The End of the Road…

Today is the last day of class and part of me is relieved, the other part is truly sad. I have enjoyed this class and have gotten to know some very nice people that I hope to remain friends with.

I have also learned a lot more than I thought I would when I first started this class. I really did not know what organizational learning was all about. I struggled with the different types of transfers until I found a system for remembering them. I actually ended up buying one of Nancy Dixon’s  book. I was going to use borrowed books in the beginning. Then I discovered that I could actually use some of Dixon’s insights in my current position at the library since it is a learning organization. I enjoyed the group work and the discussions where we heard the different ideas from everybody.

The second part of the class was even more fun than the first part. Reading Schein’s book was not such a chore. I could actually read it as I relaxed on Sunday afternoons without having to go back to the same paragraph over and over as I do with some of my textbooks. When I read the part about microcultures and macrocultures, I could really see my organization in there. As far as internal integration, my organization has no problems with internal integration. We definitely have our own common language that we share, our pecking order is clear and our  norms of trust intimacy, and relationships are quite clear to everybody. Our mission is unmistakable and we all work hard to accomplish it.

Taking this class has also helped me identify the artifacts that we have in my workplace. These artifacts help to represent what we are. Some of these are the databases, guidelines books and periodicals, the VCU Libraries website and our mission and value statements. Additionally I am able to see the espoused values that we have. One of our espoused value is that a great university library is built upon a great library. So we strive to make sure that we are great.

I feel this class has been a time well spent for me, since I was able to gain knowledge that has been immediately useful to me in my workplace!

Macrocultures, Subcultures, and Microcultures.

The topic of macrocultures, subcultures, and microcultures of organizations is really fascinating to me. To think that all organizations operate with three generic subcultures that reflect the operations, the design and the executive/financial function of the organization. These cultures need to be in alignment with each other for total organizational effectiveness (Schein 68). Real trouble will occur if the different cultures are misaligned. I really wonder how many organizations or managers really think about making sure that the cultures in their organizations are aligned with each other? I would think that they also need to be aligned to the organizational goals.

Having all the many cultures is bound to cause conflicts. Unfortunately the subculture conflicts are  often misdiagnosed as political interdepartmental fights, power maneuvers, or personality conflicts (Schein p. 57). This makes me want to look closely at some organizational conflicts that I have witnessed in the past. Were they really subculture conflicts?

Macrocultures such as ethnic groups influence the evolution of the organizational culture. This is a bit scary to digest. Does this mean that those in a minority ethnic group have to conform to the majority ethnic group or does this mean that the culture becomes more like a flavor composing of the different cultures represented in the group.  I like the second idea simply because I think people should be true to themselves and not conform unnecessarily. Maybe it is wishful thinking on my part.

Over the weekend at a soccer game I witnessed a European parent admonishing his son for making a simple mistake during the game. The rest of the American parents just said something like, “nice try Jack”. Then they gently reprimanded the parent for admonishing his child instead of building him up. The European parent of course conformed and tried to build up his child as the weekend progressed. Well at the end of the weekend, Jack was really annoyed that his father had been praising him for horrible mistakes that he made and begged him never to do that again because to Jack that did not make sense. Jack’s father tried to conform to the subculture of the soccer parents who praise children even for blatant mistakes because they do not want to hurt the children’s feelings. Unfortunately this is not working well for Jack’s father. I suppose if this happens in an organization, then the employee/person involved might have to leave the organization.

The Presentation

Wow, I really liked the presentations this week. First they were all about organizations that we all know but did not have in depth knowledge about. I never knew that selling coffee could involve all that learning! It was also nice to learn a few things about Howard. I am glad the third group decided to do their project on IBM, a computer giant that seems to have been forgotten in recent times. Well, they are still here.

All the organizations we discussed in class on Wednesday seem to be serious about organizational learning and we saw that they are using different types of knowledge transfer. As Dixon says in her 1999 book, learning organizations use multiple types of knowledge transfer depending on the type of knowledge that needs to be transferred and the purpose of the transfer.

