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The training and development of people require that an organization improve systematically. Identify what an organization needs to do to improve systematically. Synthesize the literature and theory on strategies for systematic improvement with regard to training and development.


The training and development of people require that an organization improve systematically. A better understandng is needed of how to help organizations rejuvenate their thinking―and with this new thinking, to train and develop their people in new ways. This paper focuses on different types of thinking, organizational change, knowledge management, and creating a learning culture and organization. Training, training systems, strategies, and designs for training are documented to develop training programs. General training is also discussed. Strategies for applying systematic thinking to training are analyzed and identified.


With the advent of systems thinking, a rethinking of organization and management has led to a new understandng of how organizations should function. These changes have led to new competencies that require leaders to think in ways that are now just coming into focus. A better understanding is needed of how to help leaders rejuvenate their thinking―and with this new thinking, to train and develop their people in new ways.

According to Maturana and Varela (1987), what one knows affects what one does, and what one does affects what one knows. In this way, one creates reality. The thematic questions that run throughout this paper are, “Can organizations create experiences of change that will assist in how people are trained and developed?” and “Can systems thinking serve to deliver these experiences?”


Cognitive science views thinking as the cognitive activity engaged in problem solving. One author, Mayer (1992), notes that psychologists have been driven to this focus by a search for a way to generate clearly testable predictions about human behavior. Behaviorism looks for outward expressions of thinking. In summarizing different approaches to defining thinking, Mayer describes it as what happens when a person solves a problem, which is to say that it “produces behavior that moves the individual from the given state to the goal state” (p. 7).

Such an approach uses immediate practice to give attention to distant consequences and is seen in how tools and techniques are applied to problems and how these problems are dealt with as they are observed in the environment.

Langer (1989, 1997) views thinking as the cognitive activity involved in seeking to understand one’s environment by contemplating alternative interpretations of meaning in observed events―what some modern theorists have termed mindfulness.

A state of mindfulness looks at alternative interpretations of experience and how each of these alternatives might yield different methods to dealing with what is observed. Thus, a mindful approach to everyday experience promotes learning about how the cognitive activities of the viewer affect what is seen, how the viewer selects “problems” from what is observed, and what methods might be taken to understand and even generate “solutions” related to those observations selected as being problematic. To do business in new ways or, in other words, to create new thinking or change, people must have mindful and reflective thinking as part of managing the organization (Langer, 1989, 1997).

Experiential Learning

People have long observed the connection between what one experiences and what one learns. Confucius is purported (Gentry, 1990, p. 9) to have said:

I hear and I forget,

I see and I remember,

I do and I understand.

When persons do something, they act out what they know. In turn, the “doing” affects what one knows, or “All doing is knowing; and all knowing is doing” (Maturana & Varela, 1987, p. 26). We enact our world and know our world by enactment (Weick, 1979). Actions bring forth knowledge and become integrated as experience.

The impact of experience is profound, and limitation of experience severely restricts the understandng that people display. An example of the underassessment of human potential is found in the work of Piaget. Piaget described the cognitive development of children as proceeding through a series of well-defined stages (Piaget & Inhelder, 1969). According to his theory, children under age 5 or 6 operate in what he calls the sensori-motor stage, where such concepts as object permanence are internalized. During this first stage, children are not capable of recognizing conservation of mass or volume, cognitive skills that come with the concrete operational stage at ages 6 and 7. Piaget saw children as developing capabilities for formal logic at ages 11 and 12.

Holt (1989) refuted Piaget’s theoretic formulation as being based upon incorrect observations resulting from restriction of experience among Piaget’s subject children. When children are allowed to “de-abstract” objects by playing with them, they can create and show a level of understanding that Piaget did not recognize when he moved objects for the children and relied on the use of language to assess knowledge. By using fantasy and play, children as young as age 2 can create and communicate understanding of formal logical problems, according to Holt.

