A Culture of Learning

We visited a class in which students had been learning about positive leadership and organizations. They knew much, for example, about the notion of high quality connections, or how respect, trust and collaboration lead to expected and unexpected collective and individual benefits.

We wanted them to understand that every organization has a culture and it determines things like the quality of connections between the people.   These characteristics then have a long-term impact on individuals and on the collective workforce. We started with the idea that a business school has a culture and we told a story.

A woman, who was graduating, raved about the positive impacts that the school has had on her life. She now had an upward career trajectory and was grateful. From her statement, we could conclude that the culture of the business school was perfect for producing the outcomes it is intended to produce.

On the other hand, she said that there were also negative impacts. From the time she arrived, she felt a sense of competition and a need to perform. This permeated everything and led her to feel the need to be “on stage” and to “look smart.” This often led to a feeling of fear and isolation. In the process, she said that she felt like she actually lost her sense of humor and her sense of spirituality. She also said that she experienced few high quality “learning” connections in the classrooms. Nor did she form as many high quality connections outside the classroom as she would have liked.

We asked the students to examine the culture of the business school by engaging in an unusual exercise. We asked them to imagine two, contrasting gods. One was the god of the “knowing” culture. The other was the god of the “learning” culture. We suggested that most organizations are cathedrals built to the god of knowing.

It might be useful to them in the future, if they could differentiate between the cultures. So we asked them to create a portrait of both cultures and determine which one existed in the business school. To help them, we gave them the following matrix, with the first three answers included.   We then asked them to insert the rest of the answers. You might like to give it a try.

  The Cathedral to the God of Knowing The Cathedral to the God of Learning
Which punctuation mark captures the image of this God? A period A question mark
In which culture are people objects, and in which are they verbs? Objects Verbs
What is the role of the high priest? Dispenser of expertise Facilitator of learning
What is the role of the common people?    
How do the common people relate to each other?    
What are the important virtues?  

 

 
What are the unforgivable sins?  

 

 
Which Cathedral does your organization most reflect? How?    
What happens when you spend a long time in each cathedral?    

After they filled out the matrix there was a very lively discussion. There were some strong themes: We are not nouns, we are verbs; The first cathedral is everywhere; It will turn us into nouns; The concepts of positive leadership and organization are tools for building and living in the second cathedral.

 

Reflection

What have I been in each cathedral?

To what god is my organizational cathedral built?

How could we use this passage to create a more positive organization?

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