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The Learning Organization

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The 90's are a pivotal time for American Manufacturers. Competitive pressures and recessionary fears have height­ened our sensitivity to the need for change. The question is what do we do first? Shorten the product design time to bring new products to the market ahead of our competitors, or install new systems and philosophies to cause continued improvement and gain control. These are all good things to do, and we should be doing them. The problem here is that our competitors are doing the same. They are staying right on our heels every step of the way. The real competi­tive advantage in today's world market is what sets us and our competitors apart, and that is our organization. It can not be copied, it can not be imitated. Our ability to learn faster than our competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage we have.

From the very beginning of organization structure and design, we have broken apart functions to fragment the world. This apparently makes complex processes more manageable, but we pay a hidden, enormous price. We can no longer see the consequences of our actions; we lose our intrinsic sense of connection to the larger whole and the purpose of our endeavors. When we then try to "see the big picture" we try to reassemble the fragments in our minds to list and organize all the pieces. This is similar to trying to reassemble the fragments of a broken mirror to see a true reflection. After struggling for a time we give up trying to see the whole altogether.

When we give up the illusion that the world is created of separate, unrelated forces we can then build "Learning Organizations," 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 continually learning how to learn together.

This paper will illustrate one approach to the sustained competitive advantage, "The Learning Organization." Through practical examples the author will delve into key topics such as Strategic vs. Tactical Thinking, Organiza­tional Values and Cross-functional Relationships to help explain the problems and provide the audience with a step by step guide to understanding the solutions.
Organizational Definition

Building a Learning Organization means overcoming many political, economic, and cultural problems. Each problem while many faceted, must be attacked as inter-dependent aspects of one dynamic field if success is to be achieved. Our organizations are made up of thousands and thousands of social interactions. These interactions can be categorized in two main areas, one is constructive, the second is destructive. Whichever way the pendulum swings, so goes our business.

To better understand the dynamics involved, let us spend a little time defining a typical American manufacturing organization. The typical organization works in a vertical silo. (See Figure 1.) Information flows vertically in each of the silos. Not willing to share methods, successes, failures, or information with parallel silos. These silos are functions within the same organization. Internal competitive pres­sures are forcing us to duplicate many of our efforts. Maybe not as efficiently, maybe more. The typical managers perception is that if we tell or share, it may impact our performance reviews or promotability. Are these people working for the same company?

Competitive pressures are excellent company motivators, but internal competitive pressures will tear us apart. Internal pressures that force us to launch defensive and offensive attacks within our own organization cause chaos, loss of direction and leadership at all levels of our organi­zation. The process of learning is virtually impossible in this type of environment.

To be Continued

For balance of this article, click on the below link:
Lean Manufacturing Articles and go to Series 02


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