For example, imagine an experiment in which Piaget places a small group of five wooden blocks on the floor in front of a 3-year-old child. When Piaget asks, after moving the blocks so that they are spread over a larger area, whether the number of blocks has changed, the child reports that there are fewer. However, according to Holt, if the child has the opportunity to manipulate the blocks, perhaps creating a game with two parents and three children, the child will report a consistent number of blocks, even after the blocks have been rearranged several times. Play allows the child to account for the blocks in a meaningful way (Holt, 1989).

Ultimately, children learn more and demonstrate an enhanced level of understanding when they can derive representations of a problem from their environment and manipulate models to gain insight into key aspects of the problem. The extent to which such models improve performance increases as the problems become more complex, such as when children are learning to deal with the properties of fractions (Holt, 1964).

It may be intuitively obvious that experience promotes learning. For example, de Geus (1994) indicates this to be true for adults as well as for children: citing practices such as the use of flight simulators for training airline pilots, virtual plants for chemical engineers, and many other simulations of work environments. But are there any limits on what is learned by doing? What kinds of experience promote learning? Is this type of learning amenable to anything more than just situation-specific parroting of what was experienced? Can experience change how one thinks?

Organizational Change and Knowledge Management

Organizational change and knowledge management are two types of change that are part of the new thinking of experience in an organization. Newman (2000) asks the question, “Who has not experienced organizational changes beyond his or her imagination in the past decade?” Newman then notes that downsizings, mergers and acquisitions, initial public offerings (IPOs), restructurings, and the like have influenced the way organizations operate. Unfortunately, in the haste to achieve the “lean and mean” mantra of the 1980s, organizations have stripped themselves of some of their valued history and social norms―tangibles that organizations rely on to do business.

By downsizing some of the more experienced, older workers, organizations have released critical knowledge of what has worked―and what has not worked―in the past. When a company forgets important learnings from past years, it suffers from corporate amnesia. Newman labels this trend, “Groundhog Day phenomenon”―that is, every 6 months or so, one tends to repeat the same mistakes (Newman, 2000).

Knowledge is more transient than ever before. Employees make career and job changes more often, and more employees opt to be free agents and take contract work or consulting work. In addition, companies that rely on outsourcing are in danger of losing their critical knowledge and becoming too dependent on outside firms (Newman, 2000).

According to Newman (2000), the business environment of change and experience has led to the development of knowledge management. What is meant by knowledge? Ernst & Young, one of the leaders in managing internal knowledge, may have the best definition of all: “What people need to know to do their jobs”―plain and simple.

Managing knowledge is to know how to turn information into usable data and to create, identify, capture, and distribute knowledge to the people who need it. Part of the trick is using what is in everyone’s head―that is, tacit knowledge that is not easy to convey, such as experience and values. Another challenge is making knowledge more explicit―that is, describing knowledge in a formal and systematic manner, often by expressing it in words and numbers (Newman, 2000).

A Learning Culture

To improve the potential for learning and knowledge, organizations need to build a favorable learning climate/culture. This has been recognized by several writers, including Garvin (1993), Macher (1992), Schien (1993), Senge (1992), and Stata (1989). Barrett (1995) believes that organizations are realizing that one of their most important tasks is the creation of a learning culture.

A learning culture is one where people are creative in all of their relationships and experiences. Organizations need to create the right climate for learning. They need to be encouraged to take risks and try out new ideas. Mistakes must be seen as opportunities to learn, and honesty and trust are needed throughout the organization for this to happen (Macher, 1992).

There must be a firm commitment from top management to free up employees so that they have the time to reflect and review their actions. Managers must provide an environment that stimulates the exchange of ideas across all sections of the organization.

Learning Organizations

The learning organization creates competitive advantage by adapting better to changing environments, continually improving and more easily absorbing new concepts and innovations. Learning organizations create an environment of success by working closely with their people, customers, suppliers, and competitors. Learning organizations also possess the mechanisms that transfer learning from the individual to the group, have an internal transformation process, a commitment to knowledge, and an openness to the outside world (Macher, 1992).

