Fifth Discipline of Learning Organisations

Discipline #5 of 5 – Systems Thinking

Systems thinking is the means for integrating the other four learning disciplines (personal mastery, mental models, shared vision and team learning)

We tend to think of organisations as being more like machines than living systems. We speak of “running the organisation”, “owners of the business” and leaders who “drive change”. The language is appropriate for a car.

However, it becomes problematic when people are involved. If you try to “drive” your partner or your children – your force will be met an at least equal and opposite resistance.

Dee Hock (former CEO of Visa) wrote that in nature “order continually emerges from seeming chaos, while in management we always try to impose order because we fear that chaos will take over”.

Learning as fast (and ideally faster) than the pace of change is essential to organisational sustainability. Learning at this pace cannot be done through traditional top-down approaches. Equally learning needs some structure and method to avoid total chaos.

Nature points towards basic methods that work such as sensing patterns, recombining ideas into a new “mutation” and being open to feedback. Systems mapping, pattern analysis, experimentation, collaboration, and dialogue are their organisational equivalents.

Systems thinking enables us to see patterns more clearly so that we can “learn how to learn” to change the system.

Discipline #1 of Learning Organisations – Personal Mastery

Discipline #2 of Learning Organisations – Mental Models

Discipline #3 of Learning Organisations – Shared Vision

Discipline #4 of Learning Organisations – Team Learning

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This series on the 5 Disciplines of Learning Organisations is inspired by a number of resources not least Peter Senge’s The Fifth Discipline (2006) and Seth Godin’s The Practice (2020)

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