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Argyris Double Loop Learning

In: Business and Management

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Double loop learning in organizations

By uncovering their own hidden theories of action, managers can detect and correct errors

Chris Argyris

Why are employees reluctant to report to the top that one of their company's products is a "loser" and why can't the vice presidents of another company reveal to their president the spectacular lack of success of one of the company's divisions? The inability to uncover errors and other unpleasant truths arises from faulty organizational learning, says this author. Such habits and attitudes, which alJow a company to hide its problems, lead to rigidity and deterioration. The author descrihes how this process can be reversed hy a method he calls double loop learning.

Chris Argyris is James Conant Professor of Education and Organizational Behavior at Harvard University, and is the author of numerous publications on executive leadership and organizational effectiveness.

Several years ago the top management of a multibillion dollar corporation decided that Product X was a failure and should be dropped. The losses involved exceeded $ioo million. At least five people knew that Product X was in serious trouble six years before the company decided to stop producing it. Three were plant managers who lived daily with the production problems. The two others were marketing officials, who perceived that the manufacturing problems could not be solved without expenditures that would raise the price of the product to the point where it would no longer he competitive in the market. There are several reasons why this information did not get to the top sooner. At Hrst, those lower down believed that with exceptionally hard work they might turn the errors into suecess. But the more they struggled the more they realized the massiveness of the original mistake. The next task was to communicate the bad news so that it would be...

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