According to Senge (1992), people build learning organizations by putting aside their old ways of thinking. People achieve this by adjusting their mental models (their view of the world) and learning to be open with others and by developing the discipline of personal mastery (an individual’s ability to create his or her own future). By becoming systems thinkers (having an understanding of how the whole organization works and how actions shape reality), they develop a clear understanding of how their organization works and develop a clear direction for the entire organization through a commitment to a shared vision and, finally, they work together to achieve that vision by team learning.

Macher (1992) recommends specific learning cultures and climates that support experience and knowledge, as well as reflection. Swieringa and Wierdsma (1992) argue for various methods of learning, which include combinations of training and education. They divide learning into three clear parts: education or knowledge acquisition; training, the acquisition of specific skills; and forming programs directed to the development of specific attitudes.

According to Garvin (1993), learning organizations need to be skilled at five main activities: systematic problem-solving, experimentation, learning from experiences and past history, learning from others, and effective transfer of knowledge. Others see a firm commitment to knowledge, in terms of making it accessible to others (Mills & Friesen, 1992); its acquisition, creation, and transfer (Garvin, 1993); and as a source of competitive advantage (Nonaka, 1994).

New Experience, Knowledge, and Learning

One way that people gain new experience is when they change jobs. When one changes employers, one is likely to change how one perceives organizations, organizational functions, and how one solves a problem (McCall, Lombardo, & Morrison, 1988).

Johnson (1992) notes the differences between automakers that are based in the United States (e.g., Ford Motor Company, General Motors) and automakers based in other countries, particularly Japan, as exemplified by Toyota Motor Company. Johnson suggests that U. S. manufacturers practice a form of management that he calls remote-control-management-by-the-numbers, and the numbers of interest focus on costs and the bottom line. Johnson looked at this type of management and determined that it is short-term in its focus and that it tends to not lead to systemic management.

By contrast, Toyota is seen as practicing a distinctly systemic form of management in the Toyota Production System. The Toyota Production System focuses on knowing the system and developing discipline in understanding how work is done. The Toyota Production System is in operation at the Toyota Motor Manufacturing facility in Georgetown, Kentucky, which recruits both managers and workers in the United States. Particularly in those cases, where the new employees had work experience with U. S. manufacturing operations, working in the Toyota Production System represents a new way to approach work and provides excellent examples of new experiences leading to new ways of thinking. New experiences gained by working with the Toyota Production System have brought managers to understand and use systemic thinking (Johnson, 1992).

Systems Thinking

At the heart of this study is the question of how best to create learning organizations that use systemic thinking to produce change and development in the training of people. Many, including Senge (1990); Johnson (1992); Senge, Kleiner, Roberts, Ross, Roth, and Smith (1999); and de Geus (1997), have suggested that such a change is necessary for sustainable success in today’s business environment.

Senge (1990) states that systems thinking is a conceptual framework of knowledge and tools that makes patterns of events observable and points toward ways to effectively change the event. Senge and Kleiner (1994) state that systems thinking “encompasses a large and fairly amorphous body of methods, tools, and principles, all oriented to looking at the interrelatedness of forces, and seeing them as part of a common process” (p. 89). Many diverse approaches to systems thinking exist; however, they all have one guiding idea in common: behavior of all systems follows certain common principles, the nature of which are being discovered and expressed.

Clearly, systems thinking involves developing a broad understanding of systems. It comprises elements and processes that cross the traditional disciplinary boundaries of a modern world deeply fragmented by a passion for expertise. Systems thinking looks for the commonality of things and serves as the cure to the frequent lament that people have come to know more and more about less and less (Senge & Kleiner, 1994).

The object of systems thinking is important to clarify. Lendaris (1986) defines a system as, “(a) a unit with certain attributes perceived relative to its (external) environment and (b) a unit that has the quality that it internally contains subunits and those subunits operate together to manifest the perceived attributes of the unit” (p. 604).

