Learning Circles for Vigorous Learning Organizations

We have been advocating Vigorous Learning Organizations (VLO) for some time. “Vigorous” denotes learning by doing, which is done using systems for learning by experience, developing emotional control, not just skills. Vigorous learning is the essence of a well-honed organizational system for approaching problems, both great and small, by a new worldview. If widely adopted, it could supersede prevailing methods of human organization.

Figure 1

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Figure 1 is an oversimplified view of the practices and characteristics of a VLO. “Learning Circles” (not in the figure) are the connectors making VLO techniques come alive.

But why do this? Our old ways are not up to 21st century challenges; that’s why. The reasoning for this statement is here.

Transformation into a Vigorous Learning Organization is not quick. Few of us can transform into something else quickly. But it is possible. The characteristics in Figure 1 have been observed in the best companies on the planet, practiced by real people. We think that they can be adapted to working organizations like communities, non-profits, and governments. The key is a transformative leader, willing and able to transform an organization of people from one thing into another, a cultural and behavioral transformation, beyond mere financial or organizational restructuring.

But how can you too, as a transformative leader, begin? Form a learning circle of 4-10 people and progress in stages, thinking as you go. There is no cookie cutter recipe. Progress depends on how fast participants, including the leader, develop. In an ongoing organization, other initiatives may be occurring simultaneously, but transformation for learning is key, and should have priority.

Figure 2. Developing Vigorous Learning Organizations (VLO) from Learning Circles

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*Consequentees: An archaic term meaning anyone or anything affected, a meaning broader in scope than “stakeholders.” 

In each phase, rules of engagement should thwart individuals who feel, for whatever reasons, compelled to dominate a group. The leader has to make this clear to dominant souls, mentoring them through their frustrations between meetings. The meeting rules, plus mentoring should also draw shy people into speaking up.

Pace the advance so that people become accustomed to tighter discipline in each phase, but once started, keep the momentum going.

The intent of VLO development is to cultivate a superior human system for recognizing and resolving problems. We learn to think and communicate differently through practice, and by behaving differently, most of us begin to alter some deep beliefs that trap us in endless gridlock, unending conflict, and pursuit of vain ambitions.

If people change what they do, in time they learn to understand why, opening to a bigger picture of their world. When “lean” or “quality” is created through deep human development, not regarded as just implementing new procedures, people change, not just processes. And the leaders change too. VLO is similar, but with a much bigger transformation in mind.

At peak proficiency a Vigorous Learning Organization (VLO) learns as a unit, considering the needs of all stakeholders, or “consequentees” (everything affected), including the environment. The organization has a lot of interlocking, interacting learning circles, and the operating control system is less by hierarchy than by the disciplinary rules of the learning system.

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