Organizations That Learn Thrive in the Long Run 

Organizations that learn, change. And organizations that change thrive in the long run. Thus, creating a culture of learning throughout the organization is one of any modern leader’s most important jobs.

A culture of learning creates the conditions in which everyone becomes a change leader. Everyone is growing and evolving, both individually and together. This alleviates the pressure on leaders to “manage change,” and the pressure on employees to react to it. We all know that change can be a difficult thing to manage and lead, and decisions about change can be hard to get right from any one seat, including the driver\’s. But change can happen more easily in an intentional culture of learning and curiosity.

The organizations that sustain their impact over time, especially through volatile and uncertain times, view change as a constant ally, not a periodic adversary. They have figured out ways to make learning a key and necessary part of their culture.

Learning becomes part of everyone’s job

There are many dimensions to creating a culture of learning—from modeling it at the top to making sure team members are getting and giving each other feedback. But one place to start is with acknowledging that learning is part of everyone’s job. There is a shared responsibility between leaders and staff to prioritize learning.

Leaders must model a learning mindset, while creating opportunities and providing important contextual information. At the same time, staff members have a responsibility to remain curious and open to learning, recognizing that owning a broader view and deeper understanding will help them not only to thrive in their own role and contribute to organizational success, but also help to facilitate their own path for advancement within the organization.

When everyone has the expectation of learning and curiosity as part of their day-to-day experience, curiosity and growth mindset becomes something that you look for in hiring, seek to develop through feedback, and constantly encourage. Learning becomes embedded in the fabric of the organization.

One focus of this learning is the organization itself

One particular strand of learning and development that is often overlooked is learning about the organization itself. If we accept the premise that organizations are always changing, then we must also accept that few people (if anyone) will fully understand where the organization really is at any given time. Decisions are often made based on assumptions and dated information. Thus, it’s critical that leaders seeking to create a culture of learning create opportunities to learn about the organization itself in deep and transparent ways.

For example, as Hastings and Meyer describe in No Rules Rules using Netflix as a case study, many organizations want to push decision making throughout the organization and deeper into the org chart. They want to empower staff to make decisions, but they don\’t actually share the information and create the context necessary for them to make good ones.

When staff throughout the organization don’t have the information or context they need, they’re limited in their ability to make sound, strategic decisions. Concretely, this could mean anything from not having the visibility into how the organization is tracking against its key performance metrics so as to best determine where to dedicate time and resources to not knowing the connections between their role and another in order to leverage cooperation and collaboration.

Leaders make learning an explicit goal

Learning becomes an explicit goal when people in the organization come together. This is especially important for larger group sessions such as staff retreats or leadership offsites. The more people that are together (in-person or virtually), the more opportunity there is to learn from each other, and to create shared context.

Unfortunately, organizations often view learning as an insufficient outcome for this kind of resource investment. They want to see more tangible outputs like strategic decisions or concrete next steps. These are important to be sure, but change-savvy organizations recognize that learning is a worthy goal in itself. They make learning a primary ingredient in every offsite, and view it as foundational to team alignment and performance.

The planners of these experiences are responsible for setting up the agenda and content in a way that makes for effective learning. But everyone is part of the process, and everyone shares the responsibility. It’s everyone’s job to show up ready to learn, and ready to teach, and to get as much learning out of the experience as they can.

Learning is foundational to team alignment

At Outside Angle, we work with organizations of all types to help teams navigate change and work together toward strategic organizational goals. We do this by focusing on three objectives: learn, connect, and align. We believe that teams are best equipped to effectively navigate change and work together towards the goals they seek when two things are in place: strong relationships that can weather the challenges of change, and a shared understanding of the organization’s goals and progress towards those goals.

Learning is foundational to team connection and alignment, and is therefore an objective in itself when we work with clients. When designing team retreats or collaborative sessions, learning is often the top priority especially when just embarking on a sequence of team alignment efforts.

Does your team have a culture of learning? Start by making the time and space for individuals to begin learning together.