بازاندیشی یادگیری سازمانی: تجزیه و تحلیل فرایند یادگیری طراحان سیستم اطلاعات
|کد مقاله||سال انتشار||مقاله انگلیسی||ترجمه فارسی||تعداد کلمات|
|3809||2000||9 صفحه PDF||سفارش دهید||محاسبه نشده|
Publisher : Elsevier - Science Direct (الزویر - ساینس دایرکت)
Journal : Accounting, Management and Information Technologies, Volume 10, Issue 2, April 2000, Pages 81–99
This paper introduces an alternative perspective on organizational learning that counters various assumptions within most of the writings on organizational learning. By posing who, how, when and why questions while reviewing the literature, four biases within the literature on organizational learning are identified. These biases concern respectively an individual learning bias, an active agency bias, a purposeful learning bias and an improvement bias. These hidden assumptions ensure that most literature tends to lean unnecessarily in certain directions, while overlooking others. The paper proposes several ways to counter these biases. A case story concerning the learning of old and new routines used by information systems designers is presented to illustrate the proposed alternative approaches to analyze organizational learning.
The variety of ways to conceptualize organizational learning has produced an ‘organizational learning jungle’ that is getting more and more dense and impenetrable (Prange, 1998). Judging by the still-increasing amount of interest evidenced, for example, by special issues devoted to organizational learning (e.g., Organization Science, 1991, 2(1); Accounting, Management and Information Technology, 1995; Journal of Organizational Change Management, 1996; and Organizational Studies, 1996), there seems to be a need to organize and structure our thinking concerning the concept. This paper too can be seen as a contribution to structure the jungle by analyzing critically the way organizational learning researchers approach the subject and proposing an alternative way of analyzing organizational learning. Theories on organizational learning should provide answers to or at least suggest ideas to the following related questions: ‘Who learns?’, ‘How do they learn?’, ‘When do they learn?’ and ‘Why do they learn?’ Reviewing the literature with these questions in mind confirms earlier findings that there exist many different viewpoints on the subject (e.g., Dodgson, 1993; Levitt & March, 1988, Huber, 1991; Fiol & Lyles, 1985; Thatchenkery, 1996). More important for the present study is that posing these questions also shows that these contributions to the field of organizational learning are in various respects biased. The biases concern hidden ideas and assumptions behind many writings on organizational learning.1 As a result of these biases, the received theories on organizational learning lean unnecessarily in certain directions while overlooking others. By analyzing ways they answer the who, how, when and why questions, we have identified four biases of organizational learning researchers.2 In this paper we attempt to indicate how these biases could be balanced. A case story is introduced providing an example of an alternative approach to learning. The case story concerns various learning processes that took place at an information system design department at the Netherlands Railways. The purpose of presenting the story is to illustrate how the concept of organizational learning can be approached from a more balanced perspective. In a way, this paper can be considered an attempt to deconstruct writings on organizational learning. Deconstruction is an activity that has become popular with the work of Jacques Derrida. Derrida's object in deconstruction is to reveal the ambivalence and double binds that lie latent in any text (Cooper, 1989). Surely, Derrida's deconstruction of texts is in many aspects different from the present effort to identify biases. Most importantly, different from the present effort, Derrida is not criticizing a text nor is he interpreting it. After all, criticizing and interpreting a text means that one uses an already existing framework, which serves to analyze the texts. In other words, although the attempt is made to free the case story from the four biases identified, every attempt to analyze the literature on organizational learning is based on one or more assumptions, and this present approach is no exception. Consequently, before starting the discussion on the identified biases, we need to be clear about our own assumptions that lie behind the present text. The alternative approach to organizational learning proposed in this paper has some similarities with an emerging perspective that might be labeled ‘interactionist’ (Elkjaer, 1998) or ‘social constructivist’ (Richter, 1996). This alternative perspective can be seen as the counterpart of the dominant managerial perspective on organizational learning. Such a managerial perspective has a normative character, informing managers how organizations could and should learn (Elkjaer, 1998). The managerial perspective sees learning as valuable since it helps organizations to increase their efficiency and competitiveness. The origins of the perspective can mainly be found in organizational development theories, theories on strategic management and systems theory (Huysman, 1999). An alternative perspective looks at learning as it takes place in situ, situated in ongoing practices within organizations. The perspective is mainly descriptive while it predominantly originates from organizational sociology and cultural anthropology. Although such an alternative perspective has not (yet) been crystallized out, the impression is that it is gaining increased acceptance among researchers. We hope this paper will contribute to the development of an alternative approach to organizational learning, or at least to a rethinking of the way organizational learning is approached in general.
