A learning organization is one that emphasizes employee growth and development and is constantly adapting to the changing marketplace. Coined during the 1990s, the term “learning organization” casts a wide net but ultimately refers to any business where two conditions are present: the organization is constructed to achieve a set of desired outcomes, and it is adaptable enough to course correct when it veers off target.
Industry marketplaces and the global economy are evolving faster than ever in the 21st century. Any organization that remains shackled to a fixed mindset risks getting left behind once the next technological advancement or trade agreement changes the nature of the business. Consequently, becoming a learning organization that can evolve and adapt with the world around you is invaluable.
Characteristics of Learning Organizations
Learning organizations empower their employees for growth, as they understand the need for workers who are constantly amassing knowledge to keep up with the fast-paced global economy. Therefore, the characteristics of a learning organization tend to involve leadership, teamwork, empowerment, and fostering a robust marketplace of ideas. Learning organizations understand that the next big idea to propel the company forward in a changing marketplace could come from anywhere in the organizational hierarchy. As a result, they eschew the rigid organizational charts of decades past in favor of a structure that is more collaborative and offers more direct communication between company leaders and employees.
Is Your Business a Learning Organization?
Ask yourself the following questions to determine if your company is a true learning organization.
Do your employees feel empowered to put forth new ideas or to disagree with authority figures without being reprimanded or belittled? A true learning organization allows employees at all levels, not just the top, to take ownership in the company’s successes and failures, and add value where they can.
How diverse is your organization? Learning organizations favor diversity. Having employees from different backgrounds and cultures allows for a broader set of ideas and perspectives to be brought to the table.
How open is your organization to new ideas? Rather than fearing change, learning organizations embrace it as an inevitable feature of an evolving marketplace. Therefore, your company shouldn’t shun new ideas and perspectives but should consider how they might add value to the organization moving forward.
Improve Your Workplace Learning Culture
Your company leaders set the tone for making your business a learning organization. This involves actively engaging with employees, questioning them, eliciting ideas from them, and really listening to what they have to say. Leaders foster a learning culture by providing a tangible incentive for everyone in the company to grow and develop, and by offering motivation for employees to brainstorm new ideas.
By contrast, if your leaders demand absolute fealty from underlings, and brook no discussion when subordinates bring different ideas to the table, they effectively stifle a learning culture. Employees have no reason to think and innovate, as they won’t be listened to even if they do.