To succeed in shaping your organization's future, you must develop an organization that learns well, efficiently and constantly. Such learning is critical, because competing in rapidly changing environments means your organization must be able to track your environments, identify changes, and adjust to these changes. You must try new things and determine what works and what does not work--increasing what does and swiftly abandoning that which does not. Then you must build a new cycle of learning upon this learning in a never-ending fashion. In the words of John Naisbitt (1990):
"In a work that is constantly changing, there is not one subject or set of subjects that will serve you well for the foreseeable future, let alone for the rest of your life. The most important skill to acquire now is learning how to learn."
This is as true of organizations as it is of individuals. Life cycles of products are shortening dramatically, sometimes ending prematurely and permanently as new products replace them. Organizations may also die, or at least decline severe, if they have not paid attention to the rapidly shifting demands being placed on them. The continued decline of General Motors over the past two decades in market share, revenues, and profits is but one case in point.
Many organizations are not doing well today because they simply do not change quickly enough to respond to their rapidly changing markets. They seem to have an "organizational learning disability" (Senge, 1990) stemming from fundamental flaws in organization design and management, poor job design, and deficiencies in the ways people in those organizations--especially managers--think and interact.
We have long observed in our consulting work that far fewer organizations achieve synergy than aspire to do so. The goal of synergy--in which the results of a group's efforts surpass those of its members individually--is one of the reasons underlying most mergers, acquisitions, and cross-departmental projects. The expectation is that two plus two will equal more than four. The reality is, all too often, that two plus two equals three or less! We call that negative synergy.
Why is this the case? On an organization-wide basis, negative synergy results from culture clashes between various units, lack of a shared vision, unclear missions, internal competition, poor communication, and inadequate leadership.