The Five Disciplines of Organizational Learning as published in The Dance of Change.
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Each of the five disciplines represents a lifelong body of study and practice for individuals and teams in organizations.
1. Personal Mastery
This discipline of aspiration involves formulating a coherent picture of the results people most desire to gain as individuals (their personal vision), alongside a realistic assessment of the current state of their lives today (their current reality). Learning to cultivate the tension between vision and reality (represented in this icon by the rubber band) can expand people's capacity to make better choices, and to achieve more of the results that they have chosen.
2. Mental Models
This discipline of reflection and inquiry skills is focused around developing awareness of the attitudes and perceptions that influence thought and interaction. By continually reflecting upon, talking about, and reconsidering these internal pictures of the world, people can gain more capability in governing their actions and decisions. The icon here portrays one of the more powerful principles of this discipline, the ladder of inference depicting how people leap instantly to counterproductive conclusions and assumptions.
3. Shared Vision
This collective discipline establishes a focus on mutual purpose. People learn to nourish a sense of commitment in a group or organization by developing shared images of the future they seek to create (symbolized by the eye), and the principles and guiding practices by which they hope to get there.
4. Team Learning
This is a discipline of group interaction. Through techniques like dialogue and skillful discussion, teams transform their collective thinking, learning to mobilize their energies and ability greater than the sum of individual members' talents. The icon symbolizes the natural alignment of a learning-oriented team as the flight of a flock of birds.
5. Systems Thinking
In this discipline, people learn to better understand interdependency and change, and thereby to deal more effectively with the forces that shape the consequences of our actions. Systems thinking is based upon a growing body of theory about the behavior of feedback and complexity-the innate tendencies of a system that lead to growth or stability over time. Tools and techniques such as systems archetypes and various types of learning labs and simulations help people see how to change systems more effectively, and how to act more in tune with the larger processes of the natural and economic world. The circle in this icon represents the fundamental building block of all systems: the circular feedback loop underlying all growing and limiting processes in nature.
Senge, P. M., Charlotte Roberts, Rick Ross, George Roth, Bryan Smith, and Art Kleiner (1999). The Dance of Change: The challenges of sustaining momentum in learning organizations. New York, Currency/Doubleday. Page 32
An Interview with Peter Senge
Q: In your book The Fifth Discipline you describe five disciplines that you believe are important for creating learning organizations. What is a learning organization?
A. Like any term that gets used a lot it can quickly lose any meaning whatsoever. All the term was meant to do was point at something that we all experience but we don't give a lot of thought to: what happens when a group of people really work at their best? Most people, whether on a high school basketball team, a theater ensemble or often times in a work setting have been members of teams that have been exceptional and have accomplished things that were really remarkable maybe something most didn't even think could be accomplished. So often times people have had this experience of working as part of an extraordinary team the 'team' could be any group of people doing something together - not necessarily an official team. When I was in high school a bunch of us got really excited about our principal being named "principal of the year" in the Los Angeles city schools. He was a great guy. We banded together and created a big mail-in-card campaign that went on for about six months. He did win the award, which was neat, but it was the doing of it - the idea, aligning around it and acting - that was really exciting.
When you look at any of these kinds of situations where people say, Oh yeah, I was a part of a group who did that, and then you ask, Was the group that good when they started?" They say, "Oh no, we kind of learned how to do it as we did it. That's it. How a group of people collectively enhance their capacities to produce the outcome they really wanted to produce. That's what we want to point to with the term 'organizational learning'.
Q: What has the impact been on companies that have embraced organizational learning concepts?
A. I see impact at two levels. Since so much emphasis over the past twenty years has been on working in teams sales teams, product development teams, manufacturing units - there is a tremendous amount of know how that has accumulated over the years of how to help these kinds of working teams get much better at producing results they really want to produce. At the operational level, I would say there has been a lot of the kind of impact that you really hope for: 1) that people are dramatically more effective at accomplishing what they want and 2) they are having a lot more fun doing it. However, these teams are always occurring in the context of larger organizations and that is where it usually gets a little trickier.
