Drawing the Learning Organization

Dear Dave,

My wife, Marie-Clare, and I decided to read The Connected Company together and have our own little discussion group.  She’s a training and communication specialist in human resources.  I’m an academic department chair.   This morning, we were talking about the first couple of chapters, and I began to sketch out my understanding of what a connected organization might look like.

Here’s the first sketch I made as we were talking.

Learning Notecard First

And the second one just after we finished our discussion.

Second Sketch

Because we work for a university, I was trying to think of what a “connected learning” organization might look like.  I realize that’s probably redundant.

Learning Organization xy

So yeah, I began with multi-variable chart.

Learning Organization xy  with flexible

And I was thinking of the vertical axis representing the degree to which a company can be flexible in understanding and responding to the needs of its customers (and employees or students).  I thought originally this would be called something like “responsiveness,” but Marie-Clare rightly identified it as the organizational structure or company hierarchy.

Learning Organization 3

And then I was thinking about the degree to which it might be too rigid in its organizational structure or bureaucracy to understand or respond effectively.

On the horizontal axis, I was thinking of the available resources a company employs, such as its people, materials, equipment, and financial assets.

Learning Organization 4

In the worst of situations, we experience the inability to hire and replace personnel or we don’t have access to the resources we need to manufacture or serve our customers effectively, or even to invest in new projects.

Learning Organization 5

At the other end of the resources spectrum, we are fluid, not only in the sense that we have the resources we need, but that we can easily access the resources we need for the customers we want or as customer needs change.

Learning Organization 6

Then I began to think about the quadrants on this chart and what might be located within those relationships.

Learning Organization 7

I was thinking about the emotional effects on employees when working in a company with the lack of resources it needs and an organizational structure unable to serve itself and its customers.

Learning Organization 8

On the opposite end of that emotional spectrum would be the feelings we might have when working for a responsive organization with the resources to fulfill its vision, mission, and strategic goals.

But what about those other two quadrants?

Learning Organization 9

I would think it would have to be quite frustrating if an organization has a flexible structure but no resources to fulfill its objectives.  But if the organization is working to gain the resources necessary, leadership would have the opportunity to point to the courage necessary to follow the company’s strategy, to speak hopefully about the potential for new engagement with customers, and the new opportunities and freedoms that would come with success.

Learning Organization

In the final quadrant is a reminder that even though resources may be plentiful, a rigid organizational structure can result in stagnation via unresponsiveness to customer needs, as well as the resulting decline in revenue, leading eventually perhaps to further oppressive rigidity, fear, despair, and isolation from its customers.

I’m guessing, Dave, you’ve probably thought of all of this before, or perhaps you’ll be talking more about these ideas and the emotional terrain in chapters to come.  But I just wanted to share how your book has prompted our thinking so far here in West Texas about the responsiveness of learning organizations.  (In addition, because any family or relationship might be considered a learning organization, it’s possible this visual might also be applied to those as well.  Marriage, for example.)

Onward in kindness,