Facilitating Learning Organizations: Making Learning Count

David Coghlan (University of Dublin, Ireland)

Leadership & Organization Development Journal

ISSN: 0143-7739

Article publication date: 1 May 2000




Coghlan, D. (2000), "Facilitating Learning Organizations: Making Learning Count", Leadership & Organization Development Journal, Vol. 21 No. 3, pp. 168-170. https://doi.org/10.1108/lodj.2000.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Books on organizational learning and the learning organizations have proliferated over the past few years. The authors of these many books adopt diverse approaches to their subject. Some focus on organizational features such as capabilities for learning, while others take a process approach. Facilitating Learning Organizations is the latest book from Victoria Marsick and Karen Watkins who are eminent authors in the field of action research approaches to organizational learning. Accordingly, their approach addresses the process of creating and maintaining a learning organization.

The book is structured into five parts. Part I, Finding our Way contains three chapters. The Introduction outlines the book’s approach, which is a focus on the facilitation process, rather than presenting any new models of the learning organization. The authors’ approach is grounded in three action technologies such as action research, action learning and action science, and partnership between line managers and human resource professionals. Chapter 2, Sculpting Change outlines an iterative change cycle‐diagnosis, visioning change, building alignment around the vision, framing and implementing collaborative experiments, monitor‐ing outcomes and reframing new experiments. This cycle is at the heart of the book and subsequent case material builds on it. Chapter 3 is a description of one such case example.

Part II, Scaffolding Knowledge comprises three chapters. Chapter 4 discusses the use of a diagnostic instrument, Dimensions of the Learning Organization Questionnaire (DLOQ) which the authors use to create conversation in an organization on where to begin a change process. Chapter 5 focuses on continuous learning and draws on the example of the US Army’s trans‐formation of its learning system. Chapter 6 explores how knowledge is created and managed in organizations, and how facilitators can help an organization create a system of practice for using its knowledge. Part III, Breaking Through provides several case examples. One focuses on how changes in the reward system and structure were an essential part of the move towards creating a learning culture. This is followed by an action learning and action science case respectively. Part IV, Transforming Leadership for Learning focuses on the role of the change agent, through organizational leadership and facilitation.

The final chapter draws together what the authors have learned about the learning organization, that individuals driving vision from the top, with some help from someone with change skills is important, and that diagnosis is not always done along the way, and that facilitators grow into their roles. The notion of the learning organization is not without its critics, and so the authors respond to some of the critiques which typically focus on a less optimistic view of organizations, particularly in relation to the exercise of power, and those who assert that learning in organizations ultimately leads to more profits at the expense of people, society and the environment.

Victoria Marsick and Karen Watkins are well‐established and eminent scholars and practitioners in the field of organizational learning and change. This book is an important contribution from them. It provides useful frameworks of learning processes for organizations, with both case examples from the authors’ experience and helpful guidance for facilitators. Readers familiar with OD approaches to change will not find the material unfamiliar. What they will find useful is how the concepts and case examples are directed towards improving systemic learning and hence this book is a valuable contribution to the closely related and indeed complementary process approaches of OD and the learning organization.

Related articles