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What Is learning

In our experience, and much of what this book is about, communication is a significant component to learning, project management and any organization’s endeavor. Words have meaning, and left unquestioned, that meaning between two people may be radically or slightly different and we may never know. Therefore we start our discussion, by establishing an understanding of some of terms and concepts. Most of the terms we will be using are common. Additionally, to ensure appropriate conveyance of the ideas is facilitated through a common lexicon. For example, learning, it is defined by Merriam-Webster as, “the act or experience of one that learns; knowledge or skill acquired by instruction or study; modification of behavioral tendency by experience.”4 This definition suggests there are many ways in which we can learn and this learning will affect our behavior depending upon our level of openness and this is a constant process. We may believe we are all constantly learning, and likely so. We should know that the application of what we learn is subject to questioning and is the true test of learning. Adequate application of what is learned is a demonstration of that learning, and in fact, is an opportunity to spread learning and learn more. This answers the question whether we have [1]

actually learned anything. In the realm of motivation, organizational development, and project management a deep understanding of these things make a difference. If we all have different perspectives, and we do, communication and coordination can be less than affective, but if we establish some key points where we agree on a perspective, especially on what needs to be learned, we start with a more stable foundation, and this enables learning across the group.

In Webster’s definition of learning we see the statement, “modification of behavioral tendency by experience.” There is an old adage that experience is the best teacher, but do we actually behave in a project or as an organization in conformance to this principle? Everything that we do creates a situation wherein someone else can experience something and therefore learn. Is the experience we present others promoting one experience (lesson) and expecting a different result (learning result)? As we have briefly touched on in this chapter and will additionally in the later chapters, experience plays an instrumental role in both motivation and development. This is not to say that we should always provide people with what would be considered a positive experience, we should prove or facilitate the experience that is related to the modification of behavior that is desired. On its surface this sounds like manipulation, but if this is done with an open dialog between the parties involved it is not manipulation, it is mentoring. Mentoring is thought of as from a senior individual to a more junior one, but when we apply how experience teaches it must provide all people involved some form of development.

Methods of Teaching

What comes to mind when you think of teaching: a PowerPoint, a classroom, homework? While there are many ways of conveying information such as PowerPoints or general instruction which are not teaching, anymore than conveying an experience to others? If we take the experience idea to the next level for teaching we might see that the different styles of leadership are very similar, if not identical, to teaching. For what is a leader, but someone who provides experiences to an individual or a group of people - and that is what a teacher does. Tire experiences provided by a leader or teacher can be both positive or negative and both are expected to produced the desired results. However, the effect of either positive or negative experiences should be understood by the individual employing them to avoid any unintended consequences that may result. Essentially, set the experience to be congruent with the learning objective or the expected competency developed.

According to a paper published by Concordia University Portland and written by Eric Gill[2] there are five effective methods for your classroom: Authority (or Lecture), Demonstrator (or Coaching), Facilitator (or Activity), Delegator (or Activity), and

Hybrid (or Blended). While the workplace is not a classroom per say it is a place where people learn, similarly, the reason for a classroom.

As we can see from comparing the two: Methods of Teaching and Leadership Styles, there is distinct overlapping of methods and principles in teaching and leadership and both are based upon providing some form of experience to the individual or individuals being taught or led. While both the articles that are referred to provide some insight into when each style might be used and the potential overall effect of that style’s employment every situation and the individuals involved are what and who will determine the effectiveness and overall impact of the style used. It is to that end that both the teacher and/or leader must know those being led and this can only be achieved through open communication and that is why we say that the teacher or leader is also provided some experiences by the student or employee and thus is learning as well.

All parties involved, teaching or working; leading or employed; students, or teachers, are being provided some form of experience by each other. What we choose to do with these experiences is the next logical question. As with the measures and controls section of project management checks and/or validates what is done or being done we must also determine if the experiences being acquired are effective toward their goal. This question would seem to create its own question, “How do

Leadership and teaching are connected

Figure 1.11 Leadership and teaching are connected.

you measure experience?” If learning is the modification of behavior and teaching is what causes that modification, then determining if the behavior has been modified as desired or needed would be the validation of the effectiveness of the experience and thus the teaching.

