Tag Archive for 'change'

Learning culture and social media

If we talk about learning in organizations, many people will think of courses that are offered by the company’s training department. If we say e-learning, this is often associated with web based training modules. This is what we mostly refer to as “formal learning”. As we all probably (intrinsicly) know, there are more opportunities and places to learn than the formal classroom or web-based courses. What do you do when you are stuck with a problem at work? Do you call the training department for a course, or would you go ask a colleague, see if you can find info on the web? I guess we first go look for other people that can help us with our problem. Many of the tasks at work need some kind of learning to take place in order to get it done. We share our knowledge and expertise every day through conversations of any kind. We are being knowledge productive. We use knowledge to do our work better. And it is clear that this knowledge does not only come from formal courses, but a lot comes from the informal connections and conversations with from within and beyond the borders of your organization.

For some of you, who are in the learning business, this story is probably familiar. But yet, lots of organization still organize their learning through some kind of separate department. These are often called training departments, or corporate academy’s where people are are deciding what courses are needed for that organization. In this culture, managers often go to this department and ask for a training as a solution for their business issues. Willingly, training staff provides a training that seemingly fits the need and all are happy. Charles Jennings has referred to this phenomenon as “the conspiracy of convenience“.

But I can see times are changing! More and more, training departments are changing towards “learning and development” and starting to look at informal or social learning solutions. People from these L&D departments are exploring the possibilities of web 2.0. They want to have social networks, blogs, wiki’s and other tools alike.

The risk of all of this  is that sometimes, focus is too much on the tools instead of the process. Also, there is a tendency to view the social as “good” and formal as “bad”. Etienne Wenger has pointed out the importance of thinking about learning strategically. Learning needs to be connected with the strategic goals of an organization. It needs to contribute to whatever it is the organization wants to reach. That is why I think it is important to view learning in organizations from a more holistic, systemic point of view. This tells us that informal as well as formal learning solutions can have a place as long as they are aligned with the business. Moreover, in order to be successful, the horizontal processes that take place within informal learning needs to get connected with vertical processes within an organization.

The concept of Culture can help us looking at learning in organizations more holistically. There are various literature available on culture and culture in organizations. One of the clients I work with is IDEAS4, a management consultancy firm specialized in culture. They have (re)directed my attention again to this field and pointed me to studies from Hofstede and Schein. Geert Hofstede describes “the shared meaning of daily praxis” as the core of an organization’s culture (I’ve read the Dutch version, so this is freely translated). This description triggered me in several ways a) it is a shared meaning, so it is negotiated. And b) it is about the daily praxis. So, the core of organizational culture is about what we all think that we are doing here.

Schein needs a little more words: “Culture can be defined as (a) a pattern of basic assumptions, (b) invented, discovered, or developed by a given group, (c) as it learns to cope with its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, (d) that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore (e) is to be taught to new members as the (f) correct way to perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems.” Schein also adds up with the importance of leadership with strength and clarity of these basic assumptions. This again calls for the alignment of the horizontal with vertical in the organization if we want to go ahead.

Learning Culture
Just recently, Bersin and associates came out with a full report on the importance of Learning culture for an organization. They have taken culture as a concept to describe that learning in organizations is more then just the course catalogue:

“Learning Culture is the collective set of organizational values, conventions, processes and practices that influence and encourage both individuals and the collective organization to continuously increase knowledge, competence and performance.”

I think it is absolutely needed to approach learning in organizations from this holistic perspective. Especially when we want to leverage the use of social media for informal/ networked forms of learning. We can even think of the power that social media can have in changing an organization’s culture. A culture that emphasize the importance of sharing knowledge and making it productive. A cultural that learns from its failures instead of punishing people that make them. What can be other values that are important for such a learning culture?

If we want to move towards a learning culture, we need to involve the system as a whole. It is not only bottom-up or only top-down that will do the job, it requires full system participation. This includes a “systemic shared leadership”. Leadership and management that is able to let go and involve employees in their decisions. Employees taken shared responsibility over the issues they are working with and take actions together to solve them. instead of sitting back and wait for leadership to take action.

Dimensions of a community of practice

In their book “Digital Habitats“, Etienne Wenger, Nancy White and John Smith bring forward a model of three dimensions of a community of practice. I’ve found these dimensions very usefull in consulting about communities, exploring its value for the organization.

The three dimensions are:

  1. Domain
  2. Community
  3. Practice

(In their book, the authors have put the “practice” dimension at 2nd, but i prefer to talk about community and domain dimension first).

