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Creating An Environment In Which People Feel Comfortable Sharing Information

Posted By jerrygardner On September 9, 2009 @ 4:25 pm In Case Study | 8 Comments

The success of any organization depends on the effectiveness of its people in addressing those issues that lead to the organization’s increased productivity and profitability. It sounds simple, but it isn’t easy. I often use the game of golf to illustrate this point.

The game of golf is simple. On the par four holes you are allowed two strokes to get on the green and two additional strokes to get the ball in the cup. On the par three holes you are allowed only one stroke to get on the green and three strokes on the par five holes and, as with all holes, two strokes to get the ball in the hole. So, the game of golf is simple, but it’s not easy.

The same is true in managing people and organizations. The basic principles are simple, but they are not easy. In his book, Overcoming Organizational Defenses, Chris Argyris introduces the concept of Double-Loop Learning. In single-loop learning he uses the example of a thermostat in a room that detects when the air in the room is too cold or too hot and corrects the situation by turning the heat on or off.

In organizations we evaluate the success or effectiveness of a project by interpreting the feedback we receive upon completion of the project, and then make necessary adjustments to our plans to continue the project. According to Argyris, the problem with single-loop learning is that we address only the existing issues that need correction. In doing so, we do not ask why the problem existed in the first place. In double-loop learning we address the underlying issues. In the case of the thermostat, we may learn that the heat is constantly on because someone left a window open.

Argyris contends that we do not engage in double-loop learning because of organizational defenses which he identifies as reluctance to ask questions that are embarrassing or threatening. The 360° Feedback process can lead to an organization in which people feel comfortable sharing information and asking the difficult questions. It can begin with the manager who asks for feedback, listens to that feedback, discusses it rationally and objectively with the person providing the feedback, and then encourages and supports additional feedback.

If our organization is going to be successful, we need the input of all those who are contributing to our mission and values. We need honest feedback on how we are doing on a daily basis, internally and externally. If we have any hope of receiving such information, we need to create, develop and maintain an organizational environment in which all of its participants feel comfortable sharing information and asking the difficult questions.

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