This is only a small collection of my papers and not a full reflection of the scope of work covered during the programme. A large part of the programme consisted of learning conversations and academic discourse among students and in a closed, asynchronous, virtual learning environment. This blog was recently created but please note that the papers were written between 2005 and 2007. Thank you and welcome to my blog.
Thursday, 22 March 2012
"National Commission on the future of Work and Learning United Arab Emirates (Natcom UAE)" - 4 April 2006. An analysis and recommendations for the promotion of a system that is democratic, equitable and efficient
We are in 2010.
Due to the rise of regional blocks like the European Union and new global giants like China and India, the world order in 2010 has slowly moved away from a US dominated one into a multi-polar one. This has reduced the US unilateral influence in the Middle East and has given way to various polarized blocks. Paralleled with the diminishing role of the United Nations, this has resulted in increased regional tension and conflicts.
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is counted as a developed nation on the strength of a diversified non-oil economy with a annual GDP of US$ 30 Billion and a per capita GDP of US$ 23,000 with annual GDP growth of over 6% p.a. The non-oil economy contributes 96% of GDP out of which 25% of GDP is contributed by the knowledge economy whilst the service sector represents 70% of GDP. (Corporate Dubai, 2005).
The country leveraged the growing knowledge economy and is now a regional hub and a crucial node in global networks supporting financial services, ICT, education and healthcare services.
If the country can rise to the challenges of globalization, diminish the negative impacts of radicalism in the region and realize the tremendous potential of the Emiratis (nationals), the rewards will be incalculable. By 2010 the rest of the world will be looking on, not to lecture about democracy or reform but to learn about what is possible through work and learning.
Work and Learning for Young People (under 25 years of age)
It is widely accepted in the UAE that education needs to transform itself in line with the demands of the workplace and the knowledge economy of the future. Husen refers to the fact that nothing was said about the role of the family in education systems during the seventies in predictions about education and learning in the future. (Husen, T., 2002). Papadopoulos refers to the importance of history, culture and context. (Papadopoulos, G., 2002).
Traditional culture has been the defining element of Emirati society and its economy. Extended family networks wield enormous power in all aspects of life. Any prospective change in family structure and values will collide with tradition and heritage. (Walters et al, 2003). By 2010, pressures on the cultural landscape of the country will keep on growing.
Higher education plays a significant role in preparing students for future careers. The quest for an ideal solution will continue. The UAE will keep abreast of trends, issues, threats and opportunities in learning and work by implementing innovative changes and welcoming outside influences such as technology and international universities.
The government will benefit from the support and expertise of the international community and will recognize that progress will be slower working in isolation. The business community in the UAE will be invaluable in the gradual transformation of teaching and learning, and the preparation of the workforce of 2010. In future, there will be a growing need for educational systems to produce students with a clear understanding of the necessity for lifelong learning.
The segregation of men and women in separate men’s and women’s colleges in the higher education system will be addressed by 2010. The more inflexible rules and forms of education will change and the original idea of a single, segregated campus will cease to exist.
Students work in an oral culture, where statistics and written information can be hard to find, and where the systematic habits of recording and analyzing data and communicating about it have been less developed. Journalism lacks the sensational reporting style of western tabloids, and equally the serious critical perspectives of western broadsheets. Newspapers avoid criticism of government and foreign leaders or the religion of Islam. A new emphasis on critical inquiry emerging through the television network coverage of regional and international events will become evident by 2010.
E-learning is a concept that requires user input in order to leverage it to effectively meet specific needs. It should be adopted because it solves problems, not because it is the latest fashion in education. Teachers will become more IT savvy. This will prove beneficial to the e-learning cause, enabling the region’s institutions to exchange success stories and share experience with one another.
At an institutional level, issues will arise concerning the relationship of local and international accreditation of teaching programs. The region will invest in pan-Arab virtual universities which will cater to the 300 million Arab speakers in the region. Virtual universities will ensure continuing education for many working people who can access different international universities and programmes without traveling. It will keep the Arab work force in the region.
A new generation with global vision and local identity will be created. We will ultimately be confronted by different types of challenges to work and learning - global challenges which are external to the world of education, internal challenges of the education systems themselves and challenges specific to the Gulf Region.
Educational reform should be viewed holistically with recognition of the importance of strategic planning; objective monitoring; evaluation of educational processes; communication & technology and quality assurance.
Students’ research skills need to be improved and their understanding of what they learn deepened to feed the demand of employers and match the skills needed.
E-learning should be available to all and become a lifestyle because few people would be able to afford to leave their employment for the sake of studies. Employees, students, and housewives should benefit from e-learning.
Redesign of academic models by universities to move away from traditional assessment protocols. A new concept for developing and assessing an outcome based educational model is proposed.
Work and Learning for Adults
By 2010, Islamic work ethic in the UAE will directly affect organizational commitment and job satisfaction. Support of the Islamic work ethic will differ less across age, education level, work experience, national culture, organization type and ownership. (Darwish A., 2001).
More Emiratis (women included) will enter the labor market whilst jobs that have been created for the knowledge economy will still require foreign talent. Organizations will focus on quality, high ICT penetration, and a work environment that fosters political and religious tolerance.
Human capital development will remain a primary area of change and reform. Media, translation, socialization and upbringing will alongside education become vital channels for dissemination of knowledge. Interpersonal and communications skills, teamwork, the ability to evaluate and advance talent, and personal attributes such as perseverance, integrity, and open-mindedness will contribute to professional success. (Arab Strategy Forum, 2004).
