In a few weeks, Chicago will host a citywide learning event aimed at unlocking potential.

Chicago Ideas Week, now in its 5th year, will feature a cross-section of leaders and innovators, speaking on a wide range of topics – from the global economy to The C-Suite, Under Pressure.

Unlocking potential in individuals, teams, and organizations, can be one of the most rewarding aspects of leadership. It’s also one that frequently involves learning.

What does it mean to be a learning organization today?

What specific behaviors can help you unlock potential in others?

Peter M. Senge first introduced the learning organization in his 1990 book The Fifth Discipline (updated in 2006). Senge saw learning as a transformational way for organizations to respond to change and increased competition. According to Senge, the learning organization has 5 main features: systems thinking; personal mastery; mental models; shared vision; and team learning.

More recently, David A. Garvin, Amy C. Edmondson, and Francesca Gino, wrote an HBR article entitled Is Yours a Learning Organization?, in which they examined why learning organizations are still vitally important, but also a struggle for many companies to implement. According to Garvin (in a related HBR video), how fast you and your organization are able to learn may be one of your only sustainable competitive advantages. “If your rate of learning isn’t greater than the rate of change, you’re going to fall behind.”

To create the modern learning organization, Garvin, Edmondson, and Gino, recommend that organizations create supportive learning environments, utilize concrete learning processes, and reinforce learning with leadership. “Organizational learning is strongly influenced by the behavior of leaders,” according to the HBR authors.

To create a supportive learning environment for your team, focus on the following:

  1. Provide psychological safety. Encourage team members to express their opinions, and make it safe to do so.

  2. Appreciate differences. Increase team members’ awareness of differing points of view and prompt constructive debate.

  3. Express openness to new ideas. Be willing to experiment and try novel approaches.You never know where the next big idea might come from. If you’re based in the Chicago area, consider attending CIW 2015.

  4. Encourage reflection. Take time to pause and reflect. Build simple, sustainable processes into your team’s operations (such as after-action reviews) to reinforce individual and team learning.

To help your organization unlock potential and stay ahead of the competition, increase your rate of learning.

To find out how your organization scores on the attributes above, see HBR’s free Learning Organization Survey.

For more leadership and learning insights, join ECC on LinkedIn and Twitter. If you could use some help unlocking your organization’s potential, ECC can help. Give us a call at +1.847.920.0190.