Becoming a Learning Organization Through the Five Disciplines

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When so many organizations fail, what is the secret to success and prosperity in today’s world of rapid and radical change?

In Peter Senge’s 1990 book The Fifth Discipline, five disciplines are introduced as a set of guiding principles to enable organizations to convert to a “learning organization”. To strive for these aspirational principles means moving towards functional integration, group learning, collaboration and continuous growth.

Organizations that have adapted the learning model take a holistic approach to challenges. Every element in a system is interconnected. Treating problems in isolation won’t solve them.

Although these five disciplines of the learning organization were created more than 20 years ago, they are as relevant today as ever, with today’s global environment of cultural and economic barriers and disruptive technologies.

Systems Thinking

Systems Thinking means seeing the overall structure of an organization and the interconnectedness of its elements. It is a complex system, and like anything in a dynamic environment, organizations must continually adapt and improve in order to survive.

Personal Mastery

Personal Mastery means a commitment to personal growth and self awareness on the part of the individual. It is seeing the impact of one’s behaviour in the context of the group and being willing to have one’s personal beliefs and values challenged.

Mental Models

Mental Models refers to deeply ingrained assumptions and generalizations that influence how people understand the world. Reframing one’s mind for flexibility, learning and adapting allows one to overcome mental blocks, and move to the vision of where a company is going.

Shared Vision

Through interaction and discussion, a shared vision is achieved between people at all levels who are participating in the organization’s goals. It is not enough for senior leaders to have their vision; they must compromise, building common understandings and commitments.

Team Learning

Conversation, reflection, and inquiry in a team setting can build the foundation for a shared vision of change. When teams composed of diverse people start “thinking together” and sharing experience it is the best way to find innovative solutions to problems.


The topic of this article is covered in the curriculum for the Schulich ExecEd course Masters Certificate in Organization Development and Change (starting April 15, 2019). The program is designed to help managers and leaders support organizational change at any level, through design and facilitation for maximum benefit.

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