Distributed work will be attractive to older workers previously excluded from the market. Gradual retirement might become very popular, including provisions for older workers to work part-time, and from home, thereby avoiding lengthy and unpleasant commutes in an urbanized country with serious traffic congestion. Work online and remotely means that people won’t know their age or judge them on appearance. That might be a significant reason for older people to move towards online work in a country known for its high standards of grooming and the importance of appearance.
One of the biggest changes in the future of work will be the degree and kind of control that individual workers have over where, when, and what they do to produce value. They will be able to work anywhere, anytime, and meet fellow workers wherever it’s most convenient. This will feed the growing demand for talent workers in organizations. In the future communities will become known for the kind and quality of work that occurs within them and organizations will reach out to help local communities build and maintain the infrastructures needed to support remote workers.
Corporate office facilities will undergo redesign as architects and facilities managers redefine their roles as enablers of work, not as creators and managers of physical places. This is a major shift in thinking. The physical work structures themselves will be designed and built from a different perspective to enable specific work and learning activities in our lives.
The future of work will be about sharing experiences, about learning what’s worked (or not) and why. Workers will draw on the collective wisdom of the larger community for advice, support, guidance, and friendship. Being a member in the broader community of work will enhance individual capabilities. (Future of work, 2005).
The challenge for employers will be to retain and motivate their workers. To meet this challenge in a future when societies, people, technology, organizations and markets are changing so much will require quite new levels of sophistication. The quality of leadership and high levels of trust will be significant differentiators for high performing organizations.
- solutions to reduce stereotyping regarding older workers;
- new efforts for workplace diversity;
- training programmes to suit the different ways in which people work and learn;
- a new workweek stretching from Sunday to Thursday (currently Saturday to Wednesday) for enhanced global communication and co-operation.
- Diversity and inclusivity
- Partnering with customers
- Corporate social responsibility
- Strategy execution
- Managing across cultures
- Metrics for managing human capital
- Succession planning
- Talent Management
Recruitment of foreign- and training of national workers in the field of facilities management to replace the current trend of watchmen employed at low cost to manage complex buildings.
The Impact of Globalization and Internationalization
Globalization will be transforming the UAE and internationalization will be changing the world of work and learning. Implications of globalization for internationalization in 2010 will be as follows:
Element of Globalization
Impact on Work and Learning
Element of Internationalization
Increasing importance attached to the production and use of knowledge as a wealth creator
New developments in
Growth in number and influence of market based economies in the UAE and around the world
New trade agreements developed to decrease barriers to trade
Creation of new governance structures and systems to strengthen democracy
Growing emphasis on continuing education, lifelong learning and continual professional development will create a greater unmet demand for postsecondary education
Will need to develop new skills and knowledge resulting in new types of programs and qualifications
Role of universities in research and knowledge production will change and become more commercialized
New delivery methods used for domestic and cross border education, especially on-line and satellite based
Greater commercialization and commodification of higher education and training
Import and export of educational services and products increased as barriers removed
New regulatory and policy frameworks being considered at all levels
New types of private and public providers delivering education and training
Programs more responsive to market demand. Specialized training programs being developed for niche market and for professional development purposes
Increased mobility of students, academics and other workers. Mobility is physical and virtual.
More attention given to accreditation of programs/ providers and recognition of qualifications
New concerns about curriculum and teaching materials and the potential for homogenization as well as new opportunities for hybridization
Increasing emphasis on commercially oriented export and import of education programs
The Arab-Muslim version of the global-modern / local-traditional dichotomy is defined largely as in line with the fact that until the 1970’s the UAE was under British “protection”. As a result, the country was modernized largely along British lines after emerging from centuries of direct Turkish Ottoman rule; local religious and cultural heritages tended to be swept under the carpet. As a result, the trappings of globalization sit side by side with traditional features of ‘local’ life not lost yet, including: quasi-traditional political institutions (patronage, majlis councils of hereditary sheikhs, appointment through family ties), institutionalization of religion, reverence for all things ‘traditional’, and conservative Islamic dress codes. These two influences will continue to operate comfortably side by side by 2010. (Keele University, 2001).
Globalization is not limited to capital movement and trade, but also includes the cultural dimension. A declaration of Human Rights by 2010 could become the axis for that common core of values, provided it is supplemented by the endowment of human responsibilities.
With regard to the global challenges in future, UAE government and organizations should respond to the following:
- The process of globalization
- accelerated pace of scientific and technological progress
- radical transformation in the field of work and employment
- increasing social inequalities
- progress of democracy and human rights and the aspiration of civil society to take part in the arena of political decision-making
- multi-culturalism and greater contacts among various cultures
- prevalence of rapid changes and the consequent uncertainties in the social life
- the feeling of insecurity that might provoke depression
- moral decline and the felt need to revitalize moral and ethical values
By 2010, the UAE will show a bigger interest in linking literacy and adult education programs to vocational training and the rehabilitation of human capital, trying thus to link these programs to social development plans and the needs of the labor market. Literacy and vocational training programs will focus on including in these programs the acquisition of competencies, in terms of skills and knowledge. New curricula will be developed. Some adult literacy and education programs will include services for health, and agriculture guidance and training to traditional industry, production of artisan crafts and income generating projects.
