and management staff must also show that they are involved in continuous learning and committed to information sharing to improve the overall performance of the organization.

"The most successful learning organizations perpetuate their advantage by encouraging people at all levels to collect information across all boundaries, being sure that information is shared--not forgotten or hoarded--and encouraging casual information sharing as a way of organizational life." ("What Are Learning Organizations and What Do They Really Do?" Chief Learning Officer, October 2006)

The learning organization can encompass a wide variety of organizational designs. One of the most important features of any learning organization, however, is communication and information sharing through key information hubs. Like maps of the Internet, information sharing can be graphically described. The maps show how information sharing is characterized by hubs of information conglomeration. These staff-member "hubs" act not so much as gatekeepers but attract and share information based on their knowledge, their expertise, and their communication skills. These hubs are physical or virtual on the organization's major information trade routes. These forms are also similar to social networks where key individuals can be involved in various social networks, linking disparate groups through their involvement, and leading to enriched lives for all.

For the Info Pro

Librarians are an important part of the formalized structures in organizations that are or want to be learning organizations. Having a special library or information center is a positive sign that an organization is interested in fostering knowledge development through information sharing and education. In addition to the informal, it is essential to have some formalized structures to encourage the development of learning within the organization.

You can map information sharing in your organization to see where you fit on the information route. As an information professional, you are part of the formal information network. Ideally you are also the center of an important informal hub of staff at various levels. As an exercise, try to do a map that pinpoints where you are in relation to various key departments and key individuals within them. You will see that information sharing and knowledge development happens at identifiable points (people) within the organization. …

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