In Peter Senge’s landmark book, The Fifth Discipline, he introduced the idea of the learning organization: “An organization where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continually learning how to learn together” (Senge, 1990 and 2006). Senge said this was an imperative for organizations to manage the complexity of 21st century business. He’s right. I would add, however, that the primary reason that business today is increasingly complex is because the world is more interconnected. As Thomas Friedman said, the world is now flat. Our experiences are more complex. Our interactions are more diverse. And our worldviews are more uncertain. We now have a rich kaleidoscope of views in dialogue. These global interconnections call for a focus not just on becoming a learning organization, but becoming a global learning organization.
The distinction is that when we consider the five disciplines of a learning organization (i.e. team learning, shared visions, mental models, personal mastery, systems thinking), we need to approach them with a global perspective. Team learning, for example, should begin with efforts to make teams diverse and globally inclusive. At Najafi Global Mindset Institute, we use Global Mindset (www.globalmindset.com) as both a model of systems thinking and as a development tool to build stronger global perspective.
Does creating a global learning organization sound like a pie in the sky goal to you? Well, consider the work you do in your organization to engage employees, nurture diversity and inclusion, create collaborative teams, foster innovation, and create development opportunities. These are all steps toward becoming a learning organization. And uber-successful organizations, like Ernst & Young, Walmart, and McDonald’s (just to name a few), show us the benefits of incorporating the five disciplines of a learning organization with a global perspective. They are simply better and faster at differentiating their products and services for different markets. They are more adept at globally integrating people and services within their organizations. They also are more savvy when it comes to global political and regulatory dealings. No organization (that I know of) has done this perfectly or without some battle scars. The very point of a learning organization is to use lessons learned as fuel for continued improvement.
I invite you to join me at SHRM’s Annual Conference on Monday, June 25, to continue this discussion in my session, “Creating a Global Learning Organization.” Hope to see you there!