Learning Organizations & TQM LO5476

Fri, 9 Feb 1996 09:54:31 -0500

Replying to LO5414 --

In a message dated 96-02-08 22:21:53 EST, you write:

> I'm curious as to how practitioners and academics feel about
> this. Do you view LO as an extension of TQM? As a retooled version of
> TQM? Are they two separate entities that shall never cross paths? Or,
> can they exist together? Another possibility, many TQM efforts fail
> because the organizational culture is not adequately addressed, or
> companies are not willing to wait for the long term investment a
> cultural change takes. The Learning Organization philosophy seems to
> focus more heavily on culture. Is this a "lessons learned" item from
> TQM? Thanks in advance for your assistance.

I want to introduce myself and make a comment about the relationship
between learning organizations and total quality management. I am a
partner in a small consulting and training firm that helps organizations
strategize and reorganize to effectively respond to market challenges.
Central to our practice has been a focus on systems, on organizational
design and on helping people work effectively together. I have been
"lurking" for a while and have found some of the discussions extremely
interesting. And I have enjoyed the mix of "outside" people -both
academic and practitioners and "inside" people- both internal consultants
and people to do the real work. Lots of good perspectives.

When the interest in TQM began some years ago, we were pleased to see how
"scientific" approach enhanced understanding of systems and processes.We
were pleased to have a "left brain language" to help people understand the
inter-relationships of their functions and activities and by extension the
challenge and power of cross-boundary work. We were also pleased to see a
greater emphasis on teams and group dynamics.

However, many organizations failed to provide a context for this part of
Quality. Missing was the awareness of TQM as a powerful change method,
the required involvement of senior management, the ability to understand a
current system in order to improve or radically redesign it, the changes
required in recognitions, rewards, policies, procedures, ways of managing,
ways of thinking, and ways of being. Much of TQM was presented in terms of
tools and much of the team focus was on methodologies.

I don't know if others are intrigued by the discussions about how TQM and
LO's connect. I think some of us saw the connections early on When we
worked with clients to identify critical processes and to flow chart
systems, their awareness of the interconnectivity immediately increased.
As many of you have pointed out in this forum and in other settings, the
interconnectivity heightened awareness of boundaries and silos and in
those organizations poorly equipped to address these issues, TQM died or
was limited to improvement methodology in functional units.

Secondly, teams without interpersonal process skills tended to be bumpy
and tasks poorly completed and those organizations without the resources
in group dynamics also tended to abandon TQM. Often team learning was not
made overt and transfer of learning was less than optimal. Lots of
repetition, not enough coordination, and not enough building upon others
learning and discovery.

Many of the core principles of TQM and of LO's emerge from similar roots,
e.g. OD theory, Adult Learning theory, Change Theory, Group Dynamics,
Communication theory, the works of Bennis, Benne, Chin, Knowles, Argyris,
Schein, Bales, Kolb, (I'd better stop the list right now before we all
begin to focus on who is on and who is not- but you get the idea). We
package and re-package and often fail to integrate. The packaging may be
good for those of us who make our living as external consultants and need
to create a distinctive market niche, but ultimately it may short change
our clients. We create mental models that categorize various approaches as
"au courant" or "passe" rather than building on the best of all the
learning in our field.

Much of the major contributions of those who focus on Learning
Organizations is in making overt ONCE AGAIN some VERY IMPORTANT key
concepts and approaches coupled with some VERY HELPFUL methodology.

Parenthetically, do you think that when companies realize that a
transition to a true learning organization is in fact a significant
organizational change, they will begin to demonstrate the same resistance
and lack of follow through that we have seen in the quality movement?

Deborah Heller
Box 1567
Brookline, MA 02146
phone 617-734-7604---fax 617 734-9320--email Deborah 120@aol.com


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