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Takes all kinds to learn and grow

Using OKRs to Increase Organizational Learning

This is a draft chapter from the second edition of Radical Focus. It’s coming… eventually. Hopefully soonish. Leave your wishlist for other topics you’d like it to cover, and enjoy the sneak peek!


Instruction is what we think when we think of teaching. Organizational leaders hire some outside person to give a talk or a series of talks about a topic. Udacity delivers online lectures. Or you buy a book on the topic! Instruction is when someone stands in front of you and talks at you, and while that has its uses, instruction is the weakest approach to education by far.


The second educational approach is action, learning by doing. You may be familiar with this style from school when teachers gave us projects and essays. Action is inherently powerful, as it allows you to create a personal relationship with knowledge and learn practical skills. Heart surgeons and pilots both put in hundreds of hours under supervision before we consider them qualified for just this reason — book knowledge often isn’t enough. The skills you get from learning by action go deeper, and remain with you longer, than the knowledge you get from instruction.


Almost everyone neglects the last part of learning, reflection. To learn from experience, you need to reflect on what has happened and what it means. In education, this takes the form of writing essays, Q&A, and discussion (and more, if you have a good teacher.)

First, Make a Safe Place for Learning

We’ve all worked in a place where no one felt safe enough to speak up. In that context, very little learning happens, and none of it can be social. To have an effective team, much less team learning, you must have psychological safety.

Social Learning on the Scale of an Organization

When we talk about teams, we often talk about them as if they were isolated entities, and assume that learnings they create exist only within the team. The truth is, in organizations, no one is on only one team. Rafael, head of engineering, belongs to the executive team, the engineering team, and a project team planning to re-architect the company’s major database. In a large company there might be dozens or hundreds of overlapping teams: executive teams, design teams, sales teams, and teams that pop up for a single project. Hanna and Jack’s tea company is a team made up of designers, sales, management, and so on…. even a small start up is a team of teams. As they grow bigger, so does the team network.

OKRs are Built for Organizational Learning

Let’s go through another example based on the Radical Focus team. Perhaps Jack notices two restaurant suppliers who look the same to him except that one signed up with TeeBee and one didn’t. At the OKRs reflection team meeting, he might ask the team to discuss why they’re different. “If we can solve this mystery, it could help the company target the people who will buy,” Jack says.

Adapting to Change in a Changing Market

As I’ve said, the most important advantage (and asset) a company can have is its speed of learning. The rate of change in the market is only growing. Everyone, from customer service to technical writers to the person who makes your banner art, needs to be learning at an individual and a company level to succeed at the pace we’re talking about. In the 21st century, being cogs in a wheel isn’t going to cut it anymore. We must learn, and learn to adapt.

Designing business, and the business of design.

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