Role of organisational learning in maintaining a stable context for transformation : the case of a Scottish SME
This thesis explores organisational learning, a process of improving actions through better knowledge and understanding (Fiol & Lyles, 1985). Organisational learning is essential in an organisation's ability to evolve and grow and respond to environmental changes and is implicated in its survival. While all organisations are said to be learning constantly, the processes involved in this learning are highly contested, multi-layered and intricate. Knowledge, memory and practice have been implicated in the multi-faceted nature of organisational learning. This study examines the role of organisational learning in stability and change patterns and the ways that this learning is manifested in an organisational context. In particular, this study focuses on the routine actions taken by organisational members and their role in reproducing relations of stability and change organisationally. It employs Giddens's Structuration Theory (1984) as a sensitising device to view the relationship between organisational structure and employees as one of mutual constitution where knowledgeable agents both produce their world at the same time as they reproduce it anew through their daily actions. The research takes the form of a single case study comprising interview and documentary data collected over a period of eighteen months with an aerospace manufacturing company. The analysis of the findings indicated that organisations and the individuals who comprise them: are driven by a mutual objective that directs collective action; constantly interpret the information they receive from within and outside the organisation and act upon their interpretations; and accept that such varied interpretations can and do create conflict about organisational priorities. The findings are presented in the context of existing literature on organisational learning, knowing, remembering, practising and routine work; and within the theoretical framework of structure and agency. In doing so this study discusses the transformation of the organisation through practices, thus making stability and change constantly present rather than being viewed as mutually exclusive. This transformation is constant because organisations are comprised of individuals who engage in knowing as an element of living. Individual employees, driven by incomplete and provisional knowledge, engage in learning about their work, their organisation and how to improve by constantly interpreting the knowledge transmitted to them through their socialisation in and through organisational practices. Their knowing and learning is continuous; when practising routine work not only do they reproduce the conditions that make their actions possible, they also produce the organisation anew. Better knowledge has increased the capacities of employees and their contribution to organisational efficiency has improved. In their joint efforts they have thus transformed the organisation which in turn forces change back upon the individuals – a transformed organisation needs to be interpreted and understood once more and the cycle starts again. Organisational learning can be viewed as the transformation of the organisation, not only through major changes that are deliberate and contingent, but also though the subtle alterations that happen continuously in the course of each day as people go about their work.