Guest Columns

Learning organizations: just as relevant today as in the 1990s

Martie L. Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ
Martie L. Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ

In the 1990s, many of us were reading and discussing Peter Senge's work on creating learning organizations. Senge defines them as “organizations where people continually expand their capacity to create the results they truly desire, where new and expansive patterns of thinking are nurtured, where collective aspiration is set free, and where people are continual learning to see the whole together.” 

He wrote “The Fifth Discipline” and introduced the five characteristics seen within a learning organization. Here's a quick refresher:

1. Systems Thinking: The ability to comprehend and address the whole. It's when you can examine the interrelationship between the parts and provide clarity on both upstream and downstream effects.

2. Personal Mastery: Organizations learn only through individuals who learn. People with a high degree of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode.

3. Mental Models: Mental models are assumptions held by individuals and organizations. These models influence decisions and values within organizations. Learning organizations have to work on replacing conventional attitudes with open, fluid thinking and discussions. 

4. Shared Vision: Shared visioning creates the “why” behind learning and helps to motivate all team members to be engaged in their development as a learner.

5. Team Learning: Team learning is the accumulation of individual learning where organization improvement comes more efficiently and in a richer manner than individual learning and application. 

The five characteristics are as relevant to today's leadership as it was decades ago. In navigating through the complexity of changing models of care, payment restructuring, narrowing networks and workforce demographics, Senge hit upon crucial foundations that need to be acted upon by leadership.

Organizations must continually move forward in learning and put learnings into action to advance quality, safety and excellence — the same premise of today's new reimbursement systems based on value.

Medline, for example, supports organizations looking to empower and develop staff through Medline University. Here, healthcare providers can access free, online continuing education courses day or night. Education that can ultimately help improve the delivery of patient care.

Now more than ever, creating a learning organization is smart strategy by leaders.

Reference source: Senge, P.M. 1990. “The Fifth Discipline.” London: Century Business.

Senge, P. M. (1990). The art and practice of the learning organization. The new paradigm in business: Emerging strategies for leadership and organizational change, 126-138.

Fulmer, Robert M., Keys, J. Bernard. (1998). “A Conversation with Peter Senge: New Developments in Organizational Learning Organizational Dynamics,” 27 (2), 33-42.

Martie Moore, RN, MAOM, CPHQ is the chief nursing officer at Medline Industries Inc. and a corporate advisory council member for the National Pressure Ulcer Advisory Panel.

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