Tiimiakatemia on Jyväskylän Ammattikorkeakoulun yrittäjyyden huippuyksikkö

The Wisdom of Strategic Learning

Kirjoitettu 01.03.13
Esseen kirjoittaja: Tomi Salmi
Kirjapisteet: 3
Kirja: The Wisdom of Strategic Learning
Kirjan kirjoittaja: Ian Cunningham
Kategoriat: 1. Oppiminen, 1.3. Oppivan organisaation ja tiimiyrityksen kehittämistyökalut, 1.5. Oppimisen klassikot

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Appearing to me as one of the classic releases – both the author and the book – Ian Cunningham’s “The Wisdom of Strategic Learning” is almost as huge theoretical footstep for learning organizations as Peter Senge’s key works (The Fifth Discipline, Dance of Change). Written to practical and directional shape, it gives a great bunch of useful knowledge for anyone, whose target of interest happens to be a significant organization – your own company or job, for instance. I personally have no idea why all the ultimately practical stuff was too much for me to absorb, possibly because I’m more into putting theories into practice by my own way, but when dealing with the structures and tactics in relation to learning organizations I claim to have more researchfully justified facts of strategic learning, by using the thoughts of Ian Cunningham.

“You can take horse to a water. But you cannot make it drink.”

We all know what learning is: it is to develop yourself and your environment by using some particular tool you’ve used to operate with. Basically, you learn all the time as you live and breath. That is what we might call experimental learning, empiristic learning or natural learning structure. In strategic learning pattern, there are always five significant questions to answer before setting strategy on:

– Who is to learn – is it everone in the organization?
– How will learning occur? organizer or expected to happen?
– How will learning methods be chosen? How can you measure it?
– Where will learning take place?
– When is the right time to learn? How to schedule your learning?

The hot topic for the beginning is to find out who is it to learn. When reflecting this to my own team – or to whole Tiimiakatemia community – I’m pretty sure that the one to learn is always you, people next to you, people after and behind you and people above you: basically it is anyone you collaborate with. Of course, there are different sort of events, situations, projects, tasks and other measurements that make other individuals or groups learn more than others. That depends mostly about the current topic, environment, mood and personal orientation, but the most important factor is to make sure that everyone has an optimal possibility to learn whenever they find it necessary. That’s what we call strategic learning. While running a check-in round during a training session in Tiimiakatemia, one topic is usually more personal to me than some other. For example, if discussion leads to brand marketing and how to make one brand of our products to flourish, I might communicate more sensitively and often. Instead of the way I, and, to be honest, most of us act, I should go for group thinking. For instance, economics and economical issues are topics which (hopefully) touches all of us, thanks to our common vision. The fact is, that if nine of ten teampreneurs applied to the current moment and discussion at the same level, it is highly presumable that the tenth one will also participate. That’s why co-operative Made doesn’t seem to need any significant learning method. Because that’s what we do: we learn by doing projects, and we all do have different kinds of them. Preferred time for learning “enough” to put things into practice later on is three and a half years, but nobody’s preventing to continue learning after time abovesaid. To be more clear, it is recommended to enjoy of gathered knowledge after the round-the-world-trip as well.

Building up a strategic learning structure for community is a familiar theme to me, thanks to previous books I’ve read. That’s why I’ll do only a short introduction regarding to that. Ian Cunningham’s more practical version about constructing the order and disorder-process includes six different steps (or notes), which may be very useful especially for penguins, the first year Tiimiakatemia students:

1. The environment is changing – but initially the signs are weak.
2. The signals need amplifying. Turn the volume up.
3. The organization needs to allow a variety of messy amplified signals to enter into the business such that they disorient current thinking. In other words: forget current thinking at your soft and warm, comfortable area.
4. Following three first steps leads to disequilibrium and a lack of balance.
5. The disorder needs to be tolerated. The organization needs
to be prepared for it and resilient enough to live with it. That’s where we need both strong mental and material resources.
6. All the new shapes, new kinds of orders come out of the disorder. They’re better suited to the company’s environment.

And, to be solution-oriented, here are coherent answers for the possible drawbacks in depth. The reason why I won‘t go any further with these is simple: every single company has its own preparations to amplify signals, own resources and ways of using them, own general rules and – of all things – own, unique personalities. If there would be only one, official conclusion to explain the company’s strategy for building a strategic learning structure, it would probably be this Taoist metaphor: “We need to be like a young sapling. The sapling’s strength and resilience comes from its being well rooted in the earth – solid and fixed – and flexible, so that it can bend in the wind.”

