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Sunday, June 6, 2010

Groupware and Organizational Learning

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Groupware and Organizational Learning

By Richard Karash


Today's information technology projects, including Groupware implementation, aren't just systems projects -- they involve a cultural change. Approached narrowly, they will encounter resistance, inertia, and even subterfuge. We need to approach them with the same tools we would apply to organizational culture changes.

Groupware applications have been slow to take-off, despite their obvious benefits of collaboration and sharing. Why should we be surprised? Without computer mediation, it has been hard to get real sharing and collaboration in our organizations, and including technology in the equation may be making things worse, not better. The limiting factor is not technology, but our theories, tools, and methods for achieving major culture change in organizations. In the past few years, the Learning Organization concepts have shed new light on this field. The purpose of this paper is a brief tour of the Learning Organization and what we've learned about the relationship to Groupware.

Groupware is synergistic with the Learning Organization concepts. The principles and disciplines of the Learning Organization can substantially help achieve the change involved in today's technology projects. If Groupware can truly support communication, collaboration, and coordination, then it will play an important enabling role for the Learning Organization.
In this paper, I will follow the definitions and disciplines of the Learning Organization as outlined by Senge and by Nonaka and Takeuchi.

Most of my career has been as a manager in high-tech entrepreneurial organizations, and I am now a practicing organizational consultant. Although I have some technical background, I'm a Groupware user, not a Groupware expert. I don't expect you to accept without challenge anything I say here. But, I do hope that by sharing my experiences and beliefs, and by being a provocateur, this may launch something for some among you who read this.

THE LEARNING ORGANIZATION

What's a Learning Organization?

Senge has defined a Learning Organization in terms of continuous development of knowledge and capacity.[1] He and other researchers have identified disciplines and processes that seem to be associated with building a Learning Organization.

Following Senge, I will use these definitions:
Knowledge: Capacity for effective action.
Learning: Increasing knowledge, that is, increasing capacity for effective action.
Learning Organization: When the organization as a whole and the people who comprise it are continually increasing their capacity to produce the results they really want to produce.

In simple terms, we use learning in the sense of learning to do, not in the sense of knowing things.
A learning organization harnesses the collective intelligence and commitment at all levels of the organization. Although this may seem like motherhood, we still refer to the senior person in a group as the "head," and it was not so long ago that the majority of the people in an organization might be called "hands." Organizations in general have a long way to go before they can truly be called Learning Organizations.

Further Reading:
http://www.kmtalk.net/article.php?story=20041218003150905

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