I still get confused distinguishing the different knowledge transfer types, so I am grateful for Dixon’s Table 8.1 on pages 144 and 145 which details the five transfer types.  I also like her real life examples at the bottom of the table because they really help me understand each transfer type.  I also read Andreas Riege,s article in the Journal of Knowledge Management,  Three-dozen knowledge -sharing barriers managers must consider and see how he simplifies further Dixon’s explanation of the five different transfers:

‘‘serial transfer’’ (where tacit or explicit team knowledge is shared within the team to a different setting at a later time);
‘‘near transfer’’ (i.e. the replication of explicit team knowledge in other teams undertaking similar tasks); ‘‘far transfer’’
(i.e. the replication of tacit team knowledge in other teams doing similar tasks); organizational know-how, either in tacit
and explicit form (needed to complete a strategic task that occurs infrequently within the organization); and ‘‘expert transfer’’
(e.g. a team requires and seeks explicit expertise from others in the organization to accomplish a task. pg 18

This helps me a lot in differentiating the different types of knowledge transfers. Anyway, I better move forward and not get stuck in this. Actually this past week I agonized over the article to summarize for the class. I found a lot of peer reviewed articles abut I was determined to find a fun article from a trade magazine and I think I have. After summarizing it and finishing my review, I began to have doubts. Is my paper too simple? Should I have reviewed one of the empirical research papers? I hope what I have done is alright because now it is too late to start again from scratch!

 

The Different Types of Transfering Knowledge

So this past two weeks I was beginning to get a little overwhelmed with all the different types of knowledge transfers. We have serial transfer, strategic transfer, near transfer, far transfer and expert transfer.  Then I read chapter 8 of Dixon’s book and saw that they are all going to be useful depending on the situation. The selection decision tree is very helpful in picking out the type of transfer that is going to work in a situation.

Organizations may need to use different type of transfers because at any given time there may be different needs for information. There is no real need to be bogged down by one particular type of knowledge transfer. What is going to be important is the type of knowledge and the situation you are in. The mistake we can make is to find one type of transfer that worked successful in our organization and we get tempted to use the same one over and over regardless of the type of knowledge and situation. Dixon mentions the example of Ford Motor company.

I have recently been thinking of some of the people at work who are going to be retiring soon and have all this tacit and explicit knowledge that needs to be transferred. We haven’t really paid too much attention to what may happen if this knowledge isn’t transferred.  For the tacit knowledge that impacts the whole organization, strategic transfer will be best. We need to start thinking  of how we can accomplish this. I think we should also use expert transfer for some of the knowledge  that is explicit, non- routine and not frequent.  Finally for the knowledge that is explicit, routine and frequent we should use  near transfer. So here we go again, we need multiple types of knowledge transfer to harness the power of our colleagues who are getting ready to retire!

 

Reflecting on my first few classes in Organizational Learning

I admit that I am a bit skeptical on most organizations being able to launch into real organizational learning due to the traditional way that most organizations are laid out. For instance if an organization is top-down oriented, the workers are notgoing to be concerned with improvements of work processes  and such things. They are always going to wait for the managers to tell them what to do.  Additionally, if people are not ready to share knowledge with the organization,  meaningful collective learning  is not going to occur which means there will not be organizational learning going on.

 

That said, I cannot see how any organization is going to survive long term if there is no organizational learning.  Judging from the readings (and the examples of organizations) that we have gone through so far, it is clear that only companies that learn fast and incorporate that learning become successful and continue to exist.  Also in an ever changing economic environment, organizations need to be adaptable and continue to improve whatever processes they deal with.

 

To me it looks like the hardest obstacle to organizational learning  in many places is the culture of the organization itself. So if the culture is changed to one that favors collaboration, and reflections after an action, organizational learning shouldeasily occur. Well, I have only taken three classes so far, who knows what my thoughts are going to be by the end of this Semester?

Group Facilitation Exercise

The facilitation exercise was a little intimidating in so far as preparing for it. I like to prepare for everything precisely and this was not an exercise that you could plan every detail. The idea was to facilitate the groups’ learning of how to facilitate learning in a group. There was no way to know how long each activity would last. I was really glad to have my team mates with me because they felt alright with how things were going to turn out and they helped put me at ease.

