Learning Organisations

by Sharon Varney

Alternatives to the learning organisation

The learning organisation evolved at the end of last century in response to a fast-changing working world. Alternatives to the learning organisations might be

  • The bureaucratic organisation
  • The performance organisation.

The bureaucratic organisation

The bureaucratic organisation was a response to the Industrial Revolution. Its aim was efficiency, ensuring that workers who had been brought from cottage industries could work together in big industrial concerns. Key areas of focus in a bureaucratic organisation include

  • A clear division of labour
  • A clear hierarchy, to command and control activities
  • A focus on consistency and stability.

The performance organisation

In response to increased competition, a performance-based organisation focuses on results. Its aim is effectiveness and key areas of focus include

  • Managing by objectives
  • Structure follows strategy
  • Establishing measurements of performance
  • Motivating and developing people.

In some ways, each type of organisation has evolved in response to changing environments and the shortfalls of the previous type of organisation. However, it is also true that organisations often have some characteristics of each. For example, the hierarchical structure of the bureaucratic organisation, performance measures from the performance organisation and a focus on continuous adaptation from the learning organisation.

Sometimes, characteristics of other organisation types can get in the way of attempts to become a learning organisation. For example, a focus on stability and on performance measurement tend to lead to behaviours that prevent the continuous adaptation that we would expect to see in a learning organisation.