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A successful organization can be described as thinking and seeing organization. Such organizations are characterized by high levels of information flow and awareness among all its members. The availability of information improves the awareness and understanding of organizational weaknesses, strengths, threats and opportunities (Reynolds and Vince 2004). The organization members are also able to understand the history and strategic future plans for their organization as well as full awareness of the resources within the organization and the changing competitor environment. On the other hand, a thinking organization is an understanding organization that has a well stipulated vision, mission, objectives and the business environment that are well understood by all the stakeholders. Many organizational businesses collapse because they lack both foresight and hind sight necessary for understanding the current position of the organization. In ensuring an organization adopts the thinking and seeing style, reflection must become a part of the organizational practices and culture. Reflection must be integrated in all the organizational activities because generation of organizational knowledge can be done by any member of the organization irrespective of the level or the location in which s/he operates.
Reflection is therefore a process that involves spending critical time away from the normal work routine in which individuals or groups think and interpret both personal or organization issues with the aim of getting previous experiences and lessons that may benefit a present situation (Boud, Cressey and Docherty 2006). At the corporate level, organizations set retreat days for its staff as well as reflection sessions so that staff can reflect on what their have achieved, the way they have performed, their compliance with the organization strategies, the challenges and threats they have faced as well as the experiences weaknesses and registered strengths. Reflection allows organization present ideas and previous experiences into usable knowledge and actions. Reflection can be necessitated by personal experiences as well as organizational performance especially if the organization isn’t meeting its set goals and objectives.
Reflection process is very dependent on knowledge management because it deals with intangible assets that need to be created and shared both inside and outside the organization to create a database of important information and knowledge that can be utilized later to handle challenges in the organization. Reflection starts with raw experiences which are analyzed to information then associated with relevant skills and values to become knowledge which is main focus of many organizations. Just like knowledge management, reflection involves capture and identification of ideas, information or knowledge then distributing it to appropriate individual within the organization leading to its application in a particular situation in the organization. The sole purpose of reflection is to create important knowledge that any organization will need in its present or future performance. Reflection is also part of organizational learning that is a knowledge management facet intended to equip staff with important knowledge and skills that will improve the operations and performance of the organization.
Greenwood (2000), notes that the success and growth of organizations is highly depended on learning and knowledge generation (p. 126). Learning in an organizational setting is not only limited to individual knowledge acquisition but also involves the combined learning abilities of all staff in that organization. Notably, individual learning is a subset and component of organization and without it, organizational learning won’t exist. Organizational learning is a result of challenges that face employees in their working activities thus initiation of learning and advancement in knowledge to solve such challenges. Though, challenges do not guarantee learning to occur, they combine with experiences to provide data and information which form the basis for learning.
Generation of actions and problem solving are the key components of reflection at the workplace. Organizational reflection has presented required environment for self directed learning, action learning, problem and challenge based learning and to a greater extend the organizational learning (Reynolds and Vince 2004). Managers have noticed the necessity of reflection in their organization and they acknowledge that failure to reflect in the organization is equal to inviting the collapse of the operation of the organization. However, organizations have failed in implementing reflection strategies such that execution processes that go beyond individual mandate and involve groups of members or the whole organization are not usually implemented thus compromising the use of organizational experience and limit implementation of expected actions.
The application of reflection in organizational operations has received considerable attention in the last few decades. Organizations have created independent departments with adequate resources to enable reflection process to occur and to work on the results of the reflection processes. The increased attention to reflection has been triggered by recognition of learning and generation of knowledge as components of organizational productivity and performance. Though learning and generation of knowledge may not be the only factors that can contribute to organizational change and performance, they play an all-round function in ensuring that all other resources in the organization are well coordinated to realize organizational goals.
Reflection is therefore an important human process that involves reviewing and understanding past experiences then drawing lessons from them. Reflection is less known in work places and managers have little knowledge concerning its role and importance in the organization of activities and improving performance (Boud, Cressey and Docherty 2006). There have been fewer opportunities for the practice of reflection at work particularly because many organizations have not yet established the role that can be played by real and guided reflection. However, the 21st century has witnessed increasing concern and appreciation of the role that organizational reflection can play in fostering work results as well as improving employee learning. The recognition of reflection as an integral part of organizational management has triggered different kind of organizational learning and education that are in line with the traditional processes of organizational learning.
Boud, Cressey and Docherty (2006) point out that productive organizational reflection is an adoption of the general individual reflection that is focused much on the use of past experience to generate important solution to present and future problems as well as promoting organizational training and learning (p. 12). Productive organizational reflection has several important elements that combine to provide a structured system to guide generation and analysis of actions from experiences. Organizational intent and collective orientation element tries to create a distinction and a point of convergence between individual and organizational reflection. While previous reflections have focused on individual experience and generation of knowledge, productive organizational reflection is focused on collaborative review of experiences that lead to taking appropriate actions with and for other participants with an aim of benefiting the organization as well as the whole group involved in the reflective activity. Such reflection is done in a situation of the organization and must be incorporated and address the target of the organization.
Collective reflection may be done at different levels of the organization depending on the organization management structure. Reflection may take place at the top management, middle management level, and low level or at the small working groups and this may happen internal or external to the organization. However, collective reflection always starts at individual level after which separate reflections are combined and actions drawn from them. This element of organizational reflection ensures the interests of the individual members, the workgroup and the organization are taken into consideration.