نتیجه گیری انگلیسی
In this section I shall discuss how the story provides empirical examples of challenging the four identified biases. In short, the story provides illustrations of an approach to learning that relaxes • the individual action bias by perceiving learning from a cultural perspective; • the active agency bias by perceiving learning as influenced by history, by issues of power and by mutual learning processes; • the purposeful learning bias by acknowledging unnoticed and unintended learning processes; and • the improvement bias by illustrating learning processes that did not result in organizational improvement and intelligence. In Section 2 it was argued that the individual learning bias could be balanced by approaching organizational learning from a cultural perspective. The case story illustrates how the culture of a department was reaffirmed through learning. The case analysis exemplifies organizational learning as a collective rather than an individual activity. Organizational knowledge, such as shared meanings, values and beliefs, comes about and is maintained through interactions among members of the organization. Mostly this knowledge is shared through artifacts of the organizational culture and is often implicit: stories, languages, routines, etc. The knowledge of the group of information system designers did not reside in individual designers but in the group of designers. Because this knowledge has over the years become deeply embedded in the practices of the designers, the group of practitioners has created a shared culture that cannot be reduced to a cumulation of individual characteristics. The case also illustrates the difficulty of changing a group culture and consequently the problem organizations face with re-formation, re-organization, or re-structuring through learning. Although the new group of information system designers was able potentially to change the organization into a new direction, the newcomers were unable to change the existing culture of the group of old-timers. Thus, besides perceiving culture as a result of learning, culture might also influence subsequent learning processes. To put it differently, culture is past learning and this past learning simultaneously affects future learning. The existing culture of the organization under study heavily influenced the way, for example, old-timers adapted to the new knowledge that was introduced by the newcomers. Over time, this learning created a situation in which the department under study consisted of two almost separate cultures. The story exemplifies processes of socialization of newcomers and internalization of the organization as learning processes. Newcomers learned from the organization while the organization learned from the newcomers (see also Cook & Yanow, 1993; March, 1991). Balancing the active agency bias is needed to relax the assumption that individuals and organizations are free in choosing how, when and what to learn. The case provides various illustrations of how various deterministic forces that frustrated a picture of learning as a rational engineering activity influenced the learning of the department. First of all is the influence of the past, which characterized the routine, path-dependent character of the learning at the Netherlands Railways. Past learning of the old-timers, for example, influenced for a large part the way the old-timers learned during the time of research. Without comprehending their past learning, it would have been difficult to understand their present learning. For example, old-timers learned in the past a certain way of relating to managers that had been part of the traditional culture at the railways. These past experiences made it difficult for them to cope with a new manager who almost insisted in their active participation in managerial issues. Secondly is the power of dominant coalitions in influencing what knowledge will or will not be or remain organizational knowledge. At the Netherlands Railways, old-timers including management acted as important gatekeepers of knowledge. For example, newcomers propagated to the old-timers to communicate more frequently with users, to make use of standard design methodology, to write up end reports and to use ‘walk-throughs’. Old-timers, however, did not see any reason to learn from the newcomers. Backed up by management, they had the power to neglect the new knowledge. Thirdly is the power of institutional forces. When the environment of the organization is seen as an institutionalized one, the reform attempts to commercialize the railways can be seen as a forced learning process. In fact, by reforming its operations, the Netherlands Railways adapted practices that were considered ‘modern’ at that time. In the 1970s, for example, many reforms were aimed at making organizations more democratic and decentralized and so did the Netherlands Railways. During the 80s and 