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Based on the evidence, critical conditions to foster learning cultures include decentralized/non-hierarchical decision-making processes; availability of slack resources (including time); communities of practice; strong and enabling leadership; a risk-taking culture (experimentation); and knowledge management and sharing systems. Much of the literature shows that a culture of building trust and psychological safety improve staff’s ability to learn and adapt, and that this stems from the organizational leader. The literature specifically highlights the role of “learning leaders” in establishing a learning culture on teams by enabling non-hierarchical relations, inspiring continuous improvement, and integrating a focus on learning in organizational processes. Southwest, Netflix, and other companies were successful in many ways because their leaders created a culture that was conducive to collaboration, learning, accountability, and adaptability.

In the development sector, the 2016 BEAM report on adaptive programming found that practical leadership that inspires adaptive programming has the following qualities: insistence on substantive engagement by all staff; an open embrace of failure; an ability to create incentives for internal reciprocity and integration; celebration of staff who are willing to be honest about results when speaking with leadership; and an overriding curiosity and enthusiasm for the task of adaptive programming that demonstrates desired behaviors in way that instructions cannot.

In summary, the literature shows that team culture can be both a critical enabler and barrier to organizational success. Team culture is a enabler in the following ways:

  • Team culture that encourages honest discourse and debate and provides an open and safe space for communication is positively linked with innovation and improved performance.
  • Team culture that fosters team psychological safety (the belief that a team is safe for interpersonal risk-taking) is positively linked to learning behavior, which in turn positively affects team performance.
  • Team culture that encourages individuals to trust one another is critically important because high trust teams are generally also high-performing.
  • Team culture that rewards team members who show sensitivity to feelings and needs of others and practice conversational turn-taking leads to improved performance.
  • Team culture is primarily defined by leaders and “learning leaders” are the foundation of learning organizations.

To read the full summary of the literature on culture, see our CLA Literature Review. Scroll down to view articles and cases on culture.

Culture definitions

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