The 5 Disciplines
by Bill Cropper, Director - The Change Forum
Download extended PDF version: FactFile-2
In 1990, Peter Senge published "The Fifth Discipline" (later followed by "The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization" in 1994). His books pulled together his extensive research into what different organisations do to build learning capacity – and why some organisations use learning better than others.
Senge codified these practices into what he called 'The 5 Learning Disciplines' as well as coming up with the concept-label of 'learning organisations'.
More than merely a business best-seller, The Fifth Discipline propelled Senge into the front row of management thinkers, created a language about change all kinds of companies could embrace, and offered a vision of workplaces that were humane and built around a culture of learning.
Like any ideal, the perfect ‘learning organisation’ is not an attainable goal, but rather a desirable and useful set of guiding ideas and principles for people and organisations to aspire towards. There’s more to being a learning organisation than just amassing knowledge. Every organisation creates and uses knowledge. The challenge is that few seem to actually learn how to manage it, apply it, grow through it and use it effectively.
There’s no one correct formula -- different organisations try different processes, strategies and systems to share learning, acquire knowledge and turn it into the capacity to learn for change, re-learn and continually improve. There are, however, some key elements that all learning organisations have in common. Senge sorted many of these into 5 key learning areas or themes, he called 'The Five Disciplines'.
Five Learning Disciplines
The 5 Learning Disciplines – Shared Vision, Mental Models, Personal Mastery, Team Learning and Systems Thinking – are each made up of a set of tools and practices for building and sustaining learning leadership capability in organisations. Each Discipline consists of:
According to Senge, leaders in learning organisations learn to thrive on change and constantly innovate by methodically cultivating these 5 Disciplines. They may never be fully mastered, but learning-centred leaders, teams and organisations practise them continuously.
Our approach to workplace improvement and learning-centred leadership is based firmly in the values, concepts, principles and language of learning organisations.
The 5 Leadership Learning Disciplines in brief are:
Ø Read more about The Five Disciplines in more detail in our FactFile #2 available for free download HERE
Working with the 5 Disciplines
Sometimes it’s difficult to work out where to start work on the 5 Disciplines. Some say they just want to ‘do Systems Thinking’ or ‘work on a Shared Vision’ and leave Personal Mastery or Team Learning out of the picture. Trouble is – they can’t, because as you may have realised, all the Disciplines are inter-linked.
Do I need to build a Shared Vision first with my team? But hold on – I can’t really do that until we start having better conversations (Team Learning). Can I start by using Systems Thinking to map out with my team a few problems that keep repeating themselves at work? But wait – they’ll need to understand assumptions and Mental Models if that’s going to be worthwhile…
Because of their inter-connected nature, it doesn’t matter where you start. The Disciplines are like 5 fingers of the same hand. This doesn’t mean trying to work with all 5 Disciplines at the same time. There’s nothing wrong with concentrating on one (and we say no more than 2 at a time) of the Disciplines first and working your way onto the others serial fashion.
This FactFile is derived from our program Guide: Learning-Centred
Leadership: Applying the Tools of the
Sources referred to:
Senge, Peter M. (1990, revised 2006) The Fifth Discipline: The Art & Practice of The Learning Organization New York: Doubleday
Senge, Peter M., and others (1994) The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook: Strategies and Tools for Building a Learning Organization. New York: Doubleday