Crisis and Organizational Learning

I was on a podcast with a number of executives sharing their experiences with the pandemic.  There was crisis in every organization.  One of them described a huge falloff in revenue and all the associated problems.  It sounded overwhelming.  When asked how he was coping.  With calmness and confidence he said, “We get together frequently, clarify our shared values, and we keep muddling forward.”

To most of us that sounds uninspiring, we want the leader to give us more specificity than that.  We want the leader to reduce our ambiguity and give us directions.  To meet such expectations, many authority figures try to control the uncontrollable.  In doing so they destroy what they most need.

In crisis, hierarchy dissolves, it goes latent because it cannot work.  In crisis, no one, including the leader, knows what to do.  In high uncertainty, another form of order emerges.  The organization becomes an organic system of collective learning.  The process borders on chaos, but it is a system of collective learning.  What the people need is a constant clarification of higher purpose and values, and frequent interactions.  These two things facilitate the collective learning process.  Trying to impose hierarchy kills what the organization most needs.

If you are leading people during this pandemic, you will be called upon to face endless management problems.  You must face them.  Then in exhaustion, you can choose to go to bed, or to begin leading.

On a daily basis you must allocate time to clarify the purpose and values in both a visionary and grounded way.  As frequently as possible, you should have your people sharing what they have learned.  If you do these two things, learning will occur and the organization will evolve into what it needs to become.  If you can do it with calm and confidence, it will signal that you know what you are doing, facilitating the emergence of a desired future.

Reflection

  • What changes during a crisis?
  • What is organizational learning?
  • Why do some organizations come out of crisis much stronger?
  • How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

One comment on “Crisis and Organizational Learning

  1. “In crisis, hierarchy dissolves, it goes latent because it cannot work”…..”The organization becomes an organic system of collective learning” I am a witness of this!

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