Organization of a LO LO7536

David J. Skyrme (
Wed, 22 May 1996 08:23:57 +0100

Replying to LO7433 --

Michael McMaster asked
>>What is the "organisation" of the learning organisation.
to which we have had a few interesting replies. Only William Hobler (as far
as I can see) looks at the design and structural aspects (vs. the
behavioural ones).

First he makes an assumption that the organisation is more than 400
people? Why 400? Is this because this is the number now generally agreed
to be those that can communicate effectively within a single building? I
would put no assumption. The shift is towards networks of smaller

He also says
>I think that this is not radically different from many organizations
>today. There may be a move away from the bureaucracy, but I think that
>elimination of it is at least several generations away.

I think you mean hierarchy, not bureaucracy. The positive side of
bureaucracy (coming from the derivation of the word) is the explicitness
of some procedures (vs. the tacit knowledge often used in practice). In
future this explicitness may well come from workflow software (for
routinised type of work). I personally believe organisations can thrive
without hierarchy - or at least a single dominant one - you are likely to
have weak hierarchies of function within project teams e.g. the lead
designer, the group PR spokesperson, but the team must still function when
the normal function leader is away.

My approach to the organisation design (and its more likely to be self
designed) would be from a systems perspective. Any organisation needs
certain 'systems' in place, but a learning organsiation should be giving
greater emphasis to some of these systems, such as environment sensing,
capability matching and development, know-how sharing. These are the
systems that assist in the aquisition and development of the collective
knowledge. Therefore if one takes a systems view (as many successful
companies - particularly in information intensive industries such as
banking and transport seem to be doing) then a learning organisation
should create oppportunities for human interaction and learning that are
part of these systems. One thinks of network and neural metaphors - and
the aspects of these that traditional organisations do not effectively
address are

- effective nodes (small multifunction, self managed work teams)
- effective links (the 'gatekeeper', networker - whose activity is mostly
process not output - and therefore tends to be undervalued)
- effective opportunities for interaction - hence the belated emphasis on
office designs that are not closed offices and 'hutches'.
- effective organisation 'memories'

The detailed structure will depends very much on factors such as nature of
tasks (routine non-routine), level of skills, individual characteristics
(some people like structure, others thrive in ambiguity).

So my overall conclusion is that there is no best design, but that a
systems perspective is a good one to start with.

David J. Skyrme Tel/Fax: +44 1635 551434
David Skyrme Associates Limited Newbury, Berks, England
a member of the ENTOVATION Network
Spring Newsletter - Knowledge Management, Web Guidelines etc.

-- (David J. Skyrme)

Learning-org -- An Internet Dialog on Learning Organizations For info: <> -or- <>