Monday, September 22, 2008

Can we strive to create learning organizations?

One of the courses I am taking this semester is Organizational Theory. We are looking at organizations through the lenses of various metaphors. One of these metaphors is learning organizations. This fitting because one of the themes of Nonprofit day this year was learning organizations.

The key note speakers of the conference Leslie and Heather, authors of Forces for Good: Six practices of High Impact Nonprofits, stipulate in their book that high impact does not correlate with budget size, however the 12 nonprofits they selected for their book are ginormous compared to the majority of nonprofits out there that have budgets less than $1mil.

These 12 nonprofits can be classified as learning organizations, among the other 5 high impact practices they describe in their book, in articles, on their speaking tour (they are amazing at marketing book and are clearly on a whirlwind book tour). However, I laugh because the 12 organizations they describe are the few elite that have achieved success the majority of nonprofits can only dream of.

So, what's so special about learning organizations? How can we strive to create learning organizations? Here are a few strategies of learning organizations that I "learned" from one of the seminars I attended at nonprofit day.
  • Organizations ask questions about their own work
  • People throughout the organization feel like they are in control--they are empowered
  • Leadership reinforces learning
  • Learning systems and practices are in place
  • Organizational culture supports learning
  • Differences are welcomed
  • People can speak up
  • The organization shares information with others
  • Learning goes beyond the organization
  • Leaders listen and invite feedback
  • Learning is built into the job description
  • Evaluation is a priority
  • Organization looks at impact over outcomes
  • Shared leadership

Wow, sounds wonderful, I'd definitely would like to work in a learning organization -- wouldn't you? But is it really possible? I'm being cynical again, playing devil's advocate. Show me a list of 100 normal size (with budgets under $1mil) nonprofits that are learning organizations and I'll stop this tirade.

Let's change the system and create a place for nonprofits to strive, thrive, and create learning organizations!

1 comment:

Emily Davis, MNM said...

Peter Senge is really the learning organization theory. My experience is that I haven't seen a nonprofit completely embody all the qualities described by Senge, but that there are quite a few pieces that nonprofits have begun to employ.

The more education about the theory and how is can actually be practiced is a critical part of developing the nonprofit sector and is at the heart of fostering emerging leaders.

Great post! Emily