I don’t divide the world into the weak and the strong, or the successes and the failures,” said sociologist Benjamin Barber. “I divide the world into learners and non-learners.”

As each of us takes on more responsibility, we forget the necessity of learning. We learn through our actions, experiences and feedback, but how often do we sit down to look back at our failures or mistakes and retrospect on them and take as life lessons? Maybe we feel uncomfortable doing that, but how often have we challenged ourselves?

If we want to get over the failures and do better next time, how else do we get better at what we do?

Learning is an on-going process in life. It is like a river flowing endlessly through the same path but sharpening and curving the shores to lead a better path. It sharpens our mind, knowledge and wisdom removing the impurities within us.

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All great organizations learn together. How, after all, can an organization improve without first learning something new? Solving a problem, introducing a product, and reengineering a process all require seeing the world in a new light and acting accordingly. In the absence of learning, companies—and individuals—simply repeat old practices. Change remains cosmetic, and improvements are either by chance rather intentions or very short-lived.

You and your customers may work in different sectors of the industry, operate within different organizational structures or be located in different geographies, but you have one very important thing in common: you both need to learn in order to adapt and succeed.  So why not learn alongside your customers and strengthen your relationships in the process?  That’s the idea behind a new trend that can best be described as customer-centric co-learning, where organizations and their customers come together to learn side by side in an executive education type setting.

Why learning brings teams closer?

The failures, the mistakes you made, the angry customer that dragged you on for hours—why let those go to waste?

Fall seven times, stand up eight.
– Japanese Proverb

When a team comes together to retrospect, openly share experiences with the ultimate goal of learning together and lifting each other up, everyone benefits.

 

In many of the studies and reports with variety of companies, they state that learning together is a core component in achieving outstanding results. Whether it is responding to customers faster, deploying new features smoothly, or changing up internal processes for better communication, learning is the catalyst; its effect touches every aspect of the organization.

It’s as simple as meeting together, daily or weekly, to discuss frustrations, failures, obstacles, and successes. Even if every person on your team has similar responsibilities, not everyone connects the dots in the same way.

Learning is never about being right or wrong; it’s about understanding. Learning with your team means putting on someone else’s glasses and seeing the world through his or her eyes. What you learn is exactly what you should share.

What is a learning culture and why is it important?

A learning culture is one with organizational values, systems and practices that support and encourage both individuals, and the organization, to increase knowledge, competence and performance levels on an ongoing basis. This, in turn, promotes continuous improvement and supports the achievement of business goals, innovation and the ability to deal with change.

Peter Senge, renowned management thought leader, faculty at MIT Sloane School of Management and author of The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization identified five interrelated disciplines of a learning culture:
  1. Personal Mastery: personal capacity-building; encouraging personal and organizational goals to be developed and realized together.
  2. Mental Models: challenging and changing our way of thinking about the world around us
  3. Shared Vision: Building a shared vision and sense of collective commitment as to where we want to go as an organization and how to achieve that goal
  4. Team Learning: Building a team’s capacity to learn together and develop intelligence and ability together that is greater than the sum of it individual member’s talents
  5. Systems Thinking: developing the ability to see the ‘big picture’ and understanding how changes in one area of the organization affect the system as a whole – it is the overall recognition of the interdependence of, and interrelationships between, the parts of the system and how to leverage and drive change throughout the system as a whole

A true organizational learning culture enables employees to challenge the status quo, think critically, and ensures that the team doesn’t become stuck in “this is the way it has always been done here” thinking, and instead, creates the capacity and adaptability needed for change.

Benefits of a learning culture

There are many benefits to creating a strong organizational learning culture, including:

  • Efficiency gains
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased profit
  • Decreased employee turnover, as employee satisfaction levels rise and loyalty and commitment is increased
  • Raising the bar by creating a continuous improvement mindset, shared ownership for projects and shared accountability for results
  • Developing leaders at all levels, which helps with succession planning
  • Creating a culture of inquiry, adaptive capacity, and knowledge sharing (vs. knowledge hoarding)
  • Enhanced ability for individuals and teams to embrace and adapt to change.

Tips for creating a sustainable organizational learning culture

A learning organization breaks-down traditional silos, and enables all areas to work together towards a common vision.

Actions you can take to create a learning culture include:

  • Start by evaluating where you are at your organization by conducting a self-audit or assessment of your organization – this will help you pinpoint what kind of learning culture you currently have, identify the gaps, and ascertain your organization’s readiness for change. As an organization, you should ask yourselves, where do we want to be and how will we get there.
  • Lead by example, and start at the top with senior leadership – make learning and development essential to your organization’s success by making it part of your strategy  and culture and make it highly visible and transparent.
  • Develop a shared strategy for your learning culture where there is shared accountability across the organization.
  • Make learning a habitual (not optional) behaviour with all employees at all levels
  • Ensure there is consistency and alignment of values and behavior around learning
  • Encourage the sharing of learning, skills and knowledge, and encourage coaching and mentoring across the organization.
  • Give employees the time they need for both formal and informal learning.
  • Develop and deploy key learning events that are directly linked to the strategic goals of the organization
  • Allow for recognition of individual and team learning and remember to celebrate successes
  • Learn from your mistakes. Instead of playing the blame game, look at what happened, why it happened, and how it could be done better and/or differently in the future, and share that learning
  • Debrief projects, identify key learnings and share them across the team

Organizational learning is an ongoing, dynamic process, and should become part of the organization’s DNA. A learning culture supports a community of learners, as a total organization, where everyone teaches, everyone learns, everyone shares knowledge. Individual and collective learning is encouraged and rewarded. And those companies that embrace these values will be able to gain and sustain competitive advantage over competitors who do not.