Development of skills such as precision in carrying out one’s work, a methodological approach to work, meticulousness, the ability to adapt to new kinds of work and the ability to co-operate will become very important. The translation of these goals into learning materials and methods will not be easy. The objective should be to give confidence to the young learners that humankind can favorably influence their future, if the right decisions are taken and acted upon.
In the future world of employment and work, expectations of students contrast adversely with those of teachers. While the latter give priority to personal and social development of the learners, students will be particularly interested in vocational and academic development. This means that young people will be looking much more to their own professional future to the exclusion of other vital issues. Therefore secondary and tertiary level students should become familiar about the changing needs and requirements of the labor market.
Implementation of indicators related to the efficiency and output of life skills development
Overcoming of challenges such as:
- a shortage of highly skilled human resources, including in the field of education
- reconciling traditional orientation of education with the aspiration for modernity
- diversification of the economy to become less dependant on oil revenue and the consequent increase in the need for competence training and management development in other sectors of the economy
- the need to invest more in research in various priority areas, including education
- the need to derive optimal benefit from the complementary nature of the Gulf Region economies through enhanced co-operation.
Modern UAE is the product of the past 30 years of intensive development. The country has witnessed enormous expansion from a small, old-world country to a modern state with exceptional communication, state of the art industrial infrastructure, and all the comforts of modern life. It has been quick to embrace modernity.
According to Dr. Al Karam at the forum on Working Together to Create Learning Cities of the Future (Australia) the UAE has “articulated a key role for education in its economic vision”. He stressed the need for a “Learning country” to foster educational institutions that cater to diverse communities. (AME Info, 2005).
"Innovation does not depend solely on how individual enterprises, universities, and research institutions perform, but also on how they interact with one another and with the public sector." (Arab Human Development Report, 2003)
For the purpose of this submission, I will focus on how the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is approaching the issue of skill development towards a new economy and a globalised market. I will explain policies of the UAE in response to the Green and Sakamoto model where they hypothesise four types of high skills strategies or models. (Brown,2001) The United Arab Emirates (UAE) is a Federal Sovereign State which consists of seven Emirates formed in 1971. The country is strategically located at the crossroads of trade and commerce between East and West and has developed a world-class infrastructure, air connections and port facilities making it the most well-connected country in the region. As politically stable, it has a forward-looking, responsive Government with a progressive, pro-business attitude and a highly developed commitment to the private sector. Consistently strong economic indicators and a relatively low cost work environment have contributed to rapid development and prosperity.
Although a developing country, the UAE offers a very high quality of life and corporations are able to attract and retain top calibre professionals from a wide variety of backgrounds and is as a country in a transitional face towards becoming a knowledge based society with developing a high skills base.
The UAE has an open economy with a high per capita income and a sizable annual trade surplus. It has been a member of the World Trade Organization (WTO) since 1995. The overall performance of the UAE's economy is heavily dependent on oil exports, which account for over 30 percent of total gross domestic product (GDP). (Energy Information Administration, 2005). In recent years, the UAE has undertaken several projects to diversify its economy and to reduce its dependence on oil and natural gas revenues. The country now ranks 18th on the Growth Competitiveness Index rankings. (World Economic Forum, 2006).
OVERVIEW OF THE UAE
An estimated 4.3 million by 2004
Unit of Currency
UAE dirham and the value of the dirham has been fixed to the US dollar since 1980 at the rate of 1 USD to Dhs3.67
GDP (PPP) per capita
GDP (nominal) per capita
23,818 – 30th in the world
23,968 – 23rd in the world
1.8 of the active population
Major Trading Partners
Major Export Products
Crude oil, natural gas, re-exports, aluminium, dried fish, dates
Major Import Products
Manufactured goods, machinery, and transportation equipment, food
(High Beam Research, 2005)
Education in the UAE has been through two major phases of development. The first was establishing the foundation, which lasted from 1971 to the beginning of 2005. The second is developing the current system based on both international standards and the outcome of the earlier phase.
In the private sector, the government has adopted an open education policy, which offers all levels of education for both nationals and expatriates. This policy has aided in providing stability and promoting social understanding amongst the expatriate communities which makes up 75% of the population. The country continues to update and modernise educational policies and continues to invest in infrastructure, in order to ensure that graduates are properly equipped to enter the labour market. Within this direction, the government established The National Human Resources Development and Employment Authority or Tanmia and the Council for Civic Service.
The UAE work environment is a cosmopolitan work environment with a limited distribution of high skills throughout the workforce. Over 185 nationalities are represented and it is characterised by a strong work ethic. According to the UN Human Development Index, the UAE ranks number 41 and falls in the High Development Category. (Human Development Index, 2005).
The Dubai Development and Investment Authority points out that development and training of the UAE's youth are a major focus of Government policy. “With over half of the UAE's citizens under 18 years of age, there is an urgent need to create new employment opportunities. This is coupled with a recognition that high quality training is essential if the country's growth is to continue. Besides conventional training opportunities in institutes of higher education, industry-based training is growing rapidly. A special Cabinet Manpower Committee supervises the development of the UAE's human resources, with the objectives of maximising local employment and reducing dependence on expatriate labour.” (Dubai Development and Investment Authority, 2006)
The World Bank has identified the UAE as one of the least cumbersome countries in which to set up a new business. According to a recent report, the World Bank stated that only 29 days is needed to set up a new business in the UAE. The report estimates the cost of setting up a new business (as a percentage of gross per capita national income) in the UAE at 24.4 per cent compared with the MENA average of 76.1 per cent (Ministry of Information and Culture, 2006).
