Learning in complex organisations
By: Sharon Varney
If you would like an understanding of how learning really happens in complex organisations and how you can foster learning by creating the right conditions within your organisation – this report is essential reading.
- dominant views on learning only take us so far
- complexity theories help explain how learning really happens
- ‘complexity thinking’ impacts practice
- encouraging transformational learning is about creating the right conditions rather than controlling content
This report does not attempt to simplify the complex; but to explore the real issues faced by developers and managers in complex organisations. It offers some practical insights into what enables and inhibits learning in complex organisations, grounded in the experience of practitioners. Prompted by a personal interest in the subject, much of the narrative tells the tale in the first person and occasionally offers viewpoints shaped and influenced by the author’s experience.
Part 1 seeks to uncover some of the influences on practice with a look at the underpinning theories of learning and complexity. It considers what the dominant views on learning in organisations might be, where they have come from and why they only take us so far. Complexity theories are then introduced and discussed in relation to how they might advance our understanding of learning in complex organisations.
Part 2 explores the themes arising from the enquiry with practitioners. It touches on key questions close to developers’ hearts such as; can we really make a difference? What if the difference we make isn’t a positive one? Could it happen equally well without us? Should we tell people why we do things in the way we do? How different can we be and still be accepted?
Part 3 offers insights into what it might all mean. It considers the developer’s role in fostering learning in complex organisations and outlines a framework for considering practice.
Who is this report for?
This report is for those who are concerned with developing people and organisations. It raises issues about current thinking and practice which are directly relevant to those in HR, Organisational Development (OD) and Learning and Development roles. It may also interest consultants, leaders and managers who are concerned about the limitations of simple cause and effect in explaining how new learning really happens in organisations, or those who feel frustrated with the lack of practical approaches emanating from the complexity literature.