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Organisational Structure Impacts on Learning

Introduction

A learning organization is an organization skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge and at modifying its behavior to reflect new knowledge and insights. This means that organizations engage in systematic problem solving, experimenting, and continuously searching for new knowledge. There must also be a tolerance for failure because experiments may not always succeed. The aim is, of course, to learn from past failures, but the learning should not be restricted to one’s own experience. One can learn a great deal from others, whether inside or outside the organization. Learning from other organizations is often achieved through benchmarking, which requires the search for the best practices not only within the same industry but also in other industries.

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What is learned needs to be shared through, for instance, reports, plant tours, and education programs and training. Individuals or groups need to be encouraged to share their specialized knowledge and disseminate it throughout the organization. Knowledge is not enough; it has to be applied. Unless the behavior is changed, little is gained from the efforts of creating a learning organization. Therefore, progress and improvement need to be measured through questionnaires, surveys, interviews, and observation of behavior. Department stores may, for example, use shoppers to assess the service of their sales associates. The learning organization promotes communication and collaboration so that everyone is engaged in identifying and solving problems, enabling the organization to continuously experiment, improve, and increase its capability. This paper looks at the impact created by an organizational structure on organizational learning and learning organization.

Organization Structure

One of the importance of an organizational structure is that it helps managers and supervisors to coordinate the process of designing appropriate strategies as well as helping in their implementation. There are different types of organizations. Allocation of skills, responsibilities, and labor is determined by the form of an organization (Argyris & Schön 1978). This also influences the flow of information from the managers to the subordinate staff and affects the performance and efficiency of each individual employee. Traditionally, organizations are viewed as social structures with specified tasks, continued existence, and specialization. With the current organization theory, this view has been changed, and the focus is now directed on other important attributes, including social and cultural learning.

Today, practitioners are using both the traditional perspective and the current organizational theory to develop a constructive framework that will assist them in organizing people so as to comprehend strategies (DePree 1990). The importance of this kind of framework is that it helps practitioners to understand the structure that best fits the duties and the responsibilities that are to be performed. It also helps the management to design a model that should be adopted for organizational development. The learning of culture and social theories gives some insights to a practitioner, which helps him to manage change and the processes that should be adopted in order to accomplish the desired results that will ensure continuity of an organization.

In organization structure, people and job positions that are available within an organization are arranged appropriately in order for them to meet specific needs. It is the organizational structure that differentiates a hospital from a food restaurant or a bank from a manufacturing plant (Argyris & Schön 1996). The tasks involved in the different organizations, the technology to be adopted, and the knowledge of what is good or bad influencing the choice of an organization design. An organization structure specifies the number of personnel, required resources, outputs, and capacity that provide a measure to estimate the size of an organization. However, this is not constant, but changes as the organization grow. Having a clear understanding of the technology to be used in running the day to day activities in a learning organization affects how it is organized (Schultz 1999).

A Learning Organization

A learning organization is defined as the place where people meet with others for the purpose of expanding their knowledge and capabilities for better results in doing the things that they desire. It can also be defined as a place where patterns of thinking are cultivated, and aspirations set free. It is a place where people continue learning to enhance their creativity for more production (Senge 1999). The key rationale for learning organizations is that they are only able to excel in times of rapid changes if they are adaptive and flexible to new environments. For this to happen, they need a well-designed organizational structure that will help people to achieve their goals and objective in the learning organization (Drucker 1977).

Everyone has a capacity to learn but the structures put in place influence how this is achieved. For instance, if they are not conducive, people will not be able to engage in the day to day activities. Moreover, without a good organizational structure, people lack the means or the tools to overcome the challenges they may be faced with (Finger & Brand 1999). An organizational structure is particularly important for an organization that is growing in terms of capacity as it helps it to develop appropriate strategies.

