Learning Organization key elements

The term “learning organization” was coined by Peter Senge in his book: The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization

Let’s see what it means.

You know what learning means.

Learning is knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)


And you know what an organization is.

An organization is an administrative and functional structure (such as a business) and the personnel of such a structure. (Merriam-Webster Dictionary)


Now, the question is, what is a learning organization?

Learning Organization: A learning organization is an organization that facilitates and encourages the learning of its members, and as a consequence develops a capacity to innovate and grow in a sustainable manner.




The 5 elements (or disciplines) of a learning organization


Learning ORganization Peter Senge The Fifth Discipline

1. Personal Mastery
2. Mental Models
3. Building a Shared Vision
4. Team Learning
5. System Thinking (the all-encompassing 5th discipline)


Even if the names of the elements are self-explanatory, let’s see what exactly each one of them means:


1. Achieving Personal Mastery

As Senge defines it, personal mastery is the discipline of continually clarifying and deepening our personal vision, of focusing our energies, of developing patience, and of seeing reality objectively.




2. Understanding and Developing Our Mental Models

A mental model is the set of assumptions, generalizations or even pictures or images that influence how we understand the world and how we take actions.

There are times when we are not even aware of these assumptions, least the influence of them. A very enlightening story and a quiz to test your assumptions: The Stories We Tell Ourselves, and How They Influence the Lives We Lead


3. Building a Shared Vision

Every company has a mission and a vision, but not necessarily shared (or worse, known) by the employees. Only when a genuine commitment to a “picture of the future” is achieved the organization can engage on a path of testing, failing, learning, innovating and succeeding.

A vision that is dictated rather than shared, no matter how heartfelt that vision is, will only achieve compliance and not a learning environment.




4. Learning to Learn as a Team: Team Learning

Team learning starts with “dialogue”. By dialogue, we should understand a genuine “thinking together” (not to be confused with group thinking). The members of the team need first to develop their capacity to dialogue: by suspending assumptions and allowing each member of the team to express their ideas.

This is a vital element of a learning organization. The reason is that teams, not individuals are the fundamental elements of today’s learning organizations.


5. The All Encompassing System Thinking

System thinking is understanding that 1+1 is more than 2, is not only seeing the parts but also understanding how the parts work together.


A system is the set of elements working together and the interconnections between these elements; a working whole.


System thinking is a conceptual framework developed to make the full patterns clearer, and to help us see them effectively.

System thinking is the main, all-encompassing, fifth element without which a learning organization cannot exist.

It’s quite difficult to give a comprehensive definition of system thinking. The authors of this academic paper dived deep into analyzing the concept and combining the elements found in the definitions given by several specialists in the field.

The result looks rather complex:

System thinking is a set of synergistic analytic skills used to improve the capability of identifying and understanding systems, predicting their behaviors, and devising modifications to them in order to produce desired effects. These skills work together as a system.



The 5 Elements Are Part of a System

As is often the case with systems, when one of the parts is malfunctioning the system as a whole has a substandard output.



A vision without action is a daydream. Vision without system thinking means holding a beautiful “picture of the future” without an understanding of the forces at play in the system, the exact forces that will impact our efforts to move from the current state to the future imagined state.


Vision without action is a daydream. Vision without system thinking is a nightmare. #learningOrganization #Leadership #innovation Click To Tweet


Without personal mastery, without the capacity to seeing reality objectively, the systems perspective is threatening: it eliminates the “something/someone else to blame for our problems” and it forces people to consider that they might be part of the problem in as much as they are part of the solution.


Which one of the 5 elements needs to be further developed so that your organization becomes better at learning?