The term “learning organization” was popularized by Peter Senge in 1993. Senge argued that a learning organization had five characteristics.
Perhaps most importantly, learning organizations engage in “systems thinking.” Essentially, what this means is that people in an organization need to understand how the organization as a whole works. If they do this, they will understand how actions that they take can have ramifications throughout the organization. They do not simply think of their own little corner of the organization but of the organization as a whole.
Second, there is the idea of “personal mastery.” What this means is that each employee must try to engage in learning on a continual basis. People must not simply think they know everything and stop learning. They must, instead, feel that learning is something of a calling.
Third, people must have “mental models.” What this means is that people need to scrutinize their own attitudes. They have to think critically about their own customary ways of thinking. That way, they will be able to determine whether their ways of thinking are really optimal.
Fourth, employees must participate in a “shared vision.” This means that everyone needs to truly buy into what the organization is trying to accomplish. Such a vision cannot simply be imposed from above. Everyone must truly come to believe in it.
Finally, there must be “team learning.” What this means is that everyone must truly work together as a team. People must put aside personal goals and attitudes and fully embrace the goals of the team as a whole.
In Senge’s theory, learning organizations have these five characteristics.
A learning organization is one that is capable of growth and change, and has individuals that are as well. Learning organizations have some kind of research and development going on all the time. They empower their employees to explore solutions and do not stifle creativity.
A learning organization needs to have a clear vision, because everyone has to work toward it. Everyone needs to be on the same page, because you do not need to micromanage employees if they know what the goal is.
In a learning organization, the company is aware that everything is interconnected. What one person or division does affects others. It makes sure no one works at cross-purposes, and everyone works together as a team.