Tough, thoughtful, questions produce the best answers. Are you asking yourself and your team enough of them? As a leader, what are the best questions to ask and when? In Peter Senge’s timeless work, The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of a Learning Organization, leaders learn which disciplines they need to develop to be prepared to ask the right questions, at the right times, to the appropriate people.
The foundation of his work is based on creating a learning organization and the fundamentals that need to be in place to do that. “Learning disabilities, “ Senge states, “are tragic in children, but they are fatal in organizations. Because of them, few organizations live even half as long as a person – most die before they reach the age of forty.” In fact, according to the SBA only a third of small businesses survive past their 10th birthday. I am curious about the survival rate on entrepreneurial-type initiatives within existing organizations. Probably pretty dismal.
To reduce the chance of the same problems occurring over and over again, learning organizations look at the underlying causes of the problem and then present a solution. The leaders think in terms of creating thinking space and time between noticing a problem and developing a lasting solution. They look existing at systems and mindsets that might be causing the problem. They reframe from the blame game towards team members and instead analysis the problem from start to finish in order to better understand what may be the root cause.
What are the 5 disciplines Senge focuses on?
- Personal Mastery – Mastering one’s focus, energy and patience can go some way to creating a well rounded individual of great worth to any organization.
- Mental Models – Understanding the role our ingrained mentality and prejudiced perceptions play in our decision making.
- Building Shared Visions – A team-shared vision for the future is more beneficial to a company than a few disparate visions promoted by self-obsessed employees.
- Team Learning – Teamwork that brings together combined knowledge and expertise creates a fulfilling, powerful collective.
- Systems Thinking – ‘Systems thinking’ encourages businesses to look at the bigger picture, thereby providing sustainable long-term, as opposed to, short-term solutions to inherent problems.
What are some typical problems organizations face when converting to a culture of learning?
- Internal politics
- Exclusive power
- Lack of time for learning
- Difficulty in maintaining a good work/ life balance
Learning organizations, Senge teaches, are active and forward thinking. They are dynamic with an emphasis on team-work and shared learning. They are productive because they build teams and solutions based on one another’s strengths. Innovation is a cornerstone of learning organizations as they focus on genuinely effective improvements. They share their knowledge, and utilize constant communication to drive productive solutions.
For this week, contemplate the following questions to get started:
- How much thinking time do you leave open on your calendar to consider your highest level organizational challenges?
- Who do you use as a thinking pair for those challenges? What might prevent them from speaking the truth to you?
- Are your personal and professional “board of directors” always the same or do you invite different minds in for different challenges and to gain a completely different perspective in order to uncover assumptions and existing mind models?
- What reoccurring problem are you, your team, or organization facing that you have yet to find a permanent, viable, productive, solution for?
In the coming weeks, we’ll break down each of the 5 disciplines to help you learn and apply them to yourself, your team, and organization.
I’m frequently asked what books I would recommend to a leader. This one is foundational. In reading it you can easily see how so many other leadership works and models were built after having studying this one. This work is high-level and designed for the deep thinking leader who has complex problems to solve, although anyone can gain an understanding of their thinking that will transform the way they approach the challenges facing us all.