Leading Internally

How do we manage the internal issues of becoming and staying open to deep organizational learning, adaptation, and collaboration? How do we participate in partnerships and networks in ways that benefit us and our partners, and allow us to continue to learn?

Collaboration and Organizational learning have never been more important to organizations than in the current dire economic climate. Although the typical organizational reaction during times of uncertainty is to circle the wagons and focus on the core known quantities, using their traditional processes, we believe that a focus on collaboration and organizational learning can make organizations more responsive, creative, nimble, and resilient. These characteristics would allow the organization to more effectively and profitably adjust to the new demands, and identify the new opportunities created by the changing environment. Organizations that wish to integrate learning and collaboration into "how things are done" must commit to honest self reflection, and be willing to make deep meaningful changes to their structures and cultures.

This is a wiki, a truly democratic, collaborative tool. This page is fully editable. Please contribute your knowledge and experience to our suggestions below:

  • Developing a Common Vision/Shared Values
  • Creating and Maintaining a Culture of Collaboration and Learning
  • Building Strong Teams

To return to the main content page and explore other aspects of Leading in a Networked World, click here.

Developing a Common Vision / Shared Values
The ability of administrators and employees to understand one another and align goals and visions is an essential component of internal organizational cohesion. This cohesion is, in turn, a necessary foundation upon which organizations can build their learning, adaptive, and collaborative processes. Below are a few ideas and examples that demonstrate this concept:
  • In Schools that Learn: A Fifth Discipline Fieldbook For Educators, Parents, and Everyone Who Cares About Education the authors assert that “people with a common purpose can learn to nourish a sense of commitment in a group or organization by developing shared images of the future they seek to create and the principles and guiding practices by which they hope to get there” (2000, p. 7). Developing a shared vision and sense of core values within an organization cannot be overemphasized. The will to become a learning and adaptive organization that is open to internal and external collaboration can not be dictated through an executive mandate or manipulated by an org chart, it must be fostered through a cultivated culture that promotes and celebrates these values.

  • Roca is a visionary organization based in Boston Massachusetts that provides effective and innovative approaches to helping disenfranchised and disengaged youth move towards (economic) independence. Roca recently transitioned from its old methodology of antagonism, to partnering with the same organizations and institutions that it had previously estranged, to achieve its advocacy goals. Central to Roca’s organizational shift was the acknowledgement that the organization’s core values were not consistent with their approach to engaging with other institutions. At the time of the shift Molly Baldwin, Roca's executive director, reported recognizing that “values are a way of behaving, they are not to be preached…aligning of values is a critical starting point for finding common ground” (personal communication, February 20, 2009). To quote Ghandi, "You have to be the change you want to see in the world".

  • Roca uses an exercise called Peace Circles – a formalized communication technique – to enable discussions around “challenging issues and facilitate personal learning, healing, accountability, and community building” (www.rocainc.org). Molly Baldwin pointed to peace circles as a defined space where youth, staff and community partners find common ground and “where we can see the world together” (personal communication, February 20, 2009). Peace circles have helped Roca evolve into the adaptive and more effective organization it is today.

Creating, Maintaining a Culture of Collaboration and Learning
Whether facing an urgent challenge that forces the organization out of its comfort zone, or simply trying to find the best way to achieve its mission, an organization must have the willingness and capacity to learn. To this end it must make sure that its employees are equipped for collaboration and learning and promote a culture that encourages and fosters collaboration and learning. Below are a few ideas and examples that demonstrate this concept:

  • Leaders trying to lead organizational change and instill a culture of collaboration and adaptation must understand what skills and dispositions are needed from the workforce, acknowledge that skills are quite different (although they may overlap with) dispositions, and tailor training and other efforts accordingly to help employees get to a point where they can contribute. One definition of skill is knowledge of how to do something, whereas a disposition includes both the situational alertness--knowing when to do something, and the disposition or inclination (D. Perkins) to do that something--to use that knowledge. Employees may know how to collaborate, but we want them to want to collaborate, actions and dispositions that will ultimately lead to fertilization and nurturing of new innovative ideas.

  • Efforts to affect dispositions must motivate employees to acknowledge and act. Typically these efforts are attempted through extrinsic methods such as performance bonuses and promotions. However, these motivators are typically only effective when the employees know that they are to be rewarded; they typically do not influence internal/intrinsic motivation. An effective leader must use motivators that while prima facie extrinsic, should orient the employees towards learning and more holistic company goals. The goal here is to 'acculturate' workers to think and behave more collaboratively by rewarding supportive behaviors, and working to have employees internalize those attitudes and behaviors.

  • Is Yours A Learning Organization? Garvin, Edmondson, and Gino (2008) describe the building blocks of an organization that promotes the process of learning, the sharing of knowledge, and the reflection needed to effectively evaluate the work being done. Below you will find an explanation of each building block, supplemented by the work of several other authors and illustrative examples of organizational learning:
    • The first building block of a learning organization is a supportive learning environment. Such an environment allows for: 1) psychological safety among employees, 2) an appreciation of differences, 3) openness to new ideas, and 4) time for reflection.
    • The second building block of a learning organization is the existence of concrete learning processes and practices. Garvin et al (2008) write, “for maximum impact, knowledge must be shared in systematic and clearly defined ways” (pp. 111-112). They go on to explain that knowledge can be shared among colleagues and between vertical rungs on the management ladder, and the sharing of knowledge often requires an internal examination of processes with routine reviews and reflection.Regular collaboration is essential to develop and maintain learning processes. When a spirit of true collaboration permeates an organization individuals at all levels feel valued and heard; this ownership becomes a critical asset during a crisis when the organization must work collectively to solve problems in a flexible and adaptive way. In his book Leadership Without Easy Answers, Heifetz (1994) unpacks the organizational risks of depending on a single authority, particularly during times of crisis. He cautions that “the flight to authority is particularly dangerous . . . because it disables some of our most important personal and collective resources for accomplishing adaptive work” (p. 73). In other words, when one person or small group is responsible for all organizational solutions and strategies, overall innovation and adaptive functioning are compromised.
    • The third building block of a learning organization is leadership that reinforces learning. A strong leader must develop the ability to step outside of herself and look objectively at her leadership practice.
    • The online assessment tool can be found __here__.

Building Strong Teams

Team dynamic often plays an important role in determining whether a safe learning culture is developed or not, and building great teams is important to establishing transformational partnerships. In today’s competitive environment, a cohesive team can be a competitive differentiator. Below are a few ideas and examples that demonstrate this concept:

  • Patrick Lencioni not only explores the internal and external factors that make a team dysfunctional but also how to overcome these barriers.
  • Lencioni provides the five possible dysfunctions. Read about them here.
  • Lencioni suggests that the following questions can be helpful in determining whether or not teams are high-functioning and thriving in a supportive learning environment:
    • Do team members openly and readily disclose their opinions?
    • Are team meetings compelling and productive?
    • Does the team come to decisions quickly and avoid getting bogged down by consensus? Do team members confront one another about their shortcomings?
    • Do team members sacrifice their own interests for the good of the team? Source: __http://tablegroup.com/__