Wednesday, 7 January 2009

Is there a problem with organizational learning?

At the start of this blog I stated that I would love to see an integration of the ideas from Beer (VSM), Senge (Organizational Learning) and Snowden (Narrative Knowledge Management). I still do and will pursue, but noticed that VSM and NKM are more prominent thus far.

Looking for a reason why I did some soul-searching over the holidays that I want to share here. Ofcourse one of the things I did was rereading the Wikipedia page on Peter Senge. And the first time it all sounded quite plausable to me. But a few days later I felt the urge to reread once more and bang there is was, the last part of the sentence in the first paragraph on Organizational Development:

Senge emerged in the 1990s as a major figure in organizational development with his book The Fifth Discipline where he developed the notion of a learning organization. This views organizations as dynamical systems (as defined in Systemics) in a state of continuous adaptation and improvement .

Now I know what bothers me. It is not OL itself, it is that constant background noise of people saying that organizations should learn and change itself. Some even refer to organizational change.

What I like in particular in the VSM way of thinking (and strongly augmented by the work of Maturana and Varela) is the whole idea that the organization should not change. Living systems don't change their organization over their lifetime. They grow from infact to adult, learn new behavoir, the repair damage when harm is done, over time they change the way they act, they grow old and become unable to do things that were previously easy or harmless (such as skating), but their organization stays the same: all processes such as learning, repairing, (social) behavior, moving are static, but allow for an enourmous variation and adaptability.

For example, the process to organize the repair of a wound has been organized from day 1, long before the would is inflicted. It is there, part of the organization of the whole system, even if the "wound" means "loosing a leg". Maybe the system (the living system) won't survive the disaster, but even then the plan (the organization) to do the repair was present as an integral part of the way the system was organized.

So rereading the phrase once more I discover that Senge doesn't say the organization itself should change. It says the organization is in a constant state of change and adaptation. Am I an optimist when I interpret this as changing offering, changing teams, changing geography and not as changing organization?

Well maybe Senge indeed had this in mind and my initial bad feelings indeed only had an external cause. But on the other had, we can all see a lot of organizations lack at least a fews processes today that are mandatory for survival according to the VSM way of thinking. So even if Senge didn intend this, it is a fact that may organizations should change their organization, even without changing their inputs or outputs. And NKM hands us some very practical ways to discover them.

So lets continue this year with studying how to bring VSM, OL and NKM together in this highly fragmented world.

No comments: