Archive for September, 2009

Gettin' culture

Org Learning: Post 3

It’s interesting to look at org learning from the perspective of culture. The idea that a team/group has know how that is different than the individual’s know how is subtle but fascinating. I can see the idea of a music group or even symphony’s ability to play together being different than just an extension of individual’s ability and that the group develops ways, norms, characteristics, ‘sounds’ or something that becomes unique to that culture. And that this is a different way of learning that is based on an individual’s cognitive process. Sometimes there seems to be such a focus in the literature and education on the cognitive processes of learning – individual cognitive, social cognitive, even the constructivist viewpoint seems to have strong elements of cognitive processing.

Clearly there is a significant aspect of learning that comes through reflection on action, abstraction, planning new actions, acting, and so on… I just think that when working as a team or group or as an individual that sometimes there is learning or know how or knowledge that just seems to be there, especially if you’re in the ‘flow’. This may be considered more intuitive or accessing the universal aspect…

The reading on the flute manufacturing companies and the idea of the ‘know how’ of a symphony playing as a group being a different kind of learning than change just triggered some recollections. I’ve been in some different experiences/situations when it seemed like something other than just a cognitive process was going on. If I consider a few of the teams or groups (by all means not all) that I’ve been a part of when there was a high level of performance there was, on certain occasions, a kind of knowingness and accord (or cohesiveness), that I would say seemed different than a cognitive level. I would say it was more intuitive. Of course, these were more rare moments when the ‘flow’ was happening and not necessarily predictable. But there was something noticeable. And usually such occurrences came after a long time of working together, and perhaps intense conflict, at times.

I recall reading about peak performances in a book by Herbert Benson, MD, entitled, “The Breakout Principle”. This was a study of various ways an individual can trigger a ‘breakout’ which can open a door to peak experiences where one is ‘in the flow’ – either creatively, athletically, productively, or spiritually. I realize that that this is again trying to move from an individual experience and assuming a group may work in the same way and as such. However, I wonder that if a group is having a peak experience such as a symphony, team, (or perhaps even a quilting party…), it could be similar to the cultural experience of  a team or an organization that has ‘know how’  suggested by Cook and Yanow suggest in their “Culture and Organizational Learning”.

I guess I’m saying that I resonate with the idea that there may be other ways of knowing and learning than cognitively oriented.


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Consider the unwitting…

Consulting Skills – Post 2

One of the things that strikes me from this week’s reading on consulting is how important is is to really get clear on who the client is and what the issue/problem is. Sometimes it seems clear, but sometimes I can see it’s not so and if you don’t take time to get clear on who the client is, then it can lead to confusion down the road.

In our assignment for “Who is the client?” I really began to see how important it is to keep in consideration unwitting clients as well as ultimate clients. Particularly, it seems unwitting clients may be easy to overlook. One of the challenges I can see as an internal consultant is that a client may come and ask for help in working with an unwitting client. If there is no intention to involve the ‘unwitting client’, then it could turn into a political situation. In this regard, it would be a subtle challenge for the consultant to keep a neutral and not take sides. One of the most challenging things is to help the client see their contribution to the issue/problem. There often seems to be a tendency to look outside for cause and put blame elsewhere.

I can see that it’s really important to establish a equilibrium in the relationship and build the trust. I have found that only after the sense  of equilibrium and trust have evolved, is it possible to confront a situation directly. It seems important that when confronting this is done in a respectful way.

Well, I keep coming up to where things sound good in theory, but putting them into practice always seem to be another matter… However, I do think it helps to pursue clarity about what sound theory is and then it’s possible to reflect on the difference between theory and practice…

There’s an expression from a person of wisdom that comes to mind, “Right understanding precedes right action.” As such, then right understanding would have to be in accord with the personal values and vision or personal philosophy that one chooses to adopt as a guiding light.

What places to work!

Org Learning – Post 2

From the case studies that Dixon describes and several articles I’ve read on Chaparral Steel, all of the 3 organizations look like they would be inviting places to work. At some level I might even be tempted to ignore the actual work done (which may not be so interesting) since the pictures of the respective work environments are so attractive. What makes it attractive to me? I guess it mostly comes down to a sense of respect and trust that seems to permeate the cultures – from policies to procedures, and attitudes and even plant/office layout. An interview with the Chaparral CEO Gordon Forward says Chaparral’s philosophy was that people must be give the ‘freedom, skills, education, encouragement, and support to succeed.’ Forward said, ‘Real motivation comes from within. People have to be give the freedom to succeed or fail.’  (1)