The situation in the UAE shows characteristics of the High Skills/Low Skills model of the United Kingdom (UK) and show evidence that it might in the future lean towards the German High Skills model as outlined in Green and Sakamoto in Brown (2001). Where companies were previously reluctant to invest in training and development of expatriate workers due to a transient workforce, souring costs of living over the past two years are forcing more companies to invest in their human capital. Visa laws have been relaxed and employees are now able to move between companies without receiving an automatic ban by the Department of Immigration.
A surplus of unskilled manpower exists with in the UAE. The Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has started a major reorganization of the labour market in order to discourage a further influx of foreign unskilled manpower and to try to absorb the present surplus of manual workers mainly from Asia. (Government, 2006) Then on the other hand, a fair number of highly skilled manpower from the sub-continent is underutilised due to the existence of Elitism.
Where nationals (Emirates) are concerned, the majority of them work in a public sector that has reached saturation point and is, therefore, incapable of absorbing about 16 000 nationals that are expected to enter the job market in 2006. UAE nationals account for only 2% of the total workforce in the private sector, while private sector employment accounts for 52% of the jobs in the UAE. This issue will be addressed by Tanmia who has provided 7000 nationals with either job training or help to find jobs since its launch in 2001.
The UAE Human Resources Report 2005 compiled by Tanmia highlights three important factors that have shaped the nation’s workforce:
In the first place a demand for skills in the face of fast economic growth.
In the second place a working age population that is increasingly made up of young people (over 45 per cent of the total national population is under 15 years of age).
Thirdly a growing reliance on foreign labour an increase of approximately 282 per cent in the number of Emiratis working in banks. (Ministry of Information and Culture, 2006).
It is clear that in order for nationals to become active participants in the private sector, effort is necessary by both parties. This requires fundamental changes in attitudes, conditions and environment within the private sector as well as among UAE nationals seeking employment. One reason for the reluctance of nationals to work in the private sector is the 48 hour work week as per the UAE Labour Law and as favoured by private sector employment. Training is also a key element of a successful emiratisation strategy and nationals are in need of technical and English language training, as well as work experience programmes. Nationals have a poor record in matching their qualifications to the demands of the job market, while those who do have relevant degrees are deficient in professional skills and job oriented training.
The UAE is, perhaps, one of the very few countries in the world where foreigners dominate the private sector, both as employers and employees, and in almost all countries that allow immigration the rule is that foreigners are only allowed to take up jobs when suitably qualified nationals are not available. This provision is also part of the UAE labour but it is not easy to enforce the law as there is unequal competition in the job market between national workers and a trained and experienced expatriate workforce. Expatriate workers will continue to play a vital role in the country’s economy.
To summarise the distribution of skills in the workforce, the model of the UAE represents a sandwich – “. . .at the bottom, cheap and exploited Asian labour; in the middle, white northern professional services, plus tourist hunger for glamour in the sun and, increasingly, a de-monopolised western market system; at the top, enormous quantities of invested oil money, combined with fearsome social and political control and a drive to establish another model of what modern Arabia might mean in the post 9/11 world.” (The Guardian, 2006).
Case Study - a learning intervention to create team vision and unity towards a healthier, high performing culture at APAMA International, a Real Estate and Property Management Company in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates
Towards the end of 2005 APAMA International was still reeling from the impact of a major re-organization the previous year – the merging of APAMA Real Estate and APAMA Contracting to form APAMA International. It had left the workforce polarized between employees of two very different organizational cultures. The polarization was specifically evident between the Creative Team and the Property Development Team. Innovation was insufficient and did not match the frontiers the company was charting, a lack of trust surfaced, frustrations were high, creative efforts poor and there was still a prevailing attitude of "us" and "them". Though the work was getting done, considerable time and effort was being wasted not by breakdowns in technology or structure, but in working relationships.
In this case study I report about the outcomes of a learning intervention delivered to make the shift to a healthier, high performing team culture. Employees were ready for a change, but project managers lacked the human technology necessary to make a shift to a more cohesive, unified, and aligned team culture. In my role as a learning practitioner I piloted a learning program that made provision for an incubation period, a creative exploration event where the teams were asked to design an advertising campaign and finally an integration phase.
This was a challenging intervention which integrated creative decision making, team co-operation, vision and unity with the production of a professional end product subjected to a fixed deadline.
“A fundamental belief in organization development is that work teams are the building blocks of organizations. A second fundamental belief is that teams must manage their culture, processes, systems, and relationships, if they are to be effective. Theory, research, and practice attest to the central role teams play in organizational success. Teams and teamwork are part of the foundation of organization development.” French and Bell, 1995: 87)
My role in APAMA International is an interesting one and can be closely matched to the role of the discourse technologist as described in Chappel, 2003:9. “Discourse technologists are ‘expert outsiders’, people who are in workplaces (for a time, at least) but not of them.” I am contracted as a Projects Manager with emphasis on Human Resources and report directly to the Managing Director. I am explicitly charged with intervening directly in the discursive practice of some employees. I create and manage creative tension, especially around the gap between vision and reality.
