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Learning To Be A Learning Organisation



When Michael Marquardt was interviewed back in 2015 by the Russell Sarder group for their YouTube channel, very much with reference to the release of his book The Learning Organisation, he provided brief explorations of the subsystems that allowed the foundations of his book to fall into place. He acknowledged that when highlighting these points, and areas for which to stress to his readers that he “found five generic areas in which great organisations did things very well.”


He elaborated to explain that when unpicking these areas, he understood that for a learning organisation to be most effective, those five supposedly generic areas “to be integrated seamlessly”. But, what were those areas, that would later be referred to as the five subsystems to a learning organisation? Learning, Organisational, People, Knowledge and Technology.


The first of the five identified subsystems referred to the idea of learning in itself, with Marquardt explaining that “the purpose of the [learning] organisation is more learning than action because if an organisation is not learning the product they’re offering or the service they offer quickly becomes irrelevant or too costly”. In the Learning Subsystem, Marquardt acknowledged that you can learn in multiple ways; there is learning gained from experience, learning gained from planning scenarios in advance, reflective learning and action learning ie learning while doing: “being conscious of what is happening while its happening”.


The second subsystem is referred to as the Organisational Subsystem. This idea refers to “how the organisation itself is structured in its vision and its values. So, a learning organisation is committed to continuous learning, it has strategies that encourage learning so that if you want to have people in your organisation committed to learning you have to reward their learning”. A learning organisation, having placed their values onto learning over anything and everything else has to have the capacity to understand that “actions or results are only short-term, and they do not necessarily continue”, however, if something that has been learned has been internalised by your employees it will be unconsciously implemented consistently on a daily basis. Therefore, demonstrating that the process of learning is of greater significance.


The next is People. In order to have a successful and impactful learning organisation, Marquardt explained that “everyone from the leader, to every employee, the vendors, suppliers, even the community have been involved in the learning organisation because what good is it if you have great leaders and great employees but your supplier is a non-learning organisation, is very slow, very ineffective, poor quality. Or, if your dealers are not able to sell the great product you’ve developed.” The human chain of learners has significant value, because, if there is a disruption in the nature from which the organisation operates, it can cause friction, confusion and misunderstandings on a wider scale. He elaborated further, stressing that “a leader’s most important role is to help the people around him become learners because the more he does that the more the organisation becomes a learning organisation.”


Next was Knowledge. This subsystem referred to being able to retrieve necessary information when necessary; learn from pre-existing information stored, and create opportunities to further your learning and understanding. The most important aspect of storing knowledge is, of course, the subsequent retrieval. It’s like when you hide something important somewhere so well that you cannot remember where you had hidden it; “you need to be able to store knowledge in a way in which people throughout the organisation can find it when they need it.”


The final subsystem was Technology. Marquardt explained that the using technology within a learning organisation derives from two purposes; the first was “to increase the speed and quality of learning of every employee, and every leader in the organisation. Whether it be through mobile learning, internet learning, but whatever way to get learning to be exciting, relevant and valuable.” While the second purpose was administrative, referring to the sheer necessity of managing “all [the] knowledge that is gained and needs to be reacquired and so forth.”


A learning organisation, and an agile workplace are not necessarily that difference; the practice of being a learning organisation does not inherently clash with the principles of agility; meaning you can continue to host scrums and manage your workflow using agile methods such as Kanban without limiting your learning. Better yet, they are arguably rather complimentary, the idea of learning whilst doing, and from past experience certainly is reflected by the means of agile sprints, where after work is completed it is evaluated, to make changes to improve. This compliments the nature of being a learning organisation.



Based in London, U.K., and founded in 2016 by Arvind Mishra The Agile Works (www.TheAgileWorks.com), is an up-and-coming recruitment and Agile consulting company. Arvind is a Certified SAFe SPC and regularly delivers both private and public SAFe certification workshops.


He is a design thinking expert, Sr. enterprise, portfolio Agile Coach with over a decade of experience working as an Agile coach in diverse industries such as banking, pharma, retail, auto, oil, gas, consulting and government.


The Agile Works; a small team of three strive to help shape the leadership's mind-set and values in readiness for their business transformation journey challenges. With Arvind at the helm, we strive to provide you with the agility tools to make your company that can thrive, and not just survive.


To book a consultation, or for any enquiries, you can contact Arvind via the following email address: arvind@theagileworks.com

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