Unlike industries of the past that relied upon great stores of resources like coal, iron, timber, or oil for its wealth, the technology industry relies upon the resources in between our ears.
Our skills, our ideas, and most of all our ability to increase them through learning determine which of our companies will innovate and succeed.
This is why Container Solutions aspires to be a learning organisation—and why, if your company is serious about a Cloud Native transformation, you need to become a learning organisation, too.
A learning organisation is one that experiments, adapts its behaviour to fit new knowledge, and shares what it has learned.
Such as organisation can more easily adapt to future situations and potential risk. It supports the creativity and experimentation that people need to do their work well. It’s what the Cloud Native way of thinking is all about.
The concept of the learning organization has been around for roughly three decades. In 1990, Peter Senge, a systems scientist, published ‘The Fifth Discipline’, which explored the concept.
His idea was based around a vision of an organisation made up of employees skilled at creating, acquiring, and transferring knowledge. Its employees, wrote Senge, now a senior lecturer at MIT, would be able to transfer the knowledge they gained into new behaviours and practices.
Such learning organisations, Senge argued, would be able to adapt to the unpredictable more quickly than their competitors could. His vision was elaborated on by David Garvin and Amy Edmondson, who researched the learning organisation in more depth, creating development toolkits and means for measurements.
So far, only a few companies have been able to fully become learning organisations. And this is partly our fault: We’ve focused too much on describing the forest, and not enough on the trees. We haven’t given people enough tools and guidelines for reaching the goal.
Organisations that aspire to be Cloud Native need to become learning organisations, in order to keep building their knowledge of the new technology’s possibilities, and in order to adapt quickly to what comes next. Here are some of the building blocks of a learning organisation:
A supportive learning environment. This consists of psychological safety (I’ll get to this later), openness to each other's ideas, appreciation of difference, and time for reflection.
At CS, we try to increase learning with Hermes, a strategic execution cycle we’ve developed; we also introduce our clients to this approach. The Hermes cycle splits the year into work sprints, with built-in breaks, and time for sharing ideas. During the breaks, we specifically take time to reflect on the things that went well and things that could have gone better. Hermes is the structure that supports our learning.
Specific and concrete learning processes and practices. We create these via experimentation, training, and knowledge transfer. Test-and-learn is a way to fail quickly and learn even faster; we use this same method with our clients, especially in the Design stage of their Cloud Native transformations.
By making experimentation a part of your organisation, ideas can be implemented quickly and new data can be collected sooner than later. Sharing your results either with people within the organisation and outside it helps transfer that knowledge. Showing others what you’ve learned is woven into many things we do at Container Solutions, from our mentorship program for our new employees, to speaking at meetups and conferences, to our whitepapers and even blog posts like this.
Reinforce learning. As leaders, this is vital. We do this by asking questions, listening, and showing vulnerability. By showing others that you as a leader are open to learning—and that you don't have all the answers—the people around you will be more open to start looking for the answers.
When we as leaders show we can fail, and learn, others will feel less anxious about failing and learning. And we can only truly become leaders when we start teaching and start modelling these behaviours.
At our company, we have a leadership programme that teaches people how to become better at implementing the aspects of the learning organisation within their own group or team, and helps them improve the skills they will need to create this learning environment for others: improving their listening skills, or getting more comfortable with being vulnerable.
Similar to a Cloud Native transformation, which is a big undertaking. With so many moving parts—technology, people, budget concerns, organisational culture—It’s easy to fail. And failure can have catastrophic effects, from a business standpoint.
To make the right decisions, a culture of psychological safety (one of the building blocks mentioned above) is essential. More on that in my next blog post.
We have our first-ever book coming: 'Cloud Native Transformation: Practical Patterns for Innovation'. Click below to pre-order now!