The other element of organizational reflection is its importance in integrating knowledge, learning and work. Productive organizational reflection can occur in any location, but it’s always confined to the working activities and any reflections outside it won’t be considered a practice of organizational reflection. Reflection is therefore triggered by work activities though there might be selected cases where importance and valuable reflection occur outside the context of working environment. Organizational reflection operates in the space that is created between the connections of work activities, the process of learning and generating knowledge. It therefore provides the link between knowledge acquisition and its production. Therefore, a productive organizational reflection will always seek to strike a balance between learning from past experiences to generate appropriate knowledge that will help in improving the work activities.
The relationship between the individual and organizational development is another controversial element of productive organizational reflection. Reflection in organization fosters both organizational and individual development. Organizational reflection has a developmental value to the organization and the staff because it has become part of the main organizational practices that are relied upon in designing solutions to present and future organizational problems while placing the staff at better positions to deal with organizational and individual challenges that may pose a thereat in future. Thus distinguishing individual from organizational reflection may be a challenge in cases where staff does not get special time to reflect on the organizational operations. Furthermore, organizational reflection is open, dynamic but unpredictable process because it can happen at anytime when organizations do not have procedures to guide the process of reflection. Just like other form of reflection, results of organizational reflection cannot be wholly predicated. In many instances, it doesn’t yield the expected results but unintended consequences which may be used to address another organizational issue. This type of reflection is very dynamic in that a present successful refection may create an organizational barrier in future.
Therefore, organizations rely on past experience to modify the future thinking and behavior of the organization through the ability to reflect on its previous operations by identifying past performances and activities (Kazi 2005). Organizational reflection is manifested though inquiry and evaluation that involves establishing problems, determining their meaning and developing appropriate solutions. According to (Kazi 2005) organization reflection is a wide process that involves conversion of explicit knowledge to tacit knowledge that produces interpretive knowledge necessary for enhancement of individual knowledge through revisiting common issues and problems (p. 121). Reflective practice isn’t an individual process but an organizational procedure that requires individual members of an organization to learn and modify their actions that are vital for organizational progress and performance.
Reflection in organization is very important because of its contribution to individual learning which translates to organizational learning. Combination and sharing of individual learning is crucial to realization of organizational learning because individual learning may not present enough experience needed to tackle identified challenges facing an organization. However, some organization do not have appropriate standards that can facilitate sharing of knowledge and experiences especially when mechanisms for such sharing don’t exist or the regulation of the organizations do not allow sharing or possibly if the staff do not know how to share such knowledge and experiences. Organizational management and particularly, the reflective manager must device and develop appropriate methods that can facilitate acquisition and sharing of organizational knowledge and experiences.
The reflective manager in an organization is responsible for all processes and procedures involved in integrating and transfer of new knowledge, experiences, behavior and skills within and outside the organization. As such, the manager must prove to the employees that reflection is an important activity that is all round and should involve every member of the organization. The manager must ensure that employees learn from previous mistakes, that they know what they think and feel as well as device procedures that will ensure that the employees understand and manage the barriers and challenges that face the organization and then develop strategies for future use through applying learned knowledge and skills. Reflective manager therefore provides appropriate environment for employees to focus on their past experiences as well as current activities that may help in generating required knowledge for use in the current organizational situation. As such, a reflective manager in an organization plays an important role in ensuring generation of knowledge and ideas from past experiences, repackaging of such experiences and ideas for the future use by the organization.
Though many organizations have realized the value of reflection in their operations and the many stimuli that encourage reflection, there are equal detractors that hinder reflective practice. The most common challenge that faces organization in trying to use reflection in the management of their operation is the little time allocated for reflection and analysis. The lack of importance that may accrue from informed reflection is the main reason why many managers don’t allocate sufficient time for employees to reflect on their experiences and establishes their failures. Organizations allocate very little or no time for their employees to reflect on their accomplishments and performance through individual thinking or group thinking. Many organizations spend most of the time making decisions, building strategies, training and orientations. Such activities must be accompanied by required information and knowledge so that expected results may be achieved. Reflection will therefore help in prior understanding of a particular task before such task is accomplished so that preparations can be made for anticipated challenges and problems.
Organizational reflection as opposed to individual reflection is a very expensive process not only on time allocation but also physical resources. For reflections to be productive, reflecting members must be in an appropriate environment that is free from the normal activities. Creating such an environment is quite expensive and organizations don’t usually agree to organize staff retreats to quiet and conducive places that can ensure good results from reflection process. However, managers who have realized the real importance of reflection in their business operations create time and allocate adequate resources for the process of reflection as well as following out the results of such reflection sessions
Another significant challenge that face application of reflection in an organization include poor communication systems that an organization uses especially if an organizations uses top-down communication system. The relationship among the individuals with the organizations, the relationships among different workgroups as well as the relationship between the organization and others hinders the creation of openness that is needed in the reflection process. The power of fear for uncertainty may also derail the process of reflection. Additionally, the style of management that an organization uses may affect reflection especially if the organization uses authoritarian style of management where control, leadership and power is centralized to a single individual or group in the organization.
Reflection is a complex and new organizational process that involves contemplation of tacit knowledge, explicit knowledge and experiences to create new information, knowledge and ideas that can be used to address a challenge within the organization. Through the reflection of the experiences and knowledge, learning capabilities of the staff are enhanced thus dealing with challenges and threats becomes easy for the organization because it has well informed and knowledgeable staff. Therefore, reflection improves the organizational visualization of unexpected realities and results and how to react to them. Organizational reflection is currently gaining attention in many organizations as opposed to ancient times when it was considered to be of no value to the operations and performance of the organizations. Though there are more challenges facing application and implementation of reflection strategies in organizations, positive progress in available which is indicated by the value that organizations attach to information and knowledge in accomplishing business activities and solving organizational challenges and problems.
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