Considering both time and monetary constraints that most organization have experiences cannot be provided for every situation. This would seem to lead to problems in that people would be expected to do activities for which they have not been trained. Sharing of experiences via the open dialog between people and establishing key points for review or discussion to ensure the desired progress is being achieved could help bridge these gaps. Also the capturing of the lessons learned (discussed later) from these situations could be useful for later similar endeavors.

The Learning Masters

To be able to influence the organization’s ability to learn, it is necessary to have some background in learning and teaching. This includes limits to learning and especially the environment conducive to learning. What do we need to know to create an environment that is conducive to learning in the organization? What actions can we take to encourage learning and facilitate dissemination of what is learned throughout the organization. Otherwise the organization may end up with pockets of understanding with the bulk of the organization not learning from these mistakes, essentially required to make those same mistakes over and over again with different team members to learn.

B.F. Skinner

B.F. Skinner was an American psychologist whose contribution to learning cannot be denied. Skinner coined the term operant conditioning. Operant conditioning is learning that is facilitated through rewards and punishments. In this case, rewards and punishments are deliberately used to alter behavior to that which is acceptable or even desired.

Skinner believed that there is no such thing as free will, we are all the product of experiences and those experiences have had consequences on our behavior. Essentially, those experiences represent stimuli that trains the individual to act in new and different ways. The stimuli have altered the way the person responds or thinks. In this way, we do not have free will, but are the results of this conditioning. He referred to this conditioning as operant conditioning, essentially, learning. This conditioning consists of both positive and negative approaches. Positive approaches are often referred to as rewards, and negative approaches are referred to as punishments. Positive reinforcement seeks to evoke a specific or increase the

BF Skinner describes how behavior can be changed or learned via positive and negative reinforcement

Figure 1.12 BF Skinner describes how behavior can be changed or learned via positive and negative reinforcement.

frequency of a specific behavior. Negative approaches seek to eliminate or reduce the frequency of occurrence of a specific behavior.

Positive reinforcement is the quick application of the metaphorical carrot for behaving or performing in ways that the organization approves. We may provide the person with more time off or other reward mechanism after accomplishing some objective of the company.

Negative reinforcement is like positive reinforcement, only rather than providing the metaphorical carrot for the action of which we want to see more, we take away some aspect of the environment or job that the individual finds unpleasant. Perhaps, the person has to this point been required to attend a specific meeting because of their actions, they may be excluded from this in the future or at least a respite for some short period of time.

Punishment is the opposite of reinforcement. Punishment seeks to make the behavior disappear, as we are working to reduce the occurrence of the behavior, and to that end we provide a negative condition often referred to as punishment. A positive punishment is the application or addition of a condition that is unpleasant upon the occurrence of the unwanted behavior.

Negative punishment is like negative reinforcement, as it is the removal of something desired by the individual no Wii for 2 weeks because you were late.

For this conditioning to work, the stimulus must be near (in time) to the behavior we wish to either increase or eliminate, and it must be perceived by the recipient as the appropriate one of these categories.

Argyris loop learning

Figure 1.13 Argyris loop learning.