However, the standard key rules for creating an innovative disorder are:

– Always prepare to amplify weak signals.
– Be open to data from the environment.
– Be non-defensive in its response to amplified data.
– Resourceful means also a sensitive need to respond to amplified signals.
– Allow freedom in sub-units (teams); they must be free to
gather unwelcome data and spray it around the organization.
– Reflectiveness – able to ponder on, wallow in, and struggle with
new information.
– Last but definitely not least: be open to changing beliefs – about itself, other people, products, services and markets.

Our substance here in Team Academy is everything but homogeneous: we have both men and women, young and elder, personal people in all teams. Diversity is a common power, that appears in many, many shapes. To underline diversity and pick up the best possible option for strategical learning structure, there are six (6) important designs for an ideal learning business.

01. Organization Design:

How to design the organization for learnability? That is the key issue of organization design. A structure with ”floating” project teams might promote more learning than a hierarchical structure with tight job descriptions, and that’s what definitely happens in Tiimiakatemia. We follow the rule by choosing equality is one of our values, going for a dialogue, respecting others and ourselves and not having an ego ladder between our professional status‘. Tiimiakatemia’s basis’ are the basics of our actions.

02. Role/job Design:

Defining jobs too tightly to one distinct area will affect learning
inhibiting. It’s important to have roles, but even more important to loose
from them – being flexible. It’s clear from the research that if the
activities of people are restricted, they won’t be able to learn as
People can be categorized to two groups, dynamic and systematic forces. Dynamic forces do need freedom, but level of chaos can cause organizational breakdown if the role’s do overlap. Systematic forces prefer systematic role specifications mroe necessary, but only with a capacity for change if need to. Usually companies might find it difficult to look for a balanced conclusion to notify both forces, but it’s even more common that they begin to contribute each other automatically. That’s what is also called as team power.

03. Methods Design:

Methods of learning are very liberating and open in Tiimiakatemia; it can be called as an ideal learning business. Co-operative Made, for example, is self managing team, where individual employees have freedom to develop methods of working to suit themselves. This means, that the organization is properly served by the team.
I was arguing the way of “served by the team”. Because we’re all under the same roof in our team and we seem to develop ourselves by searching new projects and make them work with our own brilliant twist, have we actually found THE method? From the other point of view – seeing Made as an organization and the core project group of Restaurant Rentukka as team – we serve ourselves by sacrificing our time, skills, mental resources and money to our communal bar. If we achieve our goals with Rentukka in the near future, I might be allowed to go public with the idea of “Made’s Method”.

04. Design of reward systems:

Is learning always rewarded properly? We must remember, that rewards are not only monetary, and I personally find psychological rewards more valuable, for instance.
Cunningham suggests that people should be rewarded for new learning that is significant and of value to the business. Whether it was the main or even only criterion, it could definitely help both employees and whole organization to be creative, showing new capabilities and ways of working and, finally, taking a wider role due to learning. Practically this means that there may be elements in pay increases to cover market forces – any other increment on pay should be because of what teams and individuals have learned.

05. Equipment Design (Hardware vs. Software)

Equipment people might encourage learning and find their energies liberated. They may also limit people by constraining. To clarify this better (or actually worse, without telling any straight answer), I shall share an interesting quote. Would this probably mean, that equipmental designing is too moody in its pure substance?

” IT managers are often blinkered in the way they think about the potential for people using the systems they design and the hardware they buy.”

06. Environment Design

I was surprised when Cunningham states that open plan offices fail to fulfill their potential. Some organizations, such as Tiimiakatema, have located different departments on the same office floor to inspire interactivity. In my opinion, Tiimiakatemia’s movement to Savela wasn’t too good idea due to worse use of space and too school-alike outfit. Environmental designs are always individual matters, also ran by a current mood.
How would it be if coaches joined our offices as well?

