“The Army is an incredibly literate organization. They have internal journals that they use to correspond with one another. They study history carefully. They have a center for Army lessons learned. They document everything. And they have this wonderful process of learning from direct experience called “After Action Review,” in which everyone who was involved sits down and the three questions are: What happened? Why do you think it happened? And what can we learn from it?
“If you were in a good American organization and were able to get those three questions as part of your process, you could become a learning organization. What I observe in our business organizations — even in our public institutions — is that after a crisis or breakdown, or after something worked really well, we don’t get together and say, “Okay, what do we each think happened, and what can we learn from it?” We either take credit for it, or, if it’s an error, we try to bury it as fast as we can and move on.
“We’re not in cultures which support learning; we’re in cultures that give us the message consistently: “Don’t mess up, don’t make mistakes, don’t make the boss look bad, don’t give us any surprises.” So we’re asking for a kind of predictability, control, respect and compliance that has nothing to do with learning.
“So I don’t know how any of these large organizations, both public and private, have a prayer to become a true learning organization, until they move away from these cultures of status and protection and fear of one another. That came real clear to me in the Army.” —Dr. Meg Wheatley with Scott London
Guide the teams you work with through those three questions:
1. What happened?
2. Why do you think it happened?
3. What can we learn from it?
Track what happens over the next six months.