In the textbook – The Skilled Facilitator Fieldbook, Roger Schwartz defines  a facilitator as a neutral third party who is a  process expert.  He also defines four facilitative roles which are facilitative consultant, facilitative coach, facilitative trainer and  facilitative leader.   The last four roles are probably the roles that most of us are going to find ourselves in since  as employees in our work places we are not going to be neutral facilitators. In our group we took the facilitative trainer role to complete our first activity because we had studied our chapters about the “Drama Triangle” and “Exploring your contributions to problems”. We felt we had become content experts and we could help the class gain skills that they could apply to real situations in their life. We also took the role of facilitative coaches by encouraging the class to reflect on their behavior and thinking in order to find out how they may be contributing to their own problems,  and through reflection how they can get out of undesirable  situations.

Our group really enjoyed this exercise and we were very happy to see that the class (through evaluations) felt that they learned important lessons about facilitating groups. Furthermore, our group operated really well in this exercise. We had finally become a real team. We used technology to share ideas, work on ideas and to keep in touch. We also met in person as needed and this satisfied all the members of the group. I really feel that our group has come along way from the time we formed as a group and went through the storming and the norming phases.

It was also gratifying to see that the other two groups obviously were doing very well as teams judging from the excellent facilitation exercises. Everyone seemed very confident and the activities that we were asked to participate in were very enjoyable. I learned a lot about facilitating groups while having fun! The video about Melanie and Matt was a great pick to illustrate how Melanie and Matt could have done a lot better by jointly deciding the purpose and process of their conversation when they had their previous performance appraisal. This would have helped avoid the awkward situation they found themselves in later. The Mosaics also facilitated our looking at ourselves and finding our voices. The activity really helped me to look at my life and see my highs and lows and appreciate where I am now because of all my past experiences.

All in all the facilitation exercise went much better than we all expected and I am pleased!

Intergroup Dynamics

This topic is very interesting to me because I work in a place where we have two groups working together all the time. The library on the Monroe campus and the health sciences library on the MCV campus are one library (group). At the same time we are also two groups. We have to work together all the time and that brings up some interesting inter-group dynamics. We strive to have the same policies and practices at all times but sometimes it becomes challenging just because we serve populations that sometimes have different needs. As a result we have numerous group activities and meetings to promote cohesiveness of us all as a big group. Conflict is resolved through directing efforts toward the common goal so that there is no competition between the two libraries. For the most part, things work very well. I think this is largely due to the fact that we all want to make sure that we achieve our goal of serving our users in the best possible way.

In their presentation of inter-group dynamics, the group “Not in Mayberry Anymore” discussed the group dynamics of the interaction between men and women. It is unfortunate for me that I am in a profession that is dominated by women so I don’t get to interact as much with men professionally. However, last week, while trying to explain the procedure for printing in the library to a non-VCU user, I got a real taste of a “manly interruption”. The person did not have the patience to let me finish explaining to him what he needed to do. He interrupted me and said, “I just want to print something” and handed me a public library card. I tried to explain to him again that he needs to purchase a ram bucks card. At that point, he decided to disrespect me and turned to somebody else for help, which was fine with me at that point.

As I was thinking some more about this topic, I thought about the International group of Richmond that I belong to. Most of us are foreign born and we are supposed to be similar in some way.  However, I find that even in this group, there are other little teams within the big group and there are inter-group dynamics going on as well. We have the men and women dynamics, those who work and the retirees, those who have lived in America for a long time and those who are “fresh of the boat”. The group tries to meet everybody’s needs but there is always negotiations here and there to make sure everybody is fine.  We also compete in a healthy way with other organizations when it comes to some of our activities especially charitable events. This inter-group competition serves everybody well because we all end up exceeding our expectations.

Group Work – Second Project

I am so happy that we worked really well in our group. We just needed to go over the initial hump in order to build cohesiveness which has helped us very much. We were able to communicate much better and this makes it possible for us to accommodate everybody’s learning styles and preferences.

We were able to use everybody’s strengths. I really appreciate Molly’s artistry and Emily’s “let’s just do it” attitude. I have tried to tame my obsessiveness  and was totally relaxed during this second project.