T hus, systems thinking requires developing the ability to see the parts and the whole and understand how they are related. Systems thinking seeks to understand how surfacing properties arise in the whole through relationships among the parts. It also defines the meaning of the parts through the whole. Such thinking requires the ability to take multiple perspectives when looking at any situation and then to integrate the knowledge gained from these perspectives in understanding how complex interrelationships give rise to the observed behavior of the system (Senge, 1990).

Systemic Thinking Paradigm

Thinking in a very broad sense is the ability to unravel novel situations―those for which preprogrammed instincts do not provide adequate resolution (Calvin, 1996). Systems thinking, for current purposes, represents mindfulness. Someone who is engaged in systems thinking must constantly be integrating multiple perspectives. This involves obtaining, refining, understanding, and testing what is observed―in other words, learning. Capra, Steindl-Rast, and Matus (1991) note five changes that one experiences in shifting from the classical Newtonian scientific paradigm to the systemic thinking paradigm. Two of the changes are particularly relevant to this study: first, a shift from part to whole, such that what has been called the part, is seen as a manifestation of a pattern that underlies and shapes an inseparable web of relationships; and second, a shift in focus from the structure of things to the process that manifests the structure.

A view of organization and business based upon these two features of systems thinking focuses not on optimizing small portions of the overall business and assuming that the sum of the optimized parts will represent the most favorable whole; rather, it focuses on patterns that connect processes by which the organization accomplishes its work. The new systemic view of managing does not focus on outcome but on learning about the relationships that produce patterns of observed outcomes (Capra et al., 1991).

Johnson (1992, p. 71) has proposed several criteria that contrast the changes in thinking between old-style businesses and those operating under the new paradigm. The criteria are presented in Table 1.

Table 1

Comparison of Traditional Business Approach and Systemic Approach

Adapted from Johnson, H. T. (1992). Relevance regained: From top-down control to bottom-up empowerment. New York: Free Press.

Systems thinking is about taking a wider view of phenomena.

Systemic thinking arises when the view of the organization changes from the perspective of a machine to the perspective of a living entity in itself (de Geus, 1997; Senge et al., 1999). The organization is seen as a life system interacting with the rest of the world. From that perspective, sustainability requires thinking about the organization as a web of interconnected wholes in a co-evolving web that includes all living beings (Capra et al., 1991). This extension makes one aware that the only meaningful unit of survival is not the organization itself but includes the organization and its environment (Bateson, 1989). Meaningful portrayals of systems thinking increasingly recognize that only when people and organizations concede that humanity is necessary to survival can real sustainability be achieved ( Hawken, 1993; Capra et al., 1991).

Table 2 indicates how thinking changes when the shift is made from the mechanistic view of business to the view of a life system that coexists with natural processes (Johnson, 1

Table 2

Comparison of Traditional View and Ecological View

From Johnson, H. T. (1995). Ecological competitiveness: A frontier for the 21st century. Return on Intellect,1(1), 16–17.

The ecological perspective in Table 2 reflects a view increasingly incorporated into descriptions of systems thinking (Meadows, 1997; Schley & Laur, 1996). The ecological view of business supports organizational activities that provide for true long-term sustainability by embodying the basic principles of ecology, including interdependence, recycling, partnership, flexibility, diversity, and sustainability (Capra et al., 1991). A broader view of systems thinking considers human beings and their organizations as participants in the web of life. Such thinking views the organization as a living system.

If adopting such thinking and behavior is important to survival, then how might these changes best be brought into organizations? In particular, how might one promote more systemic, ecological management?

Business managers are generally interested in systems thinking because they view it as a way to solve immediate business problems. The researcher’s experience suggests that many business leaders would be pleased to have a universal tool that could solve their immediate problems and guarantee future success. These hopes hinge on a belief that the future is predictable and solutions will be durable.

However, in the complex, rapidly changing world, chaos appears to be more the rule than the exception. The future often is not predictable, and most solutions must be regarded as temporary at best.


