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Organisational learning through reflection : the case of gate reviews

Weesep, R.H. van (2020) Organisational learning through reflection : the case of gate reviews.

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Abstract:Background The construction industry has been notorious for its difficulty with organisational learning. In particular, sharing knowledge across projects and from the project to the organisation raises problems due to the project-based nature of organisations. Weak links between projects, project focus, geographic dispersity and the temporary nature raise barriers to learning. Consequently, organisations experience ‘re-inventing the wheel’ and similar mistakes are made on different projects. Van Hattum en Blankevoort (VHB), a Dutch contracting firm, also experienced difficulties with learning across projects and recently adopted gate reviews to stimulate continuous learning. For each project, periodic gate reviews are held for intermediate project evaluation in which project members reflect on their work experiences. This collaborative reflection is noted by literature as a catalyst for organisational learning as it facilitates interactions between people and enables to externalize knowledge to share with others. Accordingly, the gate reviews might be valuable in facilitating organisational learning. However, in current literature, there is a lack of understanding about how the extent of reflection evokes organisational learning and which conditions influence the extent of reflection taking place. In particular, how the reflection process promotes organisational learning within project-based organisations such as in the construction industry. Therefore, the goals of this research are (1) to provide insight into the extent of reflection and influencing conditions within the gate reviews, (2) its potential for organisational learning, and (3) to suggest how reflection can be promoted in the gate reviews in order to exploit the potential for organisational learning. Methodology and theory In this research, a multiple case study is conducted to provide an in-depth insight into the reflection occurring the gate reviews and its potency for organisational learning. It has done so by evaluating data of 6 cases against the developed conceptual framework which was operationalized for evaluation. The framework developed based on (collaborative) reflection and organisational learning literature conceptualizes the extent of reflection with two dimensions. The first dimension focuses on the reflection process described by reflection stages. The distinguished stages of collaborative reflection are (1) articulating experience, (2) developing shared understanding, (3) collaborative re-evaluating experience and (4) drawing collective reflection outcome. The second dimension concerns the consideration ‘depth’ of the content, which is described by reflection intensities. The distinguished reflection intensities from a low intensity to a high intensity are (0) revisiting, (1) descriptive reflection, (2) dialogic reflection and (3) critical reflection. To understand how the extent of reflection is influenced, conditions are conceptualized regarding opportunity posed by the environment in which is reflected, the ability of participants to reflect and the motivation of participants to reflect. Moreover, to provide insight into the potential for organisational learning, reflection is conceptualized as an integrative power that stimulates two activities which lead to learning on the project level and organisational level. The first activity concerns linking to other project experiences and organisational knowledge during the reflection. The second activity concerns drawing lessons learned from the reflection, and these can be lessons for the project on which the reflection takes place or for the organisation. Results extent of reflection and influencing conditions Using this framework to evaluate the cases, the results show that the extent of reflection varied across the cases in both the achieved stages of reflection and the reflection intensity. During the collaborative reflection, the participants articulated the experiences and developed a shared understanding of the experience the most. Evaluating the experience to understand what can be learned from the experience and subsequently drawing a collective reflection outcome occurred less during the gate reviews. Hence, during the reflection on less than half of the experiences, the participants performed all these stages and thus completing the reflection process. The reflection content was during the gate reviews primarily considered at the lower reflection intensities. For the lowest intensity, revisiting, participants often only explained what happened without trying to understand the experiences. In the case of descriptive reflection, the participants did try to create meaning from the experience, however from a single perspective. In approximately 30% of all reflection cycles, the participants achieved dialogic reflection or critical reflection. In these reflections multiple perspectives were taken to understand the underlying roots of the experience, for the critical reflection the experience was also placed in the wider context of the organisation, questioning organisational assumptions. The extent of reflection is influenced by various conditions regarding the opportunity, ability and motivation to reflect. Considering the opportunity, the reflection support provided by the facilitators guiding the gate review positively contributed to the extent of reflection. In particular when facilitators posed searching questions, it stimulated scrutinizing the underlying roots of the experience and enhanced the reflection. Within the ability category, the intrinsic motivation and learning attitude of participants positively influenced the extent of reflection, mainly when the project team experienced relatively much challenge on the project and when the gate review was prepared in advance by the project team. The participants’ ability to communicate positively contributed to the reflection when mutual dialogue was held between project members because multiple views were then incorporated and existing interpretations challenged, enhancing the extent of reflection. Reflection experience, extrinsic motivation and the openness about mistakes did not considerably impact the extent of reflection. The available time during the gate reviews for reflection and trust between the participants did not notably affect the reflection. However, these are essential preconditions to enable collaborative reflection. Results integrative power of reflection Considering the potential of reflection stimulating organisational learning in project-based organisations, the results show positive findings. When the reflection is conducted at a higher extent, that is, conducting most of the reflection stages in particular collaborative re-evaluating and drawing conclusions, and at the higher intensities, the integrative power of the reflection also increases. During the reflection, experiences of other projects and organisational knowledge are used to make sense of the experience, give advice or emphasize the relevance of the experience were the participants are reflecting on. Through that process, experiences and knowledge become integrated between projects and the organisation. Additionally, experiences of the project are externalized during the reflection, and within an eight of all reflection cycles, these included lessons for the organisation. Subsequently, these lessons for the organisation are the initial impetus to address the problems on the organisational level. Recommendations to promote reflection in the gate reviews In order for VHB to increase the extent of reflection within the gate reviews, and consequently exploit the potential for organisational learning, several aspects of the conditions should be taken into account and emphasized. First, it is advised to guide the gate reviews with two facilitators to ensure attentive listening and focus on the dialogue. Also, the facilitators preferably have experience with similar projects as the one reviewed to enhance the reflection and to be able to link other project experiences more often. Second, training can be provided to the facilitators for asking searching questions, attentive listening, providing feedback and concluding a reflection outcome to increase the reflection support. Third, participants need to take time for reflection by predetermining the estimated time required to sufficiently discuss all topics. Fourth, during the gate review participants need to value and focus on what can be learned from experiences rather than regard it as a project progress evaluation. This requires emphasizing that the intent of the gate review is also to learn from experiences and to improve the project. Fifth, having the project team prepare the gate review in advance by enumerating what goes well and poor on the project, increases their motivation to reflect and subsequently achieve a greater extent of reflection. Finally, the gate review focuses primarily on the bad practices of the projects, however, good practices should also gain attention as these often provide fruitful lessons for the organisation. Conclusions In conclusion, during the gate reviews reflection takes place, however, the extent to which reflection is achieved primarily remains moderate as often not all reflection stages are performed and most reflections were conducted at the lowest two intensities. Nevertheless, when a high extent of reflection is achieved, this is mainly due to the opportunity provided and the motivation of the participants to reflect. Moreover, when a high reflection extent is achieved, lessons learned are frequently drawn for the organisation, and other project experiences and organisational knowledge are involved during the reflection. Therefore, promotes reflection, mainly with a high extent, organisational learning because through the participants of the collaborative reflection connections are established between projects and the organisation, leading to integration and institutionalization of knowledge. Hence, collaborative reflection in the gate review is valued as a fruitful approach for organisational learning within project-based organisations, such as VHB.
Item Type:Essay (Master)
Faculty:ET: Engineering Technology
Programme:Construction Management and Engineering MSc (60337)
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