In APAMA International, it is challenging to reliably and quickly describe the root cause of problems. In my role as learning practitioner I seek process excellence and am very aware of the need to find root causes for problems. Companies that can consistently and quickly specify the core problem it faces will simply be more agile than competitors, and such agility will be impossible for our numerous competitors to identify, understand or replicate. This serves as great motivation to my own activities in our organization.
How do I identify learning issues and foster learning in view of the above? We learn best from our experience, but do we ever directly experience the consequences of many of our most important decisions? I realize that many of the leaders in our company focus on solutions that are nearby when faced with problems, ignoring the root causes and remain oblivious to the fact that problems might come back to haunt them in the long term. So I identify learning issues by looking at root causes as supported by Systems Thinking.
Although experiential learning is multifaceted and sometimes even paradoxical with many different dimensions, it has come to mean two different types of learning - learning by self or informal education; and experiential education with emphasis on the nature of participants' subjective experiences. The concept of experiential learning explores the cyclical pattern of all learning from experience through reflection and conceptualizing to action and on to further experience.
Fenwick (2001) in describing the enactivist perspective mentions that when two systems coincide, the perturbations of one system excite responses in the structural dynamics of the other. Enactivists explore how cognition and environment become simultaneously enacted through experiential learning.
The great shock of 20th century science has been that systems cannot be understood by analysis. The properties of the parts are not intrinsic properties, but can only be understood within the context of the organization as a whole. Systems Thinking is contextual - the opposite of analytical thinking. Systems Thinking means looking at the properties and patterns of behavior of an organization within context of the larger whole. In this case study the real thing or the genuine product is neither subject nor object, but rather emerges from the relationship between the subject and object within its surrounding context.
Large-scale property development projects require a close working relationship between the Property Development Team and the Creative Team to ensure the success of the project. It is easy to dismiss breakdowns in the relationship between them as a longstanding battle that will never be resolved. However, these two distinct teams provide the two halves that compose the whole of the project under development for customers. Working together will always provide a better result. I pointed out to the concerned project managers that they themselves have significant development and creative skills, and that they need to seek out the interrelationships and common ground between the Property Development Team and the Creative Team to help ensure success.
Project Managers have resolved to arbitrary interventions, not knowing what to do, and have reached the edge – a place where we stop when we do not know what to do. In order to discover the solution we needed to take time out and incubate the problem, play with it, sink into it, look at other possibilities and enter the place of unknowing with awareness. The place of unknowing is alien to most managers because their mind is used to problem solving based on established criteria. Creative people and innovators on the other hand are no strangers to the place of unknowing and even depend upon it to help them discover what to do next. I suggested that we follow three steps – incubation, creative exploration and finally integration to solve the learning issue.
Due to the high levels of creativity involved between the Property Development Team and the Creative Team, I was aware that the correct learning project would be asking for an exciting experience. Through processes and ideas expressed in Systems Thinking, I identified the conflicts and dynamics within the work context and developed a learning experience to take place over 3 separate parts. The first part would focus on incubation, the second part on a creative exploration and the third part integration and resolution.
I decided to follow the route of incubation with the two teams to reveal and identify the patterns and processes that were influencing their creative processes, and to support the emergence of new and more productive ways of working. Incubation is a diagnostic process that examines the roles, dynamics and atmosphere that create the reality in which we work. As with any task or project, preparation is often the key element to achieving a successful outcome. Without incubation we are literally working in the dark - a dangerous practice, and one destined to fail. The intention and purpose of the incubation day is to make everyone fully cognizant of the dynamics that exist in the field by bringing awareness to the atmosphere, the conflicting missions and dreams and how they were cancelling each other out sub-consciously. Where did they become polarized and how do employees relate or not relate to each other and what agendas are they carrying?
Team members were asked to develop an advertising campaign for a project that the Media call the 8th wonder of the world, a trio of man-made islands build in the shape of date palms in the waters of the Arabian Gulf. This event is challenging and integrates creative decision making, team co-operation, vision and unity with the production of a professional end product subject to a fixed deadline. Through the advertising campaign teams explore awareness, common purpose, creativity and dynamics. Blocks to creativity were exposed and removed - permitting the development of creative solutions to problems. Fundamental learning elements were creative decision making, working to a deadline, team co-operation, activating the imagination and creativity of the group, the accomplishment of tasks, make the task of team building fun and enjoyable, processing of team vision and team unity and producing a polished professional end product. The day began with the team discussing the ideas forged on the incubation day for developing an advertising campaign. They then reached a conclusion as to what, in their view; best represents their work and vision for the company.
Integration and resolution
Patterns have their own life, and unfold effortlessly when the teams support the creative exploration. To accomplish this I looked at the handling and facilitation of any distressing material that arose. What have the group discovered about themselves? I asked ask them to produce an image of how they see each other after the development of the advertising campaign and compare these to day one. Then I examine what attitudes needed to be modeled in order to facilitate any changes. What has been produced through the process and how can we care for it? And finally, I looked at whether there was person(s) in the field blocking formation of new patterns and whether it was possible that someone in the group needed to move on. As new patterns unfolded, the team entered a process called a phase transition. This process can be disorienting as they move from the known to the unknown, from the familiar to the new. It is at this point that the process became reality. To facilitate teams through this phase I allowed the remnants of the old pattern to surface and gave them the space to let go of the old way in their own time. By facilitating the team through the phase transition I eliminated the factor common to many team building events known as fallout and established the ground for solid growth. Once they passed through this phase the new dynamics took on a life of their own and created the conditions of the learning intervention.