The most widely accepted definition of training includes some aspect of the transfer of knowledge from instructor to student, although individuals or organizations differ in their awareness of goals and execution. The common definition for training is: “instruction so as to make proficient or qualified” (Webster, 1965). Industrial training provides the skills and experience necessary to complete job tasks and to function capably in an organization.

Organizations seek to train workers to be well versed in the skills required to perform the employee’s job and to understand organizational policies and procedures.

Carr (1992) notes that the training function is a process, just as any other system, that is comprised of requirements, resources, and results. The organization uses resources to produce results intended to meet the predetermined requirements.

Carr (1992) proposes that the basic goal of training is to enable someone to improve his or her performance. Training is seen as necessary for survival of the organization. Management expects training departments to think in terms of corporate goals and broad organizational impact (Lang, 1991). As noted by Aetna’s chairman, Ron Compton, in his keynote speech to the Electronic Performance Support System Conference in October 1991:

We’ve been looking at learning as an outcome, when learning is only a byproduct. Performance is what we want. And by providing the supports employees need to learn their jobs while they do their jobs we'll get competent performance faster and more consistently.

The results of training are measured in terms of effectiveness and efficiency. Training is effective, if it imparts the required skills and knowledge to meet the goals. Training is efficient, if it leads to productive results with a minimum use of time and money (Carr, 1992).

Training Systems

Carr (1992) and Cohen (1991) determined that the resources required for training include knowledge, time required to train the employee, costs of the development, and presentation of the training program, as well as the time lost by the employee not being on the job. One must expect to find some trade-offs between the resources and results in training systems, and to obtain better results, more resources are needed.

Between the requirements and the results come the process of designing and producing the training, and it is these processes that consume most of the resources. An effective and efficient training system is one that combines:

1. A clear strategy

2. Careful analysis and design

3. Appropriate methods and media

4. Continuous evaluation.

(Carr, 1992)

With the current emphasis on quality and cost reduction, strategy in training has changed. Organizations desire the greatest impact for company wide enhancement, while watching for a high return on investment. Coming, Inc., installed a new educational philosophy that classifies training programs according to the likelihood that they will drive essential change in the organization. Coming’s development programs are aimed at teams that are seen as far superior to those aimed at the individual, and even better, training that impacts the entire organization (Lang, 1991).

The United States Marine Corps found it necessary to integrate a new strategy in their training. In the past, training segments were broken down to small simple steps, a design that did not appeal to the type of career soldier the Marines were trying to recruit. The new strategy placed value on the ability of the soldier to make innovative decisions based on common sense and individual judgment. The test arena, at the time, was the Marines’ success in the Gulf War (Thompson, 1991).

Training departments are linking themselves to important organizational needs, goals, and strategies; and organizations are aligning their training programs with the goals of the company at large (Lang, 1991). A new consciousness occurs in higher management levels that an organization cannot continue to be competitive without well-trained employees (McIntyre, 1992), and some organizations view training aimed at the individual as a way of attaining individual competency faster and more efficiently. Such an approach causes training to be more future-oriented (Cohen, 1991). Malcolm (1992) notes that when the current emphasis on reengineering the corporation is applied to corporate strategy, training will then aim for higher levels of expertise in shorter time.

Training Strategy and Design

Cohen (1991) observes that many organizations now consider training as more of a strategic weapon than a technical tool, and they are setting their sights on maintaining characteristics not just skills. More training is developed around groups of competencies instead of job skills. It seems obvious that effective training begins with an effective strategy, but not many organizations actually develop, implement, and constantly revise their training programs.

Carr (1992) suggests a practical process that has three basic steps:

1. First, the organization must decide its competitive advantage. What is the product or service that the company can provide its customers? The company must provide a product or service that the competition does not recognize or cannot provide as well, or even at all. As an example, the U. S. Marines determine that their competitive expertise has the readiness to mount expeditionary operations anywhere, any time, and their training has to change to reflect that advantage (Thompson, 1991).