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Organizational Learning and Learning Organization

According to Senge et al. (1994), learning should be sensitive enough to consider the meaning of being human. That is, through it, people should learn how to re-create themselves. This applies to both the organizations and people. A learning organization is not only supposed to survive but also be adaptive to the changes taking place in the world (Senge et al. 1994). It should provide generative learning that boosts people’s capacity to be more creative. Today’s learning organization differs from the traditional one in that the modern organization provides basic disciplines that are not available in the traditional organizations. Some of these basic disciplines including but not limited to personal mastery, team learning, and systems thinking. According to many researchers, people are seen as agents who are able to work according to the systems and structures put in place. Most of today’s disciplines in learning organizations are based on how people can be influenced to stop acting as helpless agents to being active participants responsible for their lives.

Every learning institution requires changing its perception of leadership if it is to succeed in the ever-growing global economy. Traditional leaders were viewed as a special group of people who outlines the direction to be followed, make the major decisions, and manage the organization. This view is based on the assumption that people are powerless, they lack a clear vision, and are unable to withstand the forces of change, and this can only be solved by a specific and influential group of leaders (Probst & Romhardt 1999). Leaders are viewed as teachers and designers in every learning organization. They are the ones who are given the responsibility of developing the organization where people can expand their knowledge and capabilities, visualize their future, and become adaptive to any kind of situation.

A learning organization is one that can adapt to changes in the external environment through continuous renewal of its structure and practices. According to Senge et al. (1999), there are five technologies that help the organization to learn. These are systems thinking, personal mastery, mental models, a shared vision, and team learning (Kleiner 2000). The learning organization is generally associated with concepts such as sharing the vision of the enterprise, self-examination of the prevailing assumptions and practices, considering radically new organizational structures, creating learning teams, and establishing linkages with parties outside the enterprise for generating new ideas and perspectives (Peck 1990).

The Vertical Hierarchy Structure

Traditionally, the most common organizational structure has been one in which activities are grouped together by common work from the bottom to the top of the organization. Generally, little collaboration occurs across functional departments, and the whole organization is coordinated and controlled through the vertical hierarchy, with decision-making authority residing with upper-level managers. This structure can be quite effective. It promises efficient production and in-depth skill development, and the hierarchy of authority provides a sensible mechanism for supervision and control in large organizations. However, in a rapidly changing environment, the hierarchy becomes overloaded. Top executives are not able to respond rapidly enough to problems or opportunities.

In organizational learning, the vertical structure that creates distance between managers at the top of the organization and workers in the technical core is disbanded. The structure is created around horizontal flows or processes rather than departmental functions. The vertical hierarchy is dramatically flattened, with perhaps only a few senior executives in traditional support functions such as finance or human resources. Self-directed teams ate the fundamental work unit in organizational learning. Boundaries between functions are practically eliminated because teams include members from several functional areas (Casamayou & Mahler 2009).

A task is a narrowly defined piece of work assigned to a person. In a learning organization, tasks are broken down into specialized, separate parts, as in a machine. Knowledge and control of tasks are centralized at the top of the organization, and employees are expected to do as they are told. A role, on the other hand, is a part of a dynamic social system. A role has discretion and responsibility, allowing the person to sue his or her discretion and ability to achieve an outcome r meet a goal. In learning organizations, employees play a role in the team or department, and roles may be continually redefined or adjusted. There are few rules or procedures, and knowledge and control of tasks are located with workers rather than with supervisors or top executives (Bolman, & Deal 1997). Employees are encouraged to take care of problems by working with one another and with customers. In the learning organization, all employees look for problems, which means putting things together in unique ways to meet a customer’s needs.

Development of a Learning Capacity through an Organization Structure

Today’s managers are quite aware that sustained competitive advantage can come only by developing the learning capacity of everyone in the organization. To develop a learning organization, managers make changes in all the subsystems of the organization. Three important adjustments to promote continuous learning are: shifting to a team-based structure, empowering employees, and sharing information (Edmondson & Moingeon 1999). A team-based structure is an important value in organizational learning. It involves collaboration and communication across departmental and hierarchical boundaries. Self-directed teams comprise the basic building block of the structure. These teams are made up of employees with different skills who share or rotate jobs to produce an entire product or service. Traditional management tasks are pushed down to lower levels of the organization, with teams often taking responsibility for training, safety, scheduling, and decisions about work methods, pay and reward systems, and coordination with other teams. Although team leadership is vital, in organizational learning, the traditional boss is nearly eliminated. People on the team are given the skills, information, tools, motivations, and authority to make decisions central to the team’s performance and to respond creatively and flexibly to new challenges and opportunities that arise.