Measurement of organizational learning and culture change initiatives between teams was a challenging task. I developed a five point scale survey which were filled out by team members and analyzed at various stages in the learning project baseline. Significant and lasting benefits were shown to last well beyond the expected post-training euphoria stage and were documented up to eight months into the project.
Reports from the two teams showed consistent trends in significant improvements that have both personal and business implications. These included improved cross-team and cross-functional collaboration, a greater sense of community synergy and support at work eliminating the "us and them" division. An atmosphere of increased trust and openness emerged leading to an improved morale and more positive attitude toward work & team.
The intervention was a success from the start. Few management teams even bother to measure their project and training efforts. I have never seen a project seek to make such fundamental improvements in both people and the work environment. The depth of this project had the earmarks of a pioneering effort, not only for the project development and Creative Teams, but for the entire company.
I arranged a meeting with the senior management team of APAMA International. This meeting was initiated as part of our strategy to learn and benchmark what other teams have done to improve their culture, creativity and operations, and especially their approach to people. The Managing Director’s view was that the focus on people resulted in a major business breakthrough in organizational efficiency and creativity.
The teams were allowed to participate directly in the evolving vision, plans and structure of new projects and to express their ideas without threat. As they saw their feedback incorporated into the company’s direction, their attitudes began to change.
One often mentioned obstacle in the relationship between development and Creative Teams is the lack of a shared language—the teams don't understand one another in terms of the particular perspective on the project and its requirements. The Creative Team often speaks in mockups and storyboards as they pitch concepts. It helps them to define the parameters of a story within available resources and time, organize and focus a story and to figure out what medium to use for each part of the story. Property Development Teams on the other hand make use of flow charts, showing the flow of control among the steps in their projects and between people. The elements themselves are represented by simple icons to allow the viewer to focus on the way the user will move through the steps in a process. A flow chart indicates sequences and decision points as well as starting and stopping points. Storyboards and flowcharts will in future be used as the platform for a strong understanding between teams and their cultures in APAMA International.
The Systems Thinking approach in the company is a fundamental way of critical thinking that allows me to effectively formulate the way I think to eliminate biased, distorted, partial, uniformed, or prejudiced reasoning. Throughout the case study, I asked myself the following questions. What are we trying to accomplish? How will we know when we accomplish this? Where are we now in our thinking? How do we get from where we are to meet our purpose or central aim? What is happening in our environment that will affect our thinking?
Designing learning interventions by working backward from organizational goals helps drive things forward. Learning is the driver for any positive change, and with certain missions and objectives in mind, we are tapping the untapped potential of reduced resources and benefiting from it. Isn’t it true that we all want hope, direction and unity? After all, if we know where we are going, chances are we will get there, and if not, then we will end up on the road to nowhere.
How do we bridge processes to ensure productivity and direction?
Through this case study I learned that teams have their own development processes. Individual work styles are great, but not if they are incompatible. It is the priority of managers to ensure that the development and creative processes complement one another. It became evident that conflict could occur when the cross-functional teams need to work together to meet the deliverable. In my opinion it is important for managers to track the efforts of both teams to ensure each group is supporting the deliverable. To avoid another potential conflict, managers should also make sure resource allocations for both teams are equal.
Finally, managers need to make sure the creative side knows about any technical restrictions that may affect the design or other deliverables of the Creative Team. There are actually project deliverables where the skills of the Creative Team and Property Development Team complement one another. Managers should look for common ground in these areas of the project where positive and productive relationships can be fostered between the development and Creative Teams.
I see the value of helping individuals and teams become more successful by improving our processes and realigning and reinventing roles and responsibilities so that they can become more effective. This has been very exciting, and employees have energy for tackling what have been chronic problems. They feel a new level of commitment and management's support for making permanent changed for the better.
Co-creating of a vision and a culture has been a very powerful learning issue and delivered results that have allowed us to move very quickly beyond the original issues we faced as a company.
When you ask people about what it is like being part of a great team, what is most striking is the meaningfulness of the experience. People talk about being part of something larger than themselves, of being connected, of being generative. It become quite clear that, for many, their experiences as part of truly great teams stand out as singular periods of life lived to the fullest. Some spend the rest of their lives looking for ways to recapture that spirit. (Senge 1990: 13)
From breakdowns to breakthroughs within and between people – we have learned that there is a dynamic synergy between personal, team, and organizational learning and transformation. Systems Thinking is enhanced by employees learning to view and manage themselves and their teams as dynamic whole systems. Other managers and teams in the organization learned from this case study and gained insight into opportunities to build more synergy between vision, unity and a common culture in their own work.
We've made some big strides towards making the vision a reality this year. But our employees know this is really a journey of self-discovery that we are on, and that it never really ends. Our work here is about constantly renewing ourselves, our team, and renewing APAMA International one day at a time. We place bigger emphasizes on a range of systematic and holistic concepts including whole systems thinking, viable systems, complexity and chaos theory and the learning organization.
