The organization we believe in, the modern organization, needs to question certain notions. Since humans have regained the place they deserve, many of these notions will be under constant pressure to maintain the human’s place in the system. These include success, efficiency and profitability, to name just a few. The redefinition of each of these notions will have to make room for humans and their development, without giving them all the space. It’s a difficult balance to maintain, and one that calls for open, lucid and well-aligned leadership. Moreover, today’s business world is still firmly anchored in beliefs based on values from another era, dragging many people with it, even some of the youngest. Ironically, these same people sometimes have rather modern expectations of organizations when it comes to their personal needs. Redefining the notions that drive the modern organization involves it in a triple-loop learning process that constantly challenges it.
Triple-loop learning is a concept of organizational learning in which an organization learns not only from its actions and their consequences (single-loop learning) or from the analysis of the underlying assumptions and values that led to these actions (double-loop learning), but also from the questioning and modification of its fundamental goals and objectives.
Here’s an example of triple-loop learning:
Suppose a company’s objective is to increase sales of its product. After some time, the company realizes that sales are not increasing as expected, despite marketing efforts, and decides to investigate the reasons. In analyzing the situation, it discovers that its product is not meeting the needs of its customers, who are looking for more environmentally-friendly and sustainable products.
At this stage, the company could engage in single-loop learning by simply increasing its marketing efforts, or double-loop learning by challenging its assumptions about its product and making changes to its design or production process to make it more environmentally friendly.
However, with triple-loop learning, the company would step back and question the fundamental objective of increasing sales. It might realize that this objective is not in line with its values of environmental sustainability, and decide to focus on creating more environmentally-friendly products. This would mean questioning the organization’s entire mission and purpose, and making significant changes to its long-term strategy and objectives.
It’s easy to understand the depth of change involved, and the openness to introspection required of senior management.