Archive for the 'Organizational Learning & Culture' Category

To do, be, or 'be in becoming'…

Org Learning – Post 5

Get some culture! O, maybe it’s not so easy to know what I can do to get culture… shall I don some blue jeans, green jeans, or black/white suit… or perhaps it’s where I live, what kind of furniture I have in my living space, what kind of art I have on the walls or tables, or not at all… or is it what I tell my friends, family and associates the values and beliefs I have?? Or… is my culture perhaps those unspoken, tacit things that I base my actual actions on… I don’t know if these things meet a sociologist’s idea of culture. However, Schein suggests that artifacts, espoused values, and underlying assumptions can be used to gain insight into the culture of an organization.

There seems to be so much to reflect on about culture… are we (or is an organization) individualistic and competitive or communitarian and cooperative… Do I (or an organization) emphasize ‘doing’, ‘being’, or ‘being in becoming’…  Theory Y or Theory X… How do we relate to time?? How about intimacy??

Indeed the topic of culture is very complex. And yet, it’s also fascinating to consider some of the many different factors and elements. In regards to an organization, one of the things that really strikes me is how connected culture is with leadership. The actions and behavior (you could also include words too, I think) of leaders carry a huge weight in forming an organizations’ culture. It’s so evident from what we could see in story told in the Enron movie.


Everything is an intervention – a Hubble perspective

This makes me think that the more I am conscious of my values and underlying assumptions, the more I will be aware of the impact of all the stuff I say or do has on those I meet and in my environment as I walk through my day. Hmmm…. It seems like a tall order. However, the thing I find is that when I look back at my day(s) I see that there are so often consequences that I hadn’t intended. Sometimes these are painful or have a high cost of some sort or another. I don’t want to berate myself for whatever gaps I find in what I wish to do, be, or ‘be in becoming’ and what I actually do or am. However, I can see that it’s a learning process and if I can become more aware of the various elements at work in myself, perhaps I can recognize such factors or elements in an organization that I may be working with or in.


Leadership and culture

Org Learning – Post 4

What whirlwind the past 2 weeks! After a long, slow decline my dad passed on, two weeks ago to the day. I can’t say that I’ve fully digested it. I know it will take time to adjust. I will miss him.

It’s interesting that one of the companies that Schein has selected in his text on org culture and leadership is DEC. My dad was quite an advocate of their computer systems and equipment and used them from early in their advent. Even today, the business he was involved in continues to use a DEC computers as a basis for their system. They also use PCs now for quite a few years, but the DEC has been an extremely reliable and stable computing platform for them. I have frequently heard praises of the quality and reliability  of their machinery and systems for years. I remember hearing about Ken Olsen and his visionary leadership, however, not so much about the DEC culture, except how they were innovators, and often on the leading edge for many years. My dad never talked about why or how they lost their leading edge. I guess we’ll uncover some of the factors in Schein’s exploration of their culture.

It’s fascinating to consider the roots of culture in an organization, even how culture is formed in the experimental T groups and how it is related to the early actions, attitudes and behavior of leaders. How so much of culture is tacit knowledge based on assumptions that are unrecognized and therefore, often unquestioned. When I think of organizations or even societies that I’ve been a part of or of which I’ve had a glimpse, I often recognized outer aspects and artifacts and even espoused values and norms. However, the underlying assumptions were not always clear to me. I can also see how culture is related to underlying assumptions.

At one time I worked in an organization where the leader was often very distrustful and there was an overarching fear that permeated the workplace and extended to other parts of the organization. I can see this evolved due to the behavior of the leader and underlying assumptions that he/she had that the workers could only be trusted so much, but they were more likely to ‘not understand due to their ignorance’ or something like that. The result was that there was very little trust which also impacted motivation, creativity, etc.

There were times when that when this leader trusted someone, it really impacted their ability to work in a positive way. The workers were then very empowered, enthused, creative, etc. I think the leader thought that he/she was thinking of doing the best for the organization. However, I don’t think he/she was aware of how their behavior and examples affected and influenced the entire organization. After some years, the leadership and structure of the organization changed and the culture also changed dramatically to be more open, inclusive and collaborative.

Thinking of time and space, a friend from New Zealand shared a perspective on time he developed from getting to know people from the Maoris, a Polynesian culture that pre-dates European culture in New Zealand by 500-1000 years or so. The Maoris had two notions of time – Polynesian time and European time. Polynesian time, my friend would say, was the time it took for the sun to set, a flower to bloom, to be with a child as it played. Whereas European time was considered the time to catch a train, to finish a project, to be somewhere or another… It’s not that one view of time is wrong or right, but that having a perspective of both views could really help to add quality to life…

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.

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… bookmarks