By Ann Gergen, Executive Director
In his 1990 book The Fifth Discipline, systems scientist Peter Senge defined a “learning organization” as one with the following characteristics: (a) systems thinking, (b) personal mastery, (c) mental models, (d) shared vision and (e) team learning.
For a more condensed look at Senge’s concept, I recommend this 1993 Harvard Business Review article that simplifies the definition and focuses on key activities a learning organization engages in: (1) systematic problem-solving, (2) experimentation, (3) learning from past experience, (4) learning from others and (5) transferring knowledge.
As a pooling professional, you might find these concepts to be familiar. After all, pools are constantly measuring and improving their work processes, collaboratively learning from their and others’ past experiences, and transferring knowledge internally and externally.
In other words, a well-functioning pool is an excellent example of a learning organization.
We see this in how some pools use conference or other learning content as conversation starters to methodically review their operations. For example, after watching sessions from Pooling Today, the Texas Municipal League Intergovernmental Risk Pool (TMLIRP) held a series of staff conversations to discuss what they had learned – and, more importantly, how those lessons could be directly applied for the benefit of TMLIRP and its members.
Participants identified more than 40 learning opportunities applicable to their current operations, including:
- Updating onboarding processes for new staff to address remote work. The TMLIRP team connected strongly with presentations about interviewing, hiring and onboarding new staff in a remote work environment. They identified several ways to improve their own onboarding processes to ensure new staff feel comfortable and connected as they join the team. For instance, TMLIRP sees an opportunity to update its employee handbook with improved work-from-home guidelines, standards for professional remote interactions, and methods to communicate organizational culture when teams work remotely.
- Engaging new methods and communications cadences to more effectively connect managers with remote work teams (with respect to people, processes and projects). Because managing remote staff and work is a new challenge for TMLIRP (and many other pools), this was the Pooling Today learning topic that generated the most input in their discussions. The team identified over 20 specific lessons applicable in their environment.
Some of the most practical ideas TMLIRP identified for implementation include managers calling one team member per day without a formal agenda, utilizing new collaboration software, using personality profiles to give managers additional insight into team members, and assigning projects in smaller pieces than has been past practice.
- Further evolving cyber coverage offered to members. Because cyber risk is a new and rapidly changing exposure for public entities, pool cyber coverage is also often in flux. By listening to industry experts and examples from other pools featured in Pooling Today sessions, TMLIRP became more aware of cyber claim possibilities and coverage language nuances it hadn’t already identified. Now, it can review its cyber coverage with a more robust perspective and the value of externally sourced insight.
- Digging deeper into strategies to limit the impact of “social inflation” on claim costs. Every jurisdiction is different when it comes to the effect of social inflation on jury awards and settlements. If your pool hasn’t yet experienced this phenomenon, it may seem like a distant risk. However, when social inflation begins to have an impact (and it likely will), the costs could be staggering.
TMLIRP was already aware social inflation was having an influence on certain litigated claims. By talking about the Pooling Today sessions on this topic, the team explored whether initial trends would worsen, identified possible strategies to limit the impact, and focused pool priorities to address this issue more directly.
- Identifying new ways to help members manage FEMA claims. During the Pooling Today sessions, the TMLIRP team heard how another pool used a FEMA coordinator to help members complete documentation and manage other interactions for FEMA reimbursement. As TMLIRP considers its own member needs relative to FEMA documentation, it has flagged this model as one to consider.
Though TMLIRP’s conversations generated many useful insights, all this might seem like a heavy commitment of time and resources. However, despite busy staff schedules and other pool priorities, the pool found its investment paid off. TMLIRP not only ended up with direct tactical ideas it can implement now but also a number of big-picture considerations it can work on over several years.
In addition to the many ideas generated, TMLIRP experienced another benefit from taking this learning organization approach. Because these discussions were broadly focused while still being work-related, they were in and of themselves meaningful team engagement opportunities for staff working remotely.
Ultimately, discussing conference lessons in a structured setting helped underscore TMLIRP’s culture of continuous improvement. The conversations gave the TMLIRP team a way to explore new ideas and trends by building on inputs shared during the learning experience and harvesting valuable insights from other pools facing similar issues. By doing so, TMLIRP built additional connections among its team members.
Though the examples listed above are specific to TMLIRP, they offer great perspective into how a learning organization gathers information, analyzes the applicability of that information, and translates outside ideas into internal strategies. To replicate this approach using Pooling Today session recordings, just log on to the broadcast website using your conference credentials anytime before Dec. 15.
If you didn’t participate in Pooling Today but would still like access to sessions, contact us.
Ann Gergen is AGRiP’s executive director and a former pool administrator. She has worked closely with and for pools, public entities, reinsurers and related service providers throughout her career.