learning and knowledge sharing in the chemical industry (Martin Fischer)
the project OrgLearn we empirically investigate
processes of organisational learning in four large chemical companies in
Italy, Belgium, Germany and the UK. We try to find out what those companies
which claim to be learning companies really do. I must admit I was rather
sceptical, but we have found some interesting cases of organisational learning.
I've brought such a case with me, similar to the case which Nick already
described (see contribution).
In the chemical industry the knowledge which is being stored in plant manuals
and standard operating procedures is very important, it's crucial. Usually
that kind of knowledge is being produced by engineers, but in many companies
we investigated the workers had their own little booklets. In the Belgian
company from our consortium for instance there is a tradition that each
worker has a little grey booklet where the knowledge is being documented
what to do in different critical situations. So this kind of knowledge
is really important. In our case of organisational learning the German
company decided to produce such a plant manual with the help of the workforce.
Teams were set up, with one experienced worker, one novice and steered
by an external chair person. Those teams had three to four weeks time to
produce the operation manual for one unit of a technical plant. So within
two and a half years time all the workforce together produced 35 single
folders describing the plant and describing what to do in a critical situation.
This operation manual is linked to the wage system. Workers can pass an
examination and raise in salary if they prepare this examination with the
help of the operation manual. This case has been described in detail in
I am coming to the conclusions now. Some of them have already been discussed
by Alan Brown (see discussion).
case which I described the emphasis lies in the provision of an organisational
structure for knowledge creation and knowledge sharing. The knowledge to
be created and shared is what we call work process knowledge. It's knowledge
about the whole labour process within a factory, including reflections
on practical and theoretical knowledge which might be used for work.
is in that case an increase of self-organised learning and a reduction
of personal controlling and of determining learning processes by masters
and foremen, which was the case in former times. Now these workers can
pass this examination independently from the masters and foremen.
of learning is oriented towards the running of the plant combined to some
extent with career opportunities. The content of learning is not oriented
towards job descriptions and to the range of vocational competencies which
are defined by the German Beruf. That is the thing which Alan mentioned.
Processes of organisational learning were among others like health and
safety regulations stimulated by a remarkable reduction of personnel and
a loss of experienced workers. Organisational learning can be regarded
as an attempt to compensate the loss of know-how.
which formerly belonged to the individual worker or a group of individuals
is objectified in two ways: it is objectified through a process of generalising
individual knowledge and it is objectified through artefacts – this operation
manual by which knowledge can be stored in a memory of the organisation.
not yet clear to what extent organisational learning may support an outsourcing-and-insourcing
policy and to what extent the individual worker benefits from processes
of organisational learning he is involved in, especially if he is leaving
included in Manning 2002a; paper: Fischer
et al. 2002
of the symposium