Introduction Learning and Thought
Importance to the Organization
Learning is important for the organization and especially when it comes to creating new things or product development where the constant learning mantra is not only oft repeated, but also essentially required. Yet, and you will see this throughout the book, the teams continue to take a course of action that has been taken before that had an unacceptable outcome. This is not the way to continuous improvement. Neither does an approach to the work that leaves the team members experiencing the same types of failures.
Stating “Importance to Organizations” is like saying, “see that?” It is an open statement that provides no background for deciding or way of assessing. Only the organization can determine what is important (specifically) and how and what to measure to ascertain how the results of the actions taken. The point behind starting with this topic is to aid in establishing the validity of the items determined important along with some mechanisms as to why it is important or how we know it to be so. We have all been part of organizations that have a mission or vision statement that says its people or innovation, or some other catch phrase, are key to their success, but when you delve into how these actually stack up in what and how the organization is run they are but curtains on a broken window: look nice but have little to do with how the organization actually operates. In truth all organizations, except for charity organizations, are in business to make money for their shareholders. While profit and organizational and personnel development are not mutually exclusive, these are commonly viewed as such when looking at the short-term return on investment (Rol) or other measure of economic gain.
Perhaps you have been in a project or organization that has a personnel development (training) plan to enhance its people and when there is a crunch—getting an item to the customer, job completed, or budget constraints, those are the first things to be reduced or stopped because these take time and money. The organization usually defaults to what is known as the tried and true, or how weve done it before to get through whatever situation is currently at hand, or the approach for the organization to survive, we cut spending on relatively unimportant areas. This type of operation is self-defeating in several ways: shows the individuals and team members that they are not as important as the organization often states, and it could erode the worth and meaning of the vision/mission statement of the organization. In line with the previous statement that personnel development plans and process improvements are usually the first items reduced or stopped when fiscal crises present, we all have seen or been part of organizations that have the motto, “Quality is our Job,” or something of that nature. Yet when a project deadline is in jeopardy of being missed the testing to validate or the extra review is partially omitted if not completely removed. Having a good understanding of personnel and organizational development, and motivation will assist the organization in maintaining its training plans, its deadlines, and its profits and thus help maintain the motivation of its members. We are believers that embedding development: personnel and organizational, into everyday processes, in project plans and aligning this development with the mission or vision statement of the organization will reduce the chance of these items being reduced or even stopped during times of need.
A question to consider, “Do you know the mission/vision statement for your company or organization, and how does it align with the actions of the company
Figure 1.1 There are ways to communicate and each has a positive and negative implications.
or organization and even your daily actions?” If you do not know the mission and vision where you work how do you know the goal of the work or what constitutes success? Most would answer this question by saying, “I do what I’m told, or I know my job.” How does your job affect the whole? Are you doing what is really needed? Perhaps worse yet are you contributing to an environment which erodes potential growth both for individuals and the organization? It is these types of questions that an affective member of any team should be asking themselves and that management should be promoting in their people. For it is these types of questions that when answered honestly that promotes a team mentality amongst the people in an organization.
Merriam-Webster defines communication as a process by which information is exchanged between individuals through a common system of symbols, signs, or behavior. When discussing the learning organization, we will spend considerable time discussing communication as this is how perspective is shared. Communication, both informal and formal, is the mechanism we will use to both uncover situations that will enable the team to learn, as well as achieving the actual learning within the team and finally propagating what is learned to other parts of the organization. There are several communications models. These models depict some of the blocks associated with communication, but as we all know from attempting to communicate with others even when we think we are effectively communicating we can still miss the mark. While there is no one sure-fire method to ensure we have been effective in our attempt
Figure 1.2 An example of communications model that illustrates some of the complications.
4 ■ Continuous and Embedded Learning for Organizations to communicate with someone or a group of people, asking the intended recipients) what they heard can help determine the effectiveness of your communication.
There are many forms of communication, face-to-face discussion, e-mail, phone, and so on; each one of these communication methods have benefits and draw-backs relative to effective to communicate. As with any form of communication, or even actions for that matter, attention to detail for both in both sending and receiving communication is critical. By attention to detail we mean only communicating exactly what is needed to be communicated while minimizing distractions that will allow for misinterpretation to occur. Distractions come in many forms and are part of any type of communication, from verbal to even an e-mail. E-mails have embedded distractions just by their nature. When most people read e-mails they are using their mental model associated with the individual who sent the e-mail to decode the e-mail. Mental models are how everyone views everything, as we have discussed already and will continue to discuss throughout this book. Experience is the gauge we all use to view current and potential future situations. While some organizations and projects use historical data to predict future work the difference is that historical data is neither right or wrong, it is merely data, but mental models are subject to emotional context of the individual or group. In Peter Senge’s book “ The Fifth Discipline” he states that Mental Models are one of the five core items of a learning organization.  In his book Mr. Senge describes Mental Models as:
Reflecting upon, continually clarifying, and improving our pictures of
the world, and seeing how they shape our actions and decisions.
Tlie continual modification of our mental model is due to the continual experiences we are going through coupled with past experiences. While he uses the term “Mental Model” we prefer the term “Open Mental Model.” This is another one of those points that sounds like semantics but is very poignant. If our mental model is jaded by past experiences only it will determine what we hear and think before we have even fully heard or thought about the current topic or situation. Just
Figure 1.3 The equation for identifying the number of communcation channels in a project or group of people working together.
knowing that our and other people’s mental model affects incoming and outgoing communication helps with communication in that actions can be employed to ensure this is minimized. Adding to that knowledge of perspective variation (the delta between reality and the perspective held by yourself and others) the desire to clarify and improve our perspective, we become more effective communicators and thus greater understanding of the situation.
In concert with the group size will be the number of communication channels. The larger the group, the more communications channels. Project managers must heed this and often take actions in the structuring of the project to ensure quick and accurate lines of communication, reducing some of the communication load via the multitude of channels.
From this equation it is easy to see that many individuals in the network will increase the communications channels. The reason for the large number of channels is that everyone can talk with any other individual. The size and conmplexity of these channels add complexity to the clarity and distribution of the information, message, or articulation of specific learning.
Later chapters will look at networks and specifically the distribution of information and learning throughout the organization. From this section you will see the larger the organization in terms of people, the more channels and increasingly difficult it can be to keep the message or information under discussion consistent throughout that network.
Figure 1.4 The number of possible communications channels with size of group is not linear.