Building Organizational Learning Capability

“An organization’s ability to learn faster than its
competitors may be its only sustainable advantage”
Arie De Geus

With change being our only constant in today’s economy, the key to competitiveness is the ability to adapt to changes we don’t control and learn about the ones we do. Either way, learning has become a critical skill to ensure the viability of any institution. While many organizations today are trying to become “learning organizations”, learning capability has ensured the success of many, well-known firms. For example, Motorola learned to design and build paging systems and cellular phones instead of car radios, and IBM learned how to take someone else’s idea about computers (a Univac innovation) and make it a commercial success.

“Building Organizational Learning Capability” is a program to enhance the capability of work teams and their institutions to learn from their own experiences (success and failures) and from the experiences of others. By using this program, your organization will:

  • assess its learning strengths and weaknesses
  • recognize team learning styles
  • develop strategies to learn and improve performance
  • understand how to align its learning portfolio with corporate strategy
  • enhance learning and the dissemination of knowledge across the institution
  • eliminate the recurrence of identical failures, errors, or mistakes
  • increase its ability to adapt to change

The Program Consists of :

  • A Learning Inventory and Strategies Workbook
  • A Facilitator’s Guide
  • Customized workshops and interventions

This program was created from research funded by the International Consortium for Executive Development Research and supported by the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT. Research began in 1992 with fieldwork at Electricité de France (Paris, France), FIAT (Torino, Italy), Fidelity Investments (Boston), and Motorola (Chicago). In workshops and client engagements, the program has since been tested and used with staff at a wide range of companies and organizations including Arthur Andersen, AT&T, British Petroleum, EDS, Exxon Chemical, the Harvard University Library System, Merck, PacBell, and Unilever.

A principal tool in the program is a diagnostic instrument, the Organizational Learning Inventory (OLI). The OLI is designed to profile the current and desired learning capability of an organizational unit, such as a department, workgroup, taskforce, or a company subsidiary. The OLI is completed by members of an organization working together with a trained facilitator. The format of the OLI stimulates group discussion, providing an opportunity for group members to share knowledge and perceptions about their own learning practices. By recognizing existing capabilities, the OLI empowers teams to acknowledge the present and to use that awareness as a takeoff point for desired competencies.

Guided by a trained facilitator, members of a group follow the OLI to create a “learning profile” which can be analyzed to understand learning portfolios. The “learning profile” is a template of 17 elements that either promote or represent social learning processes. The following chart contains the set of seven Learning Orientations. The other side of the template consists of ten Facilitating Factors that promote learning.



NAME                                 APPROACH

        1. Knowledge Source                   internal ……. external
        2. Content-Process Focus            content ……. process
        3. Documentation Mode               personal ……. collective
        4. Knowledge Reserve                 formal ……. informal
        5. Learning Scope                        incremental ….. transformative
        6. Value-Chain Focus                   design/make ….. market/deliver
        7. Learning Focus                         individual ………. group

Typical action based on the program consists of the following phases:

Needs Analysis and Organizational Readiness
Analyze the group or firm’s readiness to enhance performance

Program Design
Customize the scope of the intervention and design a program

Organization Assessment
Prepare profiles of current and desired learning capability by using the OLI with single or multiple workgroups

Action Planning
Complete action plans that identify tasks to move from current to desired capability

Implementation & Monitoring
Implement group action plans and monitor progress

Your Next Step

Companies can participate in this program either through a consulting engagement with Organization Transitions, Inc. or through the purchase of a site license to use the program’s copyrighted materials.

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