Research Summary

Learning Organizations

by David A. Garvin


David A. Garvin is studying how companies pursue improvement and change through efforts to stimulate organizational learning. He has found the following activities to be common in learning organizations: intelligence gathering; experimentation; learning from experience; learning from the best practice of others; systematic problem solving; and transferring knowledge internally. The most successful organizations have developed a wide range of mechanisms and tools to support these activities, including after-action reviews, demonstration projects, simulations, lessons learned units, and incentive systems that encourage risk-taking, as well as innovative approaches to measuring learning.

Garvin reported the findings of his research in a Harvard Business School Press book Learning in Action, a Harvard Business Review article 'Building a Learning Organization,' and two HBS Video Series Putting the Learning Organization to Work and Working Smarter. Both the publications and videos feature a wide range of case studies and examples drawn from organizations as diverse as Allegheny Ludlum Steel, GE, L. L. Bean, the U. S. Army, Timken, and Xerox. Most recently, he has worked with Amy Edmondson and Francesca Gino to develop an assessment tool for evaluating learning organizations. That tool, which permits individuals to assess their teams, departments, and organizations on their learning climates, learning processes, and learning leadership behaviors, is described in a March 2008 Harvard Business Review article entitled "Is Yours a Learning Organization?"