Why are employees reluctant to report to the top that one of their company’s products is a “loser” and why can’t the vice presidents of another company reveal to their president the spectacular lack of success of one of the company’s divisions? ’[he inability to uncover errors and other unpleasant truths arises from faulty organizational learning, says this author. Such habits and attitudes, which allow a company to hide its problems, lead to rigidity and deterioration. The author describes how this process can be reversed by a method he calls double loop learning.[3]

In this paper by Argyris, he states, “Organizational Learning is the process of detecting and correcting error.”1 He counsels that this correction is done either via single or double loop learning. Single loop learning is where information is gained that allows correction to a situation and double loop learning is when the second order questions are asked such as what is the goal or policy of the task with the error, and is it valid. Double loop learning is based upon the theory of action which has three main requirements according to a paper written by UC Davis in 2014;

  • 1. The theory of action must begin with a statement of a causal relationship.
  • 2. It must be empirically falsifiable.
  • 3- It must be open-ended.[4]

Double loop learning is also related to reflective learning in that reflective learning is based in action learning. With reflective learning it is diagnosing, testing, and belief in personal causation.! Whether it is double loop or reflective learning we see that there is a gap between personal beliefs and the actual actions conducted, this is maybe why Argyris related the point of view of most people as actors.[4] In either case, double or reflective loop learning, the primary outcome is personal change directed at professional development. When we look at them in that context we can see how they are related to the five disciplines: Personal Mastery, Mental Models, Shared Vision, Team Learning, and Systems Thinking, discussed by Peter Senge in The Fifth Disciplined

Vision and Mission Statements

Vision and mission statements have been around for a little while now, and over the years these have been comically regarded at best. These are important statements about the organization (or they can and should be) to help focus the work, as well as create an environment in which the individuals can use these statements to make decisions and prioritize actions. Instead, the mission and vision statements have become a list of buzz words, jargon, folderol that is referred to by the employees when they need a good laugh.

Vision Statements

Ideally, the vision statement describes where we want to be as an organization. It articulates the organization’s ultimate purpose. It describes the aspirational objectives of the organization, informing those associated with the company (inside and outside) what a successful future of our company resembles. The vision is a future focused statement. This is not a dynamic or changing statement about the company objectives.

Vision, mission are connected to the principles of the organization

Figure 1.14 Vision, mission are connected to the principles of the organization.

Mission Statements


The mission statement describes how we will get to that future we desire. The mission statement starts from now and carries us into the future. The mission statement connects to the values of the organization. The mission statement articulates the reasons the organization is in business (not for a paycheck), ’[he mission statement is for those within the company as well as those that invest in the company.

Value Statements

The value statement articulates the specific behavior expected from those employed by the company. This will culminate in a specific lists of behaviors expected by those in the employ of the organization. The values will be a short list of what is deemed fundamental to ensure the company culture is put into conditions that are deemed desired. An example of one statement in the value statements would be “we promote honest and clear communication.”


While the first section of our journey may seem to have started with a mixture of motivation theories, behavioral theorist, biases, learning, teaching, and so much more that all seem relatively disjointed, when you reflect back upon each section with the collective in mind you can see a common line to it all. We touched slightly upon this thread in the previous section, Argyris. We did not, however, show how all these topics and theories string together as that is something that each individual must develop for themselves. We also did not overly discuss some topics as the idea is to merely promote the reader to reflect and develop their own assessment to share with others. The relational development of these topics will, as most individual and organizational developmental items, be a continually evolving (LEARNING) experience. We also did not claim to have some magic answer nor did we use new terms to explain a theory that has been around since the industrial revolution. We are merely proposing that these are proven items which can be applied to most projects and organizations to facilitate growth and development of their people.

  • [1] (Merriam-Webster, Learning, 2018)
  • [2] 2 Gill, E. (2018, June 13). Teaching Styles: Different Teaching Methods &Strategies. Retrieved July 23, 2018, from
  • [3] Argyris, C. (2014, August 01). Double Loop Learning in Organizations. Retrieved August 28,2018, from' Argyris, C. (2014, August 01). Double Loop Learning in Organizations. Retrieved August 28,2018, from
  • [4] Kleiner, A., & Senge, P. M. (1994). The Fifth discipline fieldbook. London: Nicholas Brearley. * last accessed9/30/2018
  • [5] Kleiner, A., & Senge, P. M. (1994). The Fifth discipline fieldbook. London: Nicholas Brearley. * last accessed9/30/2018
  • [6] last accessed9/30/2018
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