Self-Organization as a Perspective for Organizational Learning: A New Role for Learning Practitioners

Self-Organization as a Perspective for Organizational Learning: A New Role for Learning Practitioners

Robert J. Blomme (Nyenrode Business Universiteit, The Netherlands)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-6457-9.ch004
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This chapter introduces the perspective of self-organization for organizational learning. Using the perspective of organizations as actor networks in which common activities are established through the connected behaviour of individual actors, it argues that organizational learning entails altered and different behaviour on the part of actors, leading to alterations in the ways in which individual behaviour is interconnected. Organizational learning is fuelled by ambiguity perceived by the organization's actors who try to make “sense” of their surroundings, when they observe it, grapple with it, grasp it, and manipulate it. In this chapter, the author elaborates on the implications of this perspective for organizational learning and the learning practitioner in the role of leader.
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Organizational learning is often discussed from a management perspective (Pawlowksy, 2000). Since Cyert and March (1963) first coined the concept and since the publication of the seminal work produced by Argyris and Schon (1978), organizational learning has been discussed and used in various different ways (Pawlowsky, 2000). In addition, strong ties have been assumed to be discernible between the concepts of organizational change, strategic management and systems theory (cf. Cyert & March, 1963; Duncan & Weiss, 1979; Senge, 1990; Shrivasta & Schneider, 1984). Organizational learning is often considered to be a deliberate practice in which actors in an organization can develop activities and practices contributing to, for example, individual learning, organizational learning and knowledge creation (cf. Revans, 1982; Wenger, 1998). Following the taxonomy of organizational learning developed by Edmondson and Moingeon (1998), scholars generally distinguish four perspectives, three of which (Communities, Participation and Accountability) might be related to organizational learning as a deliberate practice with learning practitioners responsible for learning interventions. Organizational learning through the fourth and remaining perspective, Residues, can be referred to as an emergent practice (cf. Blomme, 2012). Residues concern the notion that organizations and organizational activities are residues of past activities: the ways in which people dealt with earlier problems and struggles are embodied in current routines. Although some literature on emergent practices routines is available (cf. Cyert & March, 1963; Nelson & Winter, 1982; Miner, Ciuchta & Gong, 2008), this chapter is intended to contribute to a deeper and more thorough understanding of organizational learning and emergent practices. This is done through the concept of self-organization.

The remainder of this chapter is organized as follows. First, we shall critically discuss the deliberate perspective on organizational learning. Next, we shall introduce the concept of emergence and self-organization, using the work of Giddens, Weick and certain proponents of the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) approach. This approach sees organizations as self-organizing actor networks in which learning and change are continuous and self-propelling processes. We shall discuss this concept and formulate conclusions to broaden our views not only on organizational learning but also on the learning practitioner himself.

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