MBA programs usually focus 70-90% on analysis and 10-30 % on making things happen. To underline the meaning of practice in a business world, manager’s job is 70-90% of making things happen. Traditional MBA:s ”do learn a range of skills”, but no impact on abilities that involve interaction with people, like leadership skills, relational skills, delegating skills and learning skills. That is why Tiimiakatemia is a great example of non-traditional education, where real, useful practical skills are in a center of attention.
One simple reason for that is Tiimiakatemia’s strategic learning structure and how it enhances student’s capability to bloom in a whole new, effective way. To be capable, teampreneur’s mentality and attitude should accept following things to happen:

a) Openness to learning. One piece of Tiimiakatemia’s learning journey is to break your own mental models and to encourage movement and disorder.
b) Self awareness. You have to know yourself and your habits before nobody else can.
c) Problem solving, and, of all things, solving them together with tactical strategies.
d) Self starting. Nobody’s forcing you to be in a statement you currently are. Learning has its roots in your own internal enthusiasm.
e) Sense of purpose and will. If you don’t know the answer to the golden question “why am I here?”, you probably won’t be able to be perfectly capable.
f) Courage.
g) Creativity. Being creative is a conclusion of all the other things abovesaid, which leads to capability if individual is motivated.

After creating a capable environment, it’s very important to distinguish between strategic goals and objectives, and tactical goals and objectives: that’s because the goals will be different. Also, in order to achieve strategic goals, tactical goals had to be put in place.

Strategy = longer time horizon, more abstract and general.
Tactics = shorter time horizon, more concrete and specific.

For example, co-operative Made just had its own strategy day, where we had to launch a longer time horizon module. But, to break the formula, it had nothing to do with abstract and general decisions. We have had our vision of round-the-world trip for how long, but all the actions have been more tactical, concrete and specific. That’s how it actually should go: community’s strategy shouldn’t be changing all the time, but the tactics will be set and changed depending on current situation. Made’s own strategy day was actually Made’s tactics day, where we created action plans for anything up to two months. Cunningham would be smiling to hear this…

The practical basis of Tiimiakatemia system is walking hand-in-hand with Cunningham’s strategic learning principles. After reading this part, I realized why teampreneurs and team coaches call The Wisdom of Strategic Learning as a classic. To encourage learning and run it as effective as possible, individual should work on these three things (Tiimiakatemia methods included inside the brackets):

1) Independent study (book points, mental growing)
2) Action learning (customer visits, training sessions, brave pilots, making mistakes)
3) Self direct learning (doing projects, holding a strong self responsibility and reflecting every single action to your own team).

Mainly, all these three sections appear chronologically in four ways. They are preparing, resourcing, collaborating and judging. The fourth one, judging, is the most wanted stage due to its value and dependability to make decisions, choose the very best option a company can have and finish community’s strategic and tactical design. Managers have to judge courses of action and allow decisions, which are usually made without full information and therefore rely on good judgement. In Tiimiakatemia, each team has its specific leading group, such as whole organization. We can also think of it as more developed version of strategic/tactical categorizing, where Tiimiakatemia itself plays the role of strategic forward. So the team companies, with their own leading groups and sub-units, play the role of tactical and concrete horizon.
Managers’ need and will to judge and solve the problem consist of two sections as well. First, they need to assess the situation by figuring out all necessary facts, current mood in a community and all possible solutions. After that, managers evaluate the situation together with other sub-units (project groups, whole team, or whole community). Not to get this sail on too silent waters, managers must go for two different points of view of their strategic thinking: primary (sensory based and direct) and secondary (verbal judgements, non-direct). Without a doubt, sensory based and direct arguments are more useful than cold, verbal judgements regarding their objective and fair strategic points. That’s why secondary, subjective and emotional thinking is also called as “I feel like…”-thinking. This has a close relationship with the question “who is it to learn?”, which I went through earlier on this essay.

Finally, as I already wrote, The Wisdom of Strategic Learning offered me much more via its theoretical chapters than practical advices. Still, there’s a good list of thirteen (13) tactical rules of practice written by Ian Cunningham, that seem to be valuable due to their habit of being everlasting and powerful, sort of “mental” notes. Some might call these as “steps to practical wisdom”. Realizing their meaning not only among economics but also through individual’s lifetime, the wheel of time won’t be able to wash them away. I’d say the same about Tiimiakatemia. Completely.

The very best of the thirteen tactical rules of practice:

#4: Do not try to make people be like you – accept them as they are
#6: Try to be as honest and as open as possible, while being sensitive to
the needs of others
#9: Speak for yourself and avoid generalizing. Use ’I’ rather than ’we’,
’you’, ’they’ or ’one’.
#10: Everyone has the right not to answer a question if that seems appropriate.
#13: Decisions that need to be taken are made collectively, by consensus.

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