The domain dimension entails the subject of the community, the “domain of interest”. What is actually that the community is about? What are we going to talk about? More important: what are we not going to talk about? Deciding what the domain is of a community is often a proces of negotiation among its (potential) members. Possibly, there are also members leaving the community while its borders become more clear. Yet, this proces will also attract new members joining the community as its value has become visible.

The community dimension is about the people that actually members of the CoP. When talking about this dimension, i like to look at organizations from a networked perspective. It is important to no longer only look at organizations as hierarchy, more as a networks of people. Jon Husband calls this a wirearchy and points to the changes in power and authority. Looking at organizations from a networked perspective often shows you that the manager is no longer the central person, there appear to be other important hubs in the organization. The work of Valdis Krebs also helps a lot in this. These hubs are people that have great influence in the organization for their connections. When starting up communities, these people are really important.

The practice dimension is about “the way we do things”. A really interesting dimension and often also deeply grounded in the “culture” of a community that allready excists for longer time. Do you recognize coming into a new community (work, or city or football team) and really needing time to adapt, learn and understand how these people do their jobs, how they do their trainings. It is about tools, but i think it certainly is also about language and is definately also a dimension that is under negotiation all the time. Reflection is important to also be able to improve the practice of the community.

From all the dimensions above, it is important to realize that they are always subject to change. Forming and facilitating communities of practice is foremost a proces of learning in itself. Communities cannot be fully designed and standardized as products to be implemented. L&D departments need to facilitate a proces of change as they want to use CoPs in their organizations. Its a proces of learning by doing.

Organizational Constellations

Two weeks ago, I asked my coach to help me with my thinking about a situation where I got stuck in a organizational change process. After a initial introduction in the situation he immediately started to move the furniture in the room, trying to make a open space in the middle.

“Lets make an organizational constellation”, he said.

I was introduced to the use of constellations in a change management course i’ve done two years ago and have had 3 other experiences with the method since then. Yet, this was truly the first time I was absolutely stunned with what happened during the process. Rationally speaking, I cannot explain what happened there, but I immediately knew it was a very profound and intense learning experience.

This made me feel so curious to learn more about this method of organizational constellations. I wondered, are there studies that could explain me what it was, where the intense feeling of connectedness with the system being represented came from.

First, a little intro on what you do with organizational constellations. Basically what you do is that you make a visual representation of a living system, placing all actors of that system in relation with one another. This can be done just on paper (just like you would visualize the arrangement of the players from a football team) or with the use of cups. Every single cup is then representing an actor of the system. This time we used sheets of paper that were to be laid out on the floor. Trough standing on one of the papers we now didn’t use cups but our own bodies, representing one of the actors. You sort of step into the system, looking and feeling it from the perspective of the actor you are representing. And thats exactly where it became amazing. While representing an actor I could feel what the presence of other actors did to me. To give some examples, I felt my body actually being pushed forward, or pulled backwards. I could feel a strong pain in my right shoulder directly hitting me when another actor was added to the constellation, but also disappear when I stepped out of it. Emotions of joy, power but also pain and wanting to cry went through me. To be honest, at one time this all drived me crazy: where did this all came from? Why in earth was it possible to feel all these emotions and physical “things”??

An article of Gunthard Weber (2000) gives a good introduction into organizational constellations, introducing it “as an autonomous consulting method for initiating useful changes in organizations.” The method is grounded in a systemic and phenomenological view often referred by Bert Hellinger who introduced the use family constellations for therapy. The phenomelogical view refers to the opening of our perception, “the ability to perceive and be sensitive to our relationships (Weber, 2000)”. Weber also cites Hellinger when comparing the scientific with the phenomenological  quest for knowledge as the latter “unfolds when we pause within the movement of grasping and we direct our glance not so much on tangible specifics, but instead we direct our glance upon the whole, and the glance is therefore ready to absorb everything at once”.

The phenomenological attitude requires we be poised for action, and yet not act. Through this tension we become highly able and ready to perceive. He who can withstand this tension knows after a while how the fullness within the horizon settles around a center, and he suddenly discovers a connection, an order, a truth or a step that leads further. This insight comes, as it were, from outside. It is received as a gift and is, as a rule, limited.” (Bert Hellinger in Weber, 2000)

This reminded me of the stories described by Otto Scharmer in the book Presence when he talks about Theory U and the ability to see the whole. Perhaps, in doing the organizational constellation I was a times able to pause and get to “the bottom of the U”, in Scharmer’s terms. I’m still not sure what it was that I learned in those moments, but I know it was special. I hope it was another step in the quest for the ability to see the whole. Discover patterns not yet recognized in order to come to new and better understanding.

If you have had similar experiences, please let me know. I very curious about your stories!