The Building of a Learning Organization through Experiential Perspectives of Learning- “Situative” and “Enactivist” Perspectives -
Although experiential learning is multifaceted and sometimes even paradoxical with many different dimensions, it has come to mean two different types of learning:
Fenwick presents in her monograph conventional notions of experiential learning and introduce alternative conceptions by also comparing four new perspectives of experiential learning:
- Interference: A Psychoanalytic Perspective
- Participation: A Situative Perspective
- Resistance: A Critical Cultural Perspective
- Co-emergence: The Enactivist Perspective
There are different schools of thought regarding the nature of experiential learning and Fenwick (2001: 5) proceeds to mention the three main perspectives categorized by Jarvin as:
- The phenomenological tradition,
- The critical theory tradition, and the
- Situated and action theory traditions.
For the purpose of this submission I will discuss the building of a learning organization and how it functions through the situative and “enactivist” perspectives. I will outline their theoretical and practical strengths as well as their limitations in the context of my workplace and my role as a learning practitioner and a learner.
I will focus on how these perspectives stress the role of cultural action and its analysis, criticizing those who divorce the concept of experience from its socio-historical roots (Fenwick 2001: 6). A benefit of focusing on how people learn is that it helps bring order to a seeming cacophony of choices. In my role as a learning practitioner I am aware that there is no universal best teaching practice and choose to select a core set of learning principles and select teaching strategies according to the circumstances – an eclectic approach to learning.
Although experiential learning is multifaceted and sometimes even paradoxical with many different dimensions, it has come to mean two different types of learning:
- learning by yourself or informal education, and
- experiential education with emphasis on the nature of participants' subjective experiences.
The concept of experiential learning explores the cyclical pattern of all learning from experience through reflection and conceptualizing to action and on to further experience. The work of David Kolb provides a central reference point for discussions on experiential learning. “David Kolb's interest lay in exploring the processes associated with making sense of concrete experiences - and the different styles of learning that may be involved.” (Infed 2005)
- A merger and restructuring
- Sudden shifts in the property market in Dubai
By 2004, the company was defined by three different organizational structures -
The three organizational structures were respectively preservation, strategy, and efficiency-oriented, allowing them to function with their own special significance. We continually shifted the strategic centre according to market fluctuations. This allowed us to choose which organizational structure to prioritize according to whether we should preserve the organization, make an effort to promote a strategy, or try to promote efficiency.
We continued to engineer a transition from a vertical, functional and departmental business orientation to one that is horizontal, customer-focused and process-oriented. The main influences behind these initiatives were:
The growing importance of team-based work groups that have a customer orientation
The increased emphasis on critical business processes as opposed to individual functions within the company.
Now in 2006, the company is one in which people at all levels, individuals and collectively, is continually increasing their capacity to produce results they really care about. The company became a learning organization that encourages learning among its people - and also an organization that itself learns from that learning.
A global trend is the increasing complexity of the world that we have to manage. Processes and events are becoming more connected spatially and temporally. Change is occurring ever more rapidly, and we have to work with a greater plurality of perspectives and viewpoints.
We place bigger emphasizes on a range of systematic and holistic concepts including whole systems thinking, viable systems, complexity and chaos theory and the learning organization.
Situated learning involves the whole person. According to Lave and Wenger (1991) activities, tasks, functions, and understandings do not exist in isolation, they are part of broader systems of relations in which they have meaning. It also involves legitimate peripheral participation, contextual environment, and social group interaction. Legitimate peripheral participation involves "the process by which newcomers become parts of a community of practice". A community of practice occurs when people who share an interest in some subject or problem collaborate to exchange ideas and find solutions.
Four premises differentiate situated learning from other experiential forms of acquiring knowledge:
- Learning is grounded in the actions of everyday situations
- Knowledge is acquired situationally
- Learning is the result of a social process
- Learning is not separated from the world of action but exists in robust, complex, social environments
Fenwick mentions another implication for learning practitioners suggested by the situative participation for workplace organizations – action learning. Action learning as a way of integrating individuals learning with tackling priority problems and dilemmas, under actual conditions, where history offers no solutions. (Fenwick, 2001: 37).
As mentioned earlier, one of the three different organizational structures defining the organization in Dubai is strategy (project). We shift the strategic centre to project orientation for the execution of strategy within the company with the objective to efficiently and effectively resolve business strategy issues. It functions without regard to hierarchical organization class when new business strategies are executed. It is also able to affect other divisions within the strategic scope and returns to being a normal unit when a project is declared as completed.
We choose to unleash the power of action learning in taking advantage of diversity within teams and see this as a way to deal with complexity. Employees in the company represent 26 different nationalities and cultures from the West as well as the East. Action learning became a powerful problem-solving strategy for organizational learning, team building, leadership development, personal growth and career development. The strength of action learning lies in its ability to transform group dialogue from “talk to” to “talk with”, and group actions from “talk about” to “next steps”.
It is a dynamic process that involves a group of people solving real problems, while at the same time focusing on what they are learning and how their learning can benefit each group member, the group itself and the organization as a whole. It’s most valuable capacity is its amazing, multiplying impact to equip individuals, especially leaders, to more effectively respond to change. Learning is what makes action learning strategic rather than tactical.
My role as learning practitioner in the situative/participative orientation is not to develop individuals, but to help them participate meaningfully in the practices they choose to enter. We follow the Marquardt Model which contains six interactive and interdependent components that build upon and reinforce one another:
- A problem (project, challenge, opportunity, issue or task)
- An action learning group or team
- A process that emphasizes insightful questioning and reflective listening
- Taking action on the problem
- A commitment to learning
- An action learning coach
Although situated action theory provides insight for the need to shift from the traditional cognitive science model of inflexible plans and goals and asks us to view activity as dynamic, it does not provide the researcher with a vocabulary for describing activity. It fails to recognize the "conscious" decisions made by a person to arrive at a situation.
