Case Study: Teton County Library (Bernfeld, 2004)
In the beginning of the 21st century, the Director of the Teton County Library, Betsy Bernfeld, implemented a management theory based on
Senge’s The Fifth Discipline. At first the librarians found it difficult to understand, especially since it contained abstruse management jargon such as ‘building a shared vision’ and ‘systems thinking’. However, their budget constraints dictated that they had to make structