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Fish tanks and learning


In this current business climate, with costs often being reviewed a lot of businesses are questioning the value and purpose of investing in learning and development for their colleagues and teams. We notice they question the benefit of what that individual then brings back into the organisation after a development programme.

We read an excellent paper[i] recently which introduced a clever metaphor it feels appropriate to share. Take a few moments to take your thoughts away from the training as a panacea for change, let’s also think about your organisation and its culture and values. For this, allow yourself to think of your organisation as a fish tank, let’s explore the types of tank – big, small, medium? How much room do the fish have to move? How do they swim? What gets in their way? ….. are you still with us?

How many fish are there? How well are they inter-relating?  Do they move together or as individuals and what forces a change in that? How do they react to nourishment?

Now the water….

  • It can be clear, fresh and filtered
  • It can be murky, no oxygen, hard to see
  • It can be desperately in need of change or changed too frequently

We start to see that the most energetic, enthusiastic and ambitious fish could react very differently depending on their environment. We see murky tanks where fast fish just keep swimming in a circle as they can’t see all the other areas of the tank. They’re separate from the self- indulgent fish who just stay at top getting as much air as possible and choose not to mix or support the others.  These slower paced, thoughtful fish are going with the water, swimming, doing lots of thinking often having ideas, but not seeing or getting access to anyone to share them with.

What does your organisational metaphor look like? Can you associate your organisation with some of these characteristics and notice how they might work against the learning an individual may be trying to bring?

So one message we believe in and would like to leave you with is:

If you’re not paying attention to the whole fish tank it matters less what nourishment you give the fish.

We believe to be a professional and well respected learning and development provider we don’t just look at what programmes we can develop with you, we also help you take a look at the cultural dynamics impacting learning within your business.

Happy Fishing!!

[i] Centre for Progressive Leadership - “Managing leadership from a systemic perspective”

Dr William Tate. D Prof. MA. FRSA. FCIPD. MCMI - Jan 2013

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