A CEO of one of the first organizations I worked with who was an important adviser and mentor to me used to say repeatedly, all this stuff with systems thinking and mental models with teams and people learning how to talk together it's great stuff, really vital but, you are not paying enough attention to culture. You are not paying enough attention to the ethos of the enterprise as a whole". Of course, he was right about that. So my simple assessment of the state of the art is that with a lot of practical know how and a lot of practical results at the team level, there is still a lot of struggle, because what does it mean for an organization of 10,000, 20,000 or 100,000 to shift the ethos? I think the two have to be related, because the ethos only really comes alive in doing the work.
We are not here to create a club with a certain culture. All organizations are here to accomplish something; they have a core mission, a purpose. So the two are related, but I would say the latter is, without a doubt, the frontier.
Q: How do you measure the level of success of learning organizations?
A. I'm suggesting that at the first level, you look at what people are trying to accomplish and ask: are they much more effective at doing it? And are they having a better time at doing it? While we care about the results, it's really important to ask the second question: are they enjoying learning together? In a time of crisis, people can do a lot in all kinds of settings, but they can't sustain it. How do you get a sustainable processes of continual growth and capacity? With a huge spike in performance, you pay the price coming back down when people are worn out, or people who don't stick around, or people who become ineffective because they are so overtaxed. The most fundamental assessment is long-term sustainable improvement in people accomplishing what they really want to accomplish. What goes hand in glove with that is that people grow. When all is said and done, you strip away all the measures and all the official stuff it is really easy. You talk to people about how they feel about their work. Are they excited? Are they passionate? I am more excited today than I was ten years ago and I think I have a better network of folks I am working with than I have ever had in my life. You always look for things like that.
Q: What are some of the practices organizations and individuals can continue or even begin in terms of transformational thinking? How do we get started? And then once we are started, how do we keep it going?
A: There's probably no one way to start. We try to lay out a variety of different tools and methods that people can work with so they can look at their situation and see where the energy wants to go. There are some settings where you have a very technical group of people, and if you start talking about vision, their eyes all roll up. So you say, "Let's try to better understand how we are working as a system here". And, they start looking at how they are working together as a system and they say, Wow, I never thought we could be rigorous in thinking about how we work together as we would be rigorous in doing our technical work". If you are a technical person, this realization makes you feel more comfortable. It actually opens you up, because rigor is a very important part of your identity, and intellectual consistency and clarity these are things that matter a lot to you.
There are other settings where people really know they have huge problems talking about tough issues. This is a very common problem in organizations of all sorts. The real meeting is never the meeting you go to the meeting, you sit there, you take your notes, and you look at the whatever and then afterwards the real meeting occurs in the hallway or in a private room. In those settings, if people are feeling that this is really effecting their ability to get stuff done, they might have a lot of energy to start to learn how to deal with mental models, and how to start to bring out the difference in views in a complex setting in a way that doesn't just offend people or make things worse. One of the many reasons people don't really talk about what is on their mind is that they're afraid things will get worse, not better, and they are often right. There are a lot of skills that are required to bring out potentially conflictual issues in a way that doesn't evoke defensiveness in others. So, where you start really depends on the setting.
I think the thing I have believed for a long time is that this sort of work needs to be highly transparent. And, what I mean by transparent, is that it is kind of home grown it has to emerge from the realities and particularities, the personalities, the circumstances that people are actually in. You can't implant it. I use to have another adviser who said managers always want to inoculate their people with something that will fix them. You can't do that this way. It has got to grow out of peoples own concerns, passions, and interests. My ideal, and this is often hard to achieve literally, is that nobody even really notices the change. They just all of a sudden start to say, "That was a real good meeting. When is our next meeting?" When was the last time you heard people say: When can we meet again? Most people hate their meetings! In most organizations, people say: "Ninety percent of my time is totally wasted in these stupid meetings". But to me this sort of shift is what you are looking for -- people saying naturally that this is a great group of people. "Every time we get together we really shed some light on really tough issues that I am wrestling with. I'm looking at what has been happening over the last six months and we are making real progress". And they don't have to talk about systems thinking and mental models. They may understand some of that stuff, but that is not where their attention is.