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Employee empowerment means unleashing the power and creativity of employees by giving them the freedom, resources, information, and skills to make decisions and perform effectively. Empowerment may be reflected in self-directed work teams, quality circles, job enrichments, and employee-participation groups, as well as through decision-making authority, training, and information so people can perform jobs without close supervision (Schuck 1985). In learning organizations, people are a manager’s primary source of strength, not a cost to be minimized. Organizations that adopt this perspective believe in treating employees well by providing competitive wages and good working conditions, as well as by investing time and money in training programs and opportunities for personal and professional development.

A learning organization is flooded with information. To identity needs and solve problems, people have to be aware of what’s going on. They must understand the whole organization as well as their part in it. Formal data about the budgets, profits, and departmental expenses are available to everyone. Managers know that providing too much information is better than providing too little. In addition, managers encourage people throughout the organization to share information.

Conclusion

The main goal of a learning institution is to improve the quality of the learner’s actions, or in other words, to develop behavior that is more effective in achieving the learner’s aims. What we are looking for in a learning organization is competence. What and how a person learns is evident in his behavior. Therefore the measure of the improvement in that behavior becomes a measure of the effectiveness of the learning process. Organization learning is thus enhanced by the change of the commonly shared values and suggestions or even cognitive maps. This means that fundamental hypotheses and guidelines change continuously.

A majority of organization members are involved therein, as this can only be achieved through the common establishment of team identities. Through the unification and consensus finding process conducted by the organization members, a fundamental change of the guidelines is implemented, eventually resulting in organizational learning. This can be done through an organizational structure. This structure stipulates the tasks and responsibilities of both managers and employees and ensures that there is no overlap of duties. With it, a learning organization is able to achieve its goals since available resources are put into proper use. It is through the organization structure that managers use to distinguish the employees to be enrolled in training programs so as to improve their efficiency for better learning of the organization.

Reference List

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. 1978. Organizational Learning: A Theory of Action Perspective. Reading, Mass, Addison Wesley.

Argyris, C., & Schön, D. 1996. Organizational Learning II: Theory, Method and Practice. Reading, Mass, Addison Wesley.

Bolman, L. G., & Deal, T. E. 1997. Reframing Organizations: Artistry, choice and leadership 2e. San Francisco, Jossey-Bass.

Casamayou, H. M., & Mahler, J. 2009. Organizational Learning At NASA: The Challenger and Columbia Accidents. New York, Georgetown University Press.

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DePree, M. 1990. Leadership is an Art. New York, Dell.

Drucker, P. 1977. Management. London, Pan.

Edmondson, A., & Moingeon, B. 1999. Learning, Trust and Organizational Change in M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (Eds.) Organizational Learning And The Learning Organization. London, Sage.

Finger, M., & Brand, S. B. 1999. The Concept of the “Learning Organization” Applied To the Transformation of the Public Sector’ In M. Easterby-Smith, L. Araujo and J. Burgoyne (Eds.) Organizational Learning and the Learning Organization. London, Sage.

Kleiner, A. 2000. Schools That Learn: A Fifth Discipline Field book for Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares about Education. New York, Doubleday/Currency.

Peck, M. S. 1990. The Road Less Travelled. London, Arrow.

Probst, G. S., & Romhardt K. 1999. Managing Knowledge. London, Wiley.

Schuck, G. 1985. Intelligent Workers: A New Predagogy for the High Tech Workplace. London, Prentice Hall.

Schultz, J. R. 1999. ‘Peter Senge: Master of change’ Executive Update [Online]. Web.

Senge, P. et. al. 1994. The Fifth Discipline Field book: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. London, Arrow.

Senge, P., et al 1999. The Dance of Change: The Challenges of Sustaining Momentum in Learning Organizations. New York, Doubleday/Currency.

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