Organisational Learning: The Benefits of Adopting an Open and Blame-Free Culture

Ed Atkinson
Learning and development are an integral part of any organisation or project. For a company to remain competitive in today’s fast-changing work environment, teams must be open to accepting feedback on all aspects of how they operate, and be willing to act upon it in a constructive and meaningful way.

Working embedded in an organisation like EDF Energy and Hinkley Point C for a number of years, with a zero-harm policy, has opened me up to the benefits of a project culture that truly is one of open and accepting challenge. If we are not all willing to learn from our mistakes, or build upon what we already do well, how can we hope to move forward?

This is something that the Hinkley Point C project excels at, and its learning culture expands right through the organisation, from formal training and workshops to empowering an apprentice to challenge a director for not holding the handrail in the stairwell (as per the company guidelines).

Hinkley Point C operates a formal Organisational Learning process that relies on an open and blame-free environment, where everyone in the project has a responsibility to contribute to continuous improvement, by reporting both positive and negative feedback/observations in what the project calls Learning Reports.

Learning Reports can be anything; small observations on company procedure and practice; records of serious accidents or near misses; examples of good practice; examples of events or trends observed in the wider industry; even suggestions for more bacon in the baps served onsite…all Learning Reports are reviewed by a central team of representatives from all sectors of the project.

They are screened and allocated to individuals for assessment, investigation and for action and closure. A timescale is set for dealing with the item and progress is reported at the highest level. No blame or praise is laid upon individuals, and all Learning Reports are treated (at least initially) as genuine concerns to the project.

But how can we learn from this example? How can the construction industry improve on what we already do in this domain?

By taking the feedback process away from the individual and moving it into the open project domain, NNB have lessened the impact of any personal, perhaps dismissive feelings or emotion surrounding items. This allows the items to be dealt with in a more rational and constructive manner than may be achieved in a less formal environment.

Many companies could benefit from this approach and I feel that managers and directors should be encouraged to consider the benefit that can be garnered by moving feedback and learning into a more open domain and away from their own desk.  

In our industry there are many differing working practices, management cultures and safety protocols; there are many ways that we differ from our competitors and peers culturally, procedurally and professionally; but if we keep our thoughts internal, there is the possibility that ideas become ignored and unrealised, and eventually turn into grievances.

This new nuclear development project has a fantastic organisational learning platform and have used it to achieve a culture of open challenge and positive learning. I believe we all should learn by example, as the industry could benefit from a more open learning environment.

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