90s, this normative framework changed radically: the focus switched to efficiency and “the model for attempts at reorganizing the public sector was an idealized picture of private enterprise. The aim of most reform attempts was to improve efficiency by adapting to market forces and encouraging competition” (Brunsson & Olsen, 1993, p. 10). Likewise, during the beginning of the 90s, the Netherlands Railways was influenced by other organizations — mainly through the intervention of the Government as ‘owner’ of the company — to become a more commercial-oriented organization. The hiring of external consultants, who introduced models of commercialized organizations which they also used when consulting other public organizations that were changing into a commercial company, further triggered this. In a way, the organization was forced by its institutional environment to reorganize and to learn new organizational principles. Another way to challenge the active agency perspective is to attend to the reciprocity between two or more learning units. This ‘mutual learning’ happened at the Netherlands Railways between the group of old-timers and the group of newcomers. In fact, the story illustrates that this ‘mutual learning’ may encourage either convergent or divergent mutual learning processes. In its extreme form, convergent mutual learning involves learners adapting to each other such that they draw closer to each other until they are identical. During divergent mutual learning reinforcement of dissimilarities occurs. Instead of dissolving differences between the various learning units, the differences will be sharpened. Over time, the learning units draw apart from each other. Again, the rate of learning of the learning units influences this process. The mutual learning that occurred among the two groups of system designers can be typified as ‘imbalanced mutual learning’. The old-timers did not seem to learn as much from the newcomers as the newcomers learned from the old-timers. In other words, because some of the newcomers acted as quick learners while the old-timers acted as slow learners, unbalanced convergent learning occurred (March, 1991). The case story was also free from a purposeful learning bias. The story shows that learning is not necessarily a planned endeavor and that the organization was mostly not aware of the occurrence of these learning processes. The story provides descriptions of learning processes that evolved over the last 10 years. Sometimes learning was planned for, for example as was the case with the inquiries among the users of the information systems. Learning processes may also be unplanned and/or unnoticed which was the case, for example, with the mutual learning processes that occurred among the newcomers versus the old-timers. Because individuals are often so much integrated in their day-to-day context, they can become blind to changes at the level of the group or organization that their actions bring about (e.g., Ciborra & Lanzara, 1994). Often awareness may prevent the organization from negatively valued outcomes of learning. For example, one can argue, on hindsight, that if the organization had been aware of the introduction of new knowledge being introduced by newcomers, the occurrence of many problems and reform attempts might have been prevented. Unintentional learning not always results in inefficiencies. Although this clearly seemed the case at the Netherlands Railways, Ciborra and Lanzara (1994) for example illustrated empirically how unplanned learning may indeed foster innovation and change. As mentioned, approaching learning as a process rather than an achievement can challenge the improvement bias. The discussion up until now implicitly revealed the consequences of studying learning as a process. In fact, the story illustrates several inefficiencies as an outcome of learning, both as a result of being unnoticed as well as a result of institutional forces. For example, the learning among the group of old-timers can be considered as ‘narcistic’. As a group, old-timers were not triggered to adjust to new occupational routines newcomers tried to introduce within the organization. As a result, learning happened within existing cognitive frameworks, overlooking potentially valuable knowledge that did not confirm to these frameworks. Most strikingly perhaps is the negligence of feedback signals from the side of the department manager. Although there were various signals made by the customers who pointed to a discontention, management failed to take these signals into account. It is not the purpose of this paper to unravel these and much other inefficiency in order to understand the underlying dynamics of learning processes that constitute them. What the story in terms of this present paper illustrates is that by approaching learning as a process instead of as an achievement, its complicated nature might reach the surface.