Working in any kind of a group is not easy but at the same time it is definitely rewarding. You have to go through the storming and the norming stages before you can become a functional group. I feel that we indeed have successfully gone through the first stages and we are more cohesive than we were when we first started working together.

Picking  leadership as our topic of presentation was easy. We had just been grappling with the issue of assigning leadership to the different projects.  Unfortunately, we had a lecture on leadership on the same day and this made our assignment a little bit more complicated. We did not want to necessarily repeat the same things that we had heard in class. So we had to come up with an angle that was a little different. We decided to make a presentation that would in the end tie together some of the major aspects of leadership.

The presentation was well received by our classmates judging from the evaluations we received at the end. I feel that as a large group, the class is also becoming more cohesive which makes it easy to relate to each other and offer feedback. It is also clear that our classmates understood our message that historically researchers have taken different approaches to studying leadership in an effort to understand the factors that make effective leadership.  The central theme in all these approaches is “the situation”. We also tried to shed light on the differences among the leadership styles of directing, coaching, supporting and delegating and the situations that work best for each of them. Alas – many a workplace and governments do not pay attention to these pairings and efforts and money are put into projects that go nowhere.

It is true that living in the real world does not give us choices in how things are done sometimes. We all want decision making to be done democratically, but unfortunately this takes more time and in most situations we do not have that luxury. I was involved with a situation at work recently where I watched one person bulldoze everybody into agreeing with what she wanted to do. The rest of the group of six did not think that the issue “Mary” was talking about was that important and we did not need to change the way we do things. “Mary” was adamant no matter what the rest of the group said. She got louder and louder and made the meeting very unpleasant. We finally just let her have her way in order to finish the meeting so we could go do other things. We did let her know though that it really was her decision and we did not like it but we knew that she was not going to back down. We also let her know that if anything negative came out of instituting this new measure, she was going to be held responsible. We pretty much made her direct us and she became our dictator but it was the easy way out. This has happened before because it is “Mary’s” nature to do things this way. I am sure that one of these days if it is an issue that we are all invested in, we will come up with a way to deal with her in a more constructive way.

Group Work Challenges!

The weeks we worked on the group paper were very challenging. We  worked on the group paper for more hours than I would normally work on a paper I was submitting by myself. I really think this is one of the hardest things I have ever done in my life. To make it worse, I was dealing with a lot of personal issues at the time and so it was just not the best time for a challenge of this sort. I cringe to think we have two more group projects! This is so hard but we all need to do better from now on.

We did not work very well together on the paper. We all had different ideas and also worked at different paces.  In short things just did not jell. However there is really not one person to blame for this.  We all could have communicated  better. We were really just getting to know each other and how we work. I did not expect it to be smooth selling, just did not expect it to be that hard too! Worse, I don’t think a group paper is the best assignment for me, people have different writing styles and they work at different paces!

As they say, what does not kill you, only makes you stronger. I feel we are much stronger than we were before this experience. We are now a little bit more comfortable to talk about the “pink elephant”  in the room which will help us work even better. We needed this wake up call to grow.  I appreciate my group mates, I really do!

Accomplishments!

Our group finally came up with a name that was acceptable to all three of us! It is really interesting to see how we are slowly becoming a team. We all have different personalities and so tend to do things differently. At the same time, everybody is very willing to work together. We realize we have a task to finish and we will get it done. We finished the team charter and we will try very hard to go by it.

I have a feeling that working in a group will help me to curb some of my procrastinating tendencies. Since we have imposed deadlines on ourselves, we all have to deliver on the days we are supposed to deliver. I don’t want to be  the person who is going to let our group down. So I have been working on all my parts and will have everything ready by tomorrow. Who knows maybe this class will really teach me better “student” habits that will serve me well for the rest of my lengthy  student career!

This group is also going to help me become more lucid as well. We had extensive discussions on several group dynamics issues. I think I talked a lot more than I usually do, even though twice I found myself unable to finish a sentence because it was a thought that I was expressing for the first time and I simply run out words. I am alright with this though because later, I was able to put my thoughts in writing on the wiki!