A procedural model for developing learning cultures in practice

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In an earlier article, I pointed out what learning culture is and why this topic is becoming more and more important in the course of agility. At this point, I would like to discuss how these findings can be used in practice in order to shape and influence the development of learning cultures in practice. In this article, I will present a procedure model that can be flexibly adapted to the specific needs of an organization. In a later contribution, I will present a concrete example of how Swiss Post used this model to develop the learning culture for the purpose of increasing agility.

Development of learning culture from an understanding description

As already mentioned in the above-mentioned article, established cultural experts assume a dynamic cultural approach (cf. JENERT 2011; SACKMANN 1991; SCHEIN 1997). This understanding does not understand learning culture as a bundle of variables that can be changed at will; however, in contrast to the metaphors approach, the learning culture is at least regarded as capable of being influenced (GEBHARDT 2012, p. 25). The development of learning cultures in this widespread dynamic cultural approach is therefore based on an understanding description, in which the context is included and then influenced in a normative direction. The figure below illustrates the two aspects of learning culture development: On the one hand, a (normatively desirable) orientation or direction is required and on the other hand, an understandable description of the (learning culture) context as a basis for development.

Figure 1: Development of learning culture from an understanding description (own illustration)


Framework of reference for the development of learning cultures

The orientation (represented symbolically as a compass in the illustration) depends on the purpose of learning culture development. Depending on which goals are pursued with the development of learning cultures, a different „compass“ is needed at this point. This can be an existing, scientifically established construct such as the learning culture model of WATKINS/MARSICK (1999) for the design of a learning organization, the learning culture inventory of SONNTAG (2004) to increase the importance of learning culture in an organization or also a self-development with organization-specific purpose. When choosing the instrument, it is important that it is not understood as an absolute truth, but as a basis for discussion and reflection. It should point the way, but not be deterministic. The dynamic cultural approach assumes that cultures are collectivized – i. e. group-specific – behavioural patterns. Functionalistic variable models can therefore neither comprehensively nor specifically depict the learning culture in this way. Not to mention the fact that they are already in a position to prescribe effective measures. It is therefore necessary that such models should be used more as a guide. This can then be supplemented with a construct that promotes the understanding description. I have already presented an example of this in a previous article. The aim of this construct (cf. Figure 2) is to adequately understand the context of learning culture development in order to derive group-specific measures that can ultimately become effective with the aid of the orientation model.


Figure 2: Learning culture construct for an understandable description (own illustration based on SACKMANN 1991; SCHEIN 1997; SCHILLING/KLUGE 2004)


Conversion of the reference framework into a procedure model for practice

The interesting question for practice will now be how this reference framework can be transformed into a procedural model. Initial pilot trials with Swiss Post’s team have shown that the comprehensible description for practical use can be made relatively pragmatic. The procedure model below (see Figure 3) shows how the reference framework can be used as the basis for a team development workshop. At the end of a two-hour workshop, this results in an overview of team-specific and team-relevant fields of action that refer to the organization-specific orientation (cf. Figure 1).


Figure 3: Procedure model for learning culture development practice (own illustration)


Reflection instrument as a central element for self-organised learning culture development

The fields of action developed in the workshop, taking into account the reference framework (cf. Figure 2), will require concrete measures to be developed. Depending on how many team workshops with the same orientation model are conducted in a comparable context, it is becoming increasingly easier to develop appropriate measures. However, the development of such team-specific catalogs of measures is rarely sufficient to ensure that their implementation in the daily operational hectic pace is sustainable. For this reason, Swiss Post’s use of a reflection tool has proved its worth in working with Swiss Post’s teams (see Fig. 4). The basic idea of this instrument is that the team regularly exchanges views on where the collective stands in the agreed learning culture development process and which aspects need to be improved together. It is important that not only discussions are held, but that effective measures are also agreed in the team at the end of the reflection. Either concrete immediate measures (e. g. we share our experiences in the team meeting from now on) or the agreement as to when and how something is worked out specifically (e. g. we will meet next week to develop a practical system for exchanging experiences).

Figure 4: Reflection instrument for the sustainable development of learning cultures (own illustration)



The development of learning cultures in the established dynamic cultural approach thus succeeds with an understandable description. This requires two frames of reference. On the one hand, it is a construct that determines the orientation. This orientation is derived from the (normative) purpose for which organisation-specific learning culture development is to serve. On the other hand, a construct for a deeper understanding of the team-specific learning culture. The construct shown in Figure 2 can be used for this purpose. These two reference frameworks can now be used, for example, in a team workshop as a basis for working out team-specific and team-relevant fields of action for the development of learning cultures in a short period of time. Based on these fields of action, concrete measures must then be developed. A reflective instrument (cf. Figure 4) supports the development of learning cultures in a sustainable and self-organized manner despite the hectic pace of day-to-day operations.





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