Learning is a key capability for adaptive organisations

Uncertainty. Dynamic markets. Radically changing environment. At the latest a year ago, when the first Lockdown started, we all learned the real meaning of these terms. But what makes the difference between companies that were able to act fast and companies that didn’t? Companies with a learning culture managed to connect the knowledge of their employees, get them communicating and come up with creative solutions. Learning is a key capability for agile organizations.

Let me tell you our improuv story. We are an agile coaching and training company and from one day to the next, my colleagues and I traded flip charts and pens for Zoom sessions and Miro boards. Proven formats to build trusting relationships suddenly no longer worked. Face-to-face training in a live-online format? What would have been unthinkable a few weeks earlier was suddenly the ‘new normal’. In less than 2 weeks we had rebuilt the first trainings and gained first experiences that we could share within the company. We had set up a daily standup for the whole company and an office zoom channel that was online all day long. Only one month later we were able to conduct all our trainings and coachings live online.

The ability to learn and to communicate needs to be built up during normal times and become part of your company’s DNA. Only then you can react fast in times of crisis. Only then you can shape markets and drive innovation.

How do we learn?

The exciting question now is: how can a company leverage and synthesize the knowledge of its employees and make it accessible to the whole organization?

For each and every one of us, it’s pretty clear how, when and where we learn. Starting with our first breath, we soon attend school, apprenticeship, university. Lifelong learning accompanies our professional life. This means conferences, meetups, training courses. And infinite knowledge in books, podcasts, videocasts, blogs that is growing faster than any human can digest.

Nonaka, a Japanese organizational theorist, developed the SECI model to explain how teams and organizations learn. It summarizes organizational knowledge creation as an upward “spiral process” that begins at the level of the individual, continues at the team level and then spreads throughout the entire organization.


The SECI Model describes four different forms of knowledge transformation that occur continuously and can be described with the image of a knowledge spiral: Implicit knowledge is transferred between individuals through socialization processes, externalized in work groups, combined with more explicit knowledge, and internalized again by the individual.

Nonaka claims that knowledge creation is only possible in a specific environment and with shared context – “Ba”. “Ba” describes an environment (both physical and virtual) in which a common understanding of facts can arise in a climate of mutual recognition and safe space. It allows constructive discussions that finally create knowledge and innovation.

Does this sound familiar to you? Right – Scrum is based on an earlier article by Nonaka and Takeuchi (1986) ‘The new new product development game’. A great example of such a safe space full of energy can be retrospectives or communities of practice and the Scrum Team itself.

Our approach to foster organizational learning

The increasingly popular concept of a learning journey combines the “SECI” model, Ba and agile training and coaching expertise into a program for strategic people development.

Within a learning journey we combine both aspects of learning: knowledge transfer to individuals and knowledge creation within an organization.

The idea for the learning journeys itself emerged from a German community of leading companies that focuses on agile transformations. Our approach addresses their need for strategic people development.

With the learning journey we create an energetic learning environment “Ba” and fill it with input and experience.

Based on the set of agile roles – Agile Leader, Product Owner, Team Facilitator – there is a specific learning journey for each role that covers the required skill sets as learning objectives. We suggest a set of learning objectives that can be adjusted to specific company needs throughout the journey.

The learning journey itself is organized in peer groups. Each knowledge input – we are talking of modules here – is first experienced and discussed in a safe space within a workshop setting, webinar or impulse session. Afterwards, the journey participants can define experiments they try out in their everyday work. We offer mentoring sessions to accompany the experiments. Within the peer group, the experiences are shared and evaluated, improvements are developed. In this way, we create direct learning experiences in everyday work and enable learning in the peer group.

How does learning become part of our culture?

It is one of the most important tasks of Agile Coaches and Agile Leaders to provide the space where learning and growth can happen. Through an appropriate Growth Mindset, suitable structures and strategic decisions, it is possible to develop an organization in that direction. A great example of how this can work successfully is the new Microsoft with CEO Satya Nadella. At the heart of his philosophy is a cultural transformation of the company to strengthen its spirit of innovation. Growth mindset – that’s what the core of the new dynamic learning culture is called.

“Be passionate and bold. Always keep learning. You stop doing useful things if you don’t learn.” (Satya Nadella)

Culture hacks for more learning in your organization

Here are three culture hacks that push learning within your organization.

Hack #1

Get rid of your training budget! You want your company to learn? Then make it as easy as possible for everyone. Open up the room and you will be surprised by the ideas that arise and that you would never have thought of yourself.

Hack #2

Start with teams first.

Teams are the smallest unit for organizational learning, the next levels build on it.

Hack #3

Get new perspectives from outside.

Organize an event on your topic of interest. Invite guests from another industry and companies. Dare to look beyond your company’s boundaries.

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