Wright, N. (2006) ‘Individual & Organisational Learning’, Personnel Zone, July edition.
The relationship between individual and organisational learning has become an increasingly important one in an era when organisations are working hard to optimise their resources to achieve maximum productivity. One of the most important resources that any organisation has is its people. People are the source of an organisation’s vision, insight, knowledge and skill and investment in people development, therefore, means investment in the development of the organisation’s capabilities as a whole.
It does not necessarily follow, however, that individual learning will necessarily contribute directly to an organisation’s development. For instance, a person may develop knowledge and skills in areas that don’t really address organisational priorities. He or she may not have opportunity to use new knowledge and skills even when they are relevant. Even if new learning is relevant and applied, it may still, nevertheless, fail to raise the organisation’s awareness of bigger picture issues that are critical to its success.
In light of such dilemmas facing organisations, the concept of ‘organisational learning’ (OL) has become increasingly popular in recent years. A learning organisation may be described as one in which (a) individuals learn, (b) learning is shared with others and (c) learning is applied to influence policy, strategy and practice. The intention of OL is to ensure that individual learning is both disseminated throughout and earthed within the organisation so that its benefits to the organisation are maximised.
In practice, OL can be achieved by a range of methods such as learning reviews where participants in a project are encouraged to reflect on organisational influences that could help explain what happened, training and development programmes where participants are encouraged to feed back their critical reflections to wider organisational stakeholders, surveys of staff appraisals to discern emerging trends or recurring themes.
The key is to create as many open learning opportunities as possible, invite input from a very broad range of stakeholders, encourage participants to question and challenge the status quo and, most importantly, reapply learning to effect positive change. This requires an open culture that values learning as higher priority than tradition and a leadership style that models genuine humility and a willingness to listen and change. Those who have adopted this approach have found the benefits will far outweigh the cost.