Learning Organisations

by Sharon Varney

Supporting the learning organisation

Senior people have an important role to play in supporting the learning organisation.

Supporting managers

If you are a senior manager or director in an organisation, there are a number of ways that you can support managers in building a learning organisation:

  • Give each manager space to experiment
  • Ask them for feedback, listen well, coach where necessary, and support them to stay the course when it becomes more challenging
  • Create opportunities for managers to get together to share their learnings – successes and failures – with each other; these connections are vital to help ‘learning teams’ to connect across the organisation
  • Lead by example and remember to invest in your own continuous development too.

Think about your own organisation. What can you do to better support managers (direct reports or peers) in the challenging work of building a learning organisation? Consider

  • What could you do today?
  • What could you do this month?
  • What could you do this year?

Policies, procedures and practices

No amount of policies and procedures can create a learning organisation, but some practices can help and others can hinder managers in this work.

Enablers Inhibitors
  • Good induction
  • Opportunities for personal development
  • Opportunities for group development (connections count)
  • Peer reviews and ‘lessons learned’ sessions during and after projects
  • Team and organisational objectives
  • No support for initial or on-going development
  • Short-term targets can sometimes get in the way.
  • Individual incentive and reward schemes can get in the way.
  • Tightly defining policies and procedures can get in the way.

Think about your own organisation.

How do your policies, procedures and practices act as enablers for managers trying to build a learning organisation?

How might they inhibit building a learning organisation

Corporate culture

There may also be enablers and inhibitors to becoming a learning organisation within your corporate culture. For example, having a ‘no blame’ environment tends to encourage experimentation and learning to flourish. The opposite can stop it dead in its tracks. In some organisations, people say that they feel encouraged and supported to take responsibility for their own learning. In others, the notion of ‘taking responsibility for your own learning’ is synonymous with ‘don’t expect any budget for training’!


Consider your own organisation. How does your corporate culture enable and inhibit building a learning organisation?