Recently, a friend of mine was telling me about her troubles at work. She felt like she was being micromanaged, yet she wasn’t getting any feedback to help her improve. Things came to a head when this friend brought the matter up with her manager. The manager, resentful of the perceived criticism, exclaimed that she had no choice – after all, my friend always left assignments until the last minute!
This reminded me of an article by Chris Argyris in which he explains that most organizations are stuck in a mode of single-loop learning. Individuals at all levels tend to withhold information so as to maintain control of situations or avoid uncomfortable confrontations. The result is that while some behaviors might change to resolve the immediate problem, the underlying goals and assumptions are never questioned until it is too late.
My friend thought that she was being micromanaged because of a lack of trust in her ability to do the job. In fact, it wasn’t the quality of the work that caused her manager to behave as she did, it was how she organized her time. Once this was made clear, my friend could shift her goal and focus her improvement efforts in the right place.
In order to quickly adapt to changing circumstances, organizations should be regularly engaging in double-loop learning. This means seeking a deeper understanding of a given situation – getting to its roots cause, reviewing the validity of assumptions, and potentially adjusting their goals as a result.
What can you do to engage more often in double-loop learning?