Learning organisations and organisational learning: What have we learned?

Marshall, Joe; Smith, Simon; Buxton, Steve
June 2009
Management Services;Summer2009, Vol. 53 Issue 2, p36
Academic Journal
Organisational learning has been the subject of attention and research for a number of years, with a plethora of advice on how to become a 'learning organisation', adapt and survive and improve organisational performance. This paper sets out to examine the assumptions behind such advice by investigating a number of influences that may affect organisational learning at two Strategic Business Units (SBUs), operating in the UK, of two global companies, one American, one French. Two in-depth studies were undertaken to identify the learning climate and capability (Pedler, 1999; O'Keeffe, 2002; Chen, 2005); the effects of different sub-cultures or communities in the same firm on learning (Schein, 1996); and the impact, if any, of learning on organisational performance (Tsang, 1997; Murray, 2002). The implications for global firms on learning and sharing knowledge across national, cultural and business boundaries were also investigated. The research indicated that while learning practices and opportunities existed at both SBUs, a number of inhibiting factors were identified, including a mixed understanding of the drivers for improvement and learning; different and opposing perceptions of the current learning climate and capability; and the dysfunctional interactions of misaligned sub-cultures or communities. The study also found any link between learning and organisational performance unclear, and identified some of the difficulties of learning and knowledge-sharing across SBUs and the parent organisation. The study suggests that collective learning in organisations is problematic and that the prescriptive literature on organisational learning and the learning organisation (ie, that learning is organised, aggregated, controlled and apolitical) is an idealisation of real organisational life.


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