The theory of situated learning claims that knowledge is not a thing or set of descriptions or collection of facts and rules. We model knowledge by such descriptions. But the map is not the territory. Human knowledge is not like procedures and semantic networks in a computer program. Human knowledge should be viewed as a capacity to coordinate and sequence behavior, to adapt dynamically to changing circumstances.
Knowledge is not a thing or set of descriptions and we do not learn by transferring facts and rules from one head to another. Understanding how learning is a process of conceiving an activity, and activities are inherently social, puts emphasis on improving learning addressing issues of membership, participation in a community, and identity.
Because knowledge has been equated with scientific theories, the expertise of applying theories to develop a good design and the everyday problems of interpreting policies and rules have been ignored. The process of articulating theories about the world, expressing values, and arguing about conflicts has been relegated to simply knowing what the facts are and making logical inferences. In practice, the problem is that people disagree about the facts and how to make tradeoffs – even more so in a company here in Dubai at crossroads between the East and the West.
According to Fenwick (2001: 47) the co-emergence or “enactivist” perspective of experiential learning assumes that cognition depends on the kind of experience that come from having a body with various sensorimotor capacities embedded in a biological, psychological, cultural context. Enactivists explore how cognition and environment become simultaneously enacted through experiential learning. Enactivism shows an apparent similarity to situated perspectives. They both stress the role of cultural action and its analysis. Those who divorce the concept of experience from its socio historical roots are criticized by these perspectives. (Fenwick 2001: 5)
A good starting point to understanding Enactivism is the problem of the relationship between an entity and its surroundings. Some entities have an organization that is complex. A system is complex if a great many independent agents are interacting with each other in a great many ways. Adapting involves changes to a system’s structure. It is important to distinguish between the structure of a system and its organization. A system’s organization includes the invariant features without which it would cease to be what it is. The structure of a system includes all its features at a given moment. Interactions with its environment and within the system itself result in a continuous modification of a system’s structure.
The problem is how to handle the problem of structural change and to show how an organism, which exists in a medium and which operates adequately to its need, can undergo a continuous structural change such that it goes on acting adequately in its medium, even though the medium is changing. Many names could be given to this - it could be called learning. (Maturana 1987: 75)
Another path into the notion of informal learning is to view it simply as implicit learning. Such learning results in tacit knowledge – that which we know but cannot tell. Tacit knowledge provides much of the basis for the way we interact with people and situations.
One of the five disciplines described by Senge (Infed, 2001) which are essential to a learning organisation is systems thinking. This is the ability to see the bigger picture, to look at the interrelationships of a system as opposed to simple cause-effect chains, allowing continuous processes to be studied rather than single snapshots. It shows us that the essential properties of a system are not determined by the sum of its parts but by the process of interactions between those parts.
Systems thinking looks to promote a more holistic vision of organizations and the lives of people within them. The question is whether it fosters informed, committed action on the part of those it is aimed at? Very few organizations show all of the characteristics identified by Senge in his model of the learning organization. Within a capitalist system his vision of companies and organizations turning wholehearted to the cultivation of the learning of their members can only come into fruition in a limited number of instances.
As a learning practitioner I realize that the leaders in the company may not focus on developing the human resources that the organization houses whilst looking at long-term growth and sustainability. The focus may well be on aspects such as brand recognition and status as well as delivering product innovation. Within capitalist organizations, where the bottom line is profit, a fundamental concern with the learning and development of employees and associates can be too idealistic. A failure to attend to the learning of groups and individuals in the organization spells disaster in this context too. Organizations need to be good at knowledge generation, appropriation and exploitation. The process of exploring one’s performance, personality and fundamental aims in life is a daunting task for most people. To do it we need considerable support, and the motivation to carry the task through some very uncomfortable periods. It calls for the integration of different aspects of our lives and experiences. It calls for talented leaders.
Our traditional view of leaders as special people who set the direction, make the key decisions, and energize the troops is deeply rooted in an individualistic and non-systemic worldview. Especially in the West, leaders are heroes, great men and women who rise to the fore in times of crisis. In the Middle East, such myths do not prevail. The focus is on systemic forces and collective learning - the “enactivist” perspective of experiential learning.
In this paper, I have discussed the building of a learning organization and how it functions through the situative and “enactivist” perspectives. Changing an organisation into a learning organisation, requires a culture change. The learning organisation understands the capability and potential of all its employees and attempts to release that potential. It also understands that it must be adaptive and responsive to (and not resistant to) change.
Within a learning organisation, employees have some significant degree of self-determination of their own development rather than simply having the training imposed on them from above in this way. Employees within a learning organisation would be and would feel empowered - empowered to take responsibility for their own work area and/or work tasks and for their own career and personal development.
One common characteristic of learning organisations is the existence of a key individual who champions the move towards becoming (and remaining) a learning organisation. This key individual is likely to be near the top of the management structure but not necessarily at the very top. His/her pivotal role is in establishing ownership of the concept throughout the management team and in keeping enthusiasm going when the benefits have not yet accrued and some people are losing faith. I fulfilled that role in our company.