Ah, it seems so rare to find a whole organization where such lucid simplicity is put into practice (or perhaps even considered). I have worked with organizations where there there was an underlying philosophy or idea that we are each motivated from within, but it wasn’t stated so explicitly. And so often it seems that without explicit measures to bring into the consciousness of management and workers alike, quite often the lesser of human qualities seem to make their presence shine – those things like control, manipulation, fear, possessiveness, and so on… those things that make up Argyris Model I behaviors — saving face, always win, keep your thinking/reasoning private…

I’ve worked with people who are encouraging and supportive who have helped me to learn and develop skills. They really have been guiding lights along my path, helping me to see my mistakes and where I can grow. But to be in an organization where the whole could be considered a learning organization seems to be half way to utopia. I don’t know how long I could really make sausage (or if I could at all, since I eat a totally veggie diet), but working for an organization like Johnsonville Foods seems like it would be incredible. How motivating, enriching, creative, exciting it must be!

And so, now the question is how to bring aspects of a learning organization into whatever work I do now. It seems like to really implement/change an org into a learning org, a start would ultimately need to come from higher mgmt. However, I’m interested to learn more of how I might be able to introduce some aspects, at least to start, of learning to an organization I do volunteer service for.

(1) Foundry Mgmt & Technology, Oct 2000, p. 31

Making meaning – meaningful learning

Org Learning: Reflector Post 1

One thing that struck me when reading Dixon was that when we speak, we ‘tend to cognitively organize what we know.’ This was under the dialogue topic when referring to hallways of learning. This really resounds with me. I know that I speak up in my graduate classes much, much more than my earlier experience of formal education. I think the reason is that when I do speak out, it really helps me sort out when I’m thinking on the subject at hand. I think it’s often trying to relate prior knowledge/experience with the topic – something I have an understanding about with something new. Not only is it speaking out in class, but also whenever we have small group exercises and sometimes when walking out to the car after class with a classmate. These scenarios are much closer to the hallways Dixon refers to. I think it’s not just having the chance to speak and sort out my own ideas, but I also find that listening to others’ perspectives also helps me to check my own and perhaps reconsider my views.

Learning seems like such a journey! And it’s fascinating to stretch from individual to organizational learning. It seems that for an organization to become a learning organization, it (or the leaders) need to let go of the old systems of control and trust in the process. I could see that it doesn’t, and couldn’t really, mean that things are just let go of, but rather there would need to be conscious efforts made to facilitate learning – setting up systems, structures, values, visions, norms, etc. that encourage dialogue, creativity, innovation, even risk.

Mapping concepts

It will be interesting to explore meaning making with concept maps. I have used something called a mindmap. However, it’s slightly different than how Novak and Canas present the concept map. The main difference that I see is the use of linking words between concepts that describe the relationship between the two respective concepts. What I have used is really a graphical sort of outline with boxes/circles that can be linked hierarchically. This has helped me find some clarity and organization when starting new projects or getting some ideas out of my head. However, I can see that specifying the relationship between each item/concept could help with gaining more clarity.

It’s also interesting to consider how using concept maps may help us relate prior knowledge to new knowledge. One thing that struck me as I was reading about the concept maps was how the main focus is on words. Yes, there is the possibility to add images, videos, etc., however the basic structure of a concept map seems to be words. Novak/Canas say that the brain ‘organizes knowledge in hierarchical frameworks’ and that these are primarily concepts and propositions. He acknowledges very little is known about how memory works. However, I understand the human mind/memory primarily stores knowledge in images. Do we translate concepts/propositions into images? Or associate concepts/propositions with images?

There’s more that I found interesting in our beginning exploration of organizational learning, but there’s only so much to write in a post! One thing in the preface struck me that we didn’t talk about in our class discussion. It was that originally the term corporation ‘implied an organization to whom the government granted special status because it clearly served the public interest.’ Wow, that’s interesting! It seems like with time we have strayed far from that concept. Imagine if there was an internal commitment within all levels of a corporation that an essential value and strategic goal was to serve the public interest. And how would an organization reach such a state? It would seem to me that applying the principles of a learning organization would be essential to move in such a direction.

My reflections

I am finding this process of reflecting and blogging valuable. I felt stuck at first when starting to write this entry. There is really so much to write about that’s meaningful so far, but I didn’t know where to start and nothing really stood out. So, it helped to review the readings and recall some of the discussions we had in class. Then a few things started to pop out. I also felt this review, reflection and writing really helped me to get some clarity. I guess it’s a bit like speaking in the hallways – perhaps a blog and mirror partners are a bit like virtual hallways…

Hallways of sorts…