Kellogg and Ralston Purina both produce breakfast foods. Kellogg’s brands are well-established, whereas Ralston has very few established brands. Ralston sees their market niche in “topical,” or “fad,” cereals that last for only a short time (such as “Nemo”). Both organizations exploit a different market: Kellogg’s, the traditional, and Ralston’s, the fad. To compete on the other’s terms would require a major shift in the conduct of business (Carr, 1992).

2. To produce the competitive advantage it has chosen, the organization must then determine its core competencies. All of the skills, knowledge, and capabilities develop the core competency that creates and/or supports the organization’s competitive advantage (Carr, 1992). Cohen (1991) believes that the employee pool of the future will be short on talent, as a result of the failure of the educational system, but will have a wider range of skills, because of higher technologies. Organizations will need to test the competency levels of workers and then help them reach higher proficiency levels sooner.

3. Once the company determines the required core competencies, it develops its training strategy. The strategy is no more and no less than the training necessary to develop, maintain, and update its core competencies (Carr, 1992).

The organization’s strategy for training generates the general basic competencies that training must create and maintain, while the organization’s day-to-day operations indicate the requirements for specific skills. The challenge becomes the development of an effective training program to satisfy the strategic (core) competencies and the tactical (day-to-day) ones (Carr, 1992). Training dollars are spent unwisely, if they are not tied to specific goals (Keenen, 1990).

Once the training strategy is determined, the organization must analyze and design the training needs. This training process step is one that most organizations fail to start, much less complete. Managers, usually mindful of their problems, want an immediate solution and feel that they have neither the money nor the time for the planning stage (Carr, 1992). The front-end analysis identifies both the performance deficiency and its cause.

Once the organization’s requirements are identified, the training manager must first conduct a formal needs assessment to determine the performance gap separating what people know, do, or feel from what they should know, do, or feel to perform competently (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1992). The needs assessment uncovers the performance problem, who it impacts, how it affects them, and what results are to be achieved by training (Foshay & Braune, 1983). The analysis phase continues with assessments of the learner, the setting, the job/task content, and the proposed performance measures indicated by the performance objectives (Rothwell & Kazanas, 1992).

Inherent in training design is the selection of the methods and media, which is often tied up in fad cycles and considered a separate step or portion of the training process. Sometimes, trainers and managers commit themselves to a particular media because of its popularity and/or high-technical appeal, which frequently leads to a waste of money. A prudent trainer shows better discipline, using the more traditional low-tech means than the “flashy” high-tech ones, and he or she understands that the real key is the expected payoff. Each of the many training and media methods that exist performs in some situations better than others (Carr, 1992). As the media technology has advanced (video, computers, optical laser discs, teleconferencing, satellite transmission, and virtual reality), training tools have changed and will continue to do so.

Evaluation is the final step required for an effective, efficient training process. Evaluation has two aspects: effectiveness and efficiency (Carr, 1992). Efficiency in training means producing required results using a minimum of resources.

General Types of Training

Employers in the United States provided over 40 million workers with some form of formal training in 1992, which accounted for roughly one third of the civilian workforce (Filipczak, 1992). According to the survey in the October 1992 issue of Training, the general types of training provided in the United States include, in the order of most provided to least provided:

1. Management skills: those skills normally associated with being a manager, including vision, delegating, goal setting, motivation, and teambuilding.

2. Computer skills: computer literacy, word processing, spreadsheets, desktop publishing, and databases. This type of training now includes some very specialized training in the use of sophisticated software/hardware specific to an industry.

3. Communication skills: both verbal and written skills, including writing memos and leading meetings.

4. Supervisory skills: this set of skills are those such as appraisals, motivation, direction, and development of employees by first-line supervisors.

5. Technical skills/knowledge: the skills required for specific personnel that are highly technical, such as machine operators, maintenance personnel, engineers, and computer operators.

6. New methods/procedures: with the increase in technology, new, more efficient procedures to design, assemble, and test products are constantly being developed. Computer technology has reached the point that it is outdated as soon as it is installed, and personnel must be able to use it very quickly. Training employees in the use of the new methods is necessary.

7. Customer relations/services: the skills that improve the interaction between the organization and the customer.

8. Executive development: the skills that are required to become or grow as an executive of an organization must be taught to the highest level of employees. Such skills would be how to conduct shareholder meetings, how to communicate with the troops, and how to motivate the lower managers.

9. Personal growth: the development of interpersonal skills that are used on the job, as well as personal relationships.

10. Clerical/secretarial skills: the skills required by the staff that allows them to use the equipment designed to increase their output, that is, computers, faxes, copiers, and communication equipment.

11. Employee/labor relations: training that includes team building skills as more organizations move toward the use of teams.

12. Wellness: organizations are concerned with more social issues in the workplace, such as drugs, smoking, health, AIDS, and their training programs reflect that concern.

13. Customer education: because one third of the customer service problems stem from customers who do not know how to use the product, it follows that customer education will alleviate some of the service problems. As products become more complicated, the need for customer education increases.

14. Sales skills: the skills necessary to improve the productivity and results of the sales force.

15. Remedial/basic education: organizations find it necessary to make up for the failures of the public school systems to provide the workers with basic language and math skills. The large immigrant workforce also accounts for some of the remedial education offered by organizations (Filipczak, 1992).

A growing awareness occurs in the senior levels of management, impelled by the need to survive in a global competitive environment that companies cannot continue to be aggressively competent without an ongoing, up-to-date training program for employees. Clearly, the ability to change quickly requires investments of resources in continuous learning through training (Mclntyre, 1992).

Relationship Between Systems Thinking and Training

Stephen Wehrenberg notes: “As trainers become more experienced, they begin to see that many of their organization’s problems cannot be resolved simply by training. Trainers see problems as part of a total system―problems such as poor communication between managers and staff, poor quality control, and low productivity” (Hicks, 2000).

Once a trainer starts to take a holistic view, he or she begins to move from trainer to problem identifier, to evaluator, to system developer, to system integrator, to problem solver (Hicks, 2000). Thus, the trainer needs to understand systems thinking to position training in the total system and to learn how training can support systems processes as well as change and learning.

Training enables organizations to influence the thinking and behavior of people in many walks of life, including those who lead and manage the organizations. Training helps people learn to think in accordance of how systems operate.

Senge, in his 1990 book, The Fifth Discipline, provides popular motivation to a long-standing cornerstone of practice in the systems dynamics field (Forrester, 1961; Forrester, 1980), the application of management microworlds to develop managers' abilities to think and act in systemically complex business systems.

These microworlds are characterized as virtual worlds where the elements of difficult business scenarios are presented, and business leaders learn how to better handle similar situations by analogy. Thus, the managerial microworld is a key to training and development. The microworld compresses the long time frames of real business issues and provides safe experimentation with critical aspects of the business environment by some sense of reality.

This limitation of existing research would be less troubling, if systemic approaches to management were intended to only provide situation-specific guidance for management action. However, systems thinking, as the term implies, is intended to change organizational behavior by changing how problems are perceived and changing the cognitive processes involved in seeking solutions to problems.

Systems thinking and training invite one to think about how one thinks, not just to think about how one solves a particular problem. Thus, approaches that foster systemic organization and training should have broad application across many different systems (Bateson, 1972) that are in nonsystemic thought (Senge, 1990; Kim, 1994).


Training developed with systemic thinking responds to an actual and perceived need for change on the part of the organization, involves the members of the organization in the planning and implementation of the change, and leads to changes in the organization’s culture or systems.

Systems thinking when applied to the training process functions as an enabler, establishing systems or removing obstacles to increase the organization’s potential for effectiveness and success in achieving its desired outcomes. Because systems thinking is an education-based or learning process, it relies heavily on training to enhance the organization’s awareness and knowledge required for a successful change process.

If one accepts these requirements for an approach to systemic organizational thinking, then it follows that one’s interest must focus on changing thinking not just on making decisions. If training is to support the implementation of systemic organization and management, then it must support the learning of new ways to frame questions.


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