The learning organization as a source of collective intelligence

ByOlivier Le Roy
10 January 2023

A company is a ‘team of teams’ and managers play key roles in encouraging employees’ commitment to corporate projects. How can companies and non-profit organizations, which are complex organizations comprised of specialists with specific expertise, be guided by the ideas described in their corporate purpose?

Many work organization theories have described how different departments and divisions should work together to achieve this corporate purpose. Most industrial companies have implemented 'Lean Management' in all their departments, while service companies are more likely to use 'agile' models and frameworks such as the 'SAFe' model. This internal complexity sometimes requires coordinating teams. Getting these teams to work together is therefore a challenge, but also a key performance factor. Learning organizations can play a decisive role here, since they enable the team to develop its own operational capabilities, as well as the ability to work with other teams.

Leaders must set the example

It is often said that the difference between a manager and a leader is his or her ability to manage people or motivate them in their own development. The challenge of continuous learning is therefore for the leader to find the words, methods and tools to convince others of the merits of working together, but above all to demonstrate this by setting the example. What would the employees of an organization that must take an e-learning course on anti-corruption think of a team leader who is not actively involved in this topic?

Managers will be more persuasive if a company's development is increasingly conditioned by its ability to adapt to a socio-economic context, technological disruptions and/or geo-political events. The survival of an activity or position sometimes depends on knowing how to learn new things or how to update certain knowledge. This 'commitment to learning' must therefore be demonstrated on a daily basis. It must be anchored in the organization's culture and training must no longer be seen as optional, but rather as the obvious choice for everyone.

A managerial revolution is underway

The manager is becoming a 'facilitator' who must instill the desire to learn, rather than making people feel that training is a necessity. By relying on the culture of his organization, he has the tools to increase employees’ commitment. Statistics on the sources of skill acquisition show that we learn by doing, almost without realizing it, and that working within a team and benefiting from that interaction will be just as effective as participating in training programs.

The manager will be more effective if the organization - and the HR department - provide tools and advice on how to interact with the team, as well as the key messages to deliver and the events to organize. Training sessions will be offered, but there will also be dedicated forums to describe new ways of sharing information and to discuss the relevance of these new methods.

The digital workplace, a key tool

The format of learning and content is evolving, particularly to adapt to new technological offers. Digital workplaces will therefore support the use of specialized training applications. Implementing a solution for sharing documents or discussions is already a tool for continuous learning. Each organization will choose its solutions according to its challenges, its resources and its culture; it is not surprising that tech companies are all on Slack, while other organizations still use Skype. This is not question of being old-fashioned or cutting edge; each solution is valid and adapted to its context to promote interaction and sharing. Once again, it is up to the manager to set the example by sharing his or her own expertise and knowledge and by using these collaborative tools to the fullest.

An organization that uses collective intelligence

A NASA exercise once demonstrated the strength of teams, when faced with the same problem, astronauts found solutions individually, but then improved on them by sharing their results. How does an organization become a Learning Organization (LO)? By combining the learning experience of individuals and orienting them towards the topics that contribute to the success of the organization as a whole.

Learning methods must therefore be structured and accessible, deployed by ambassadors such as team leaders, so that skill development becomes natural for everyone.

The challenge is therefore great for Human Resources departments, which must define the key areas of learning in order to be in line with the organization's strategy, support team leaders in their mission as mentors and offer career development to employees who, armed with their new skills, will more easily occupy their new jobs.

Olivier Le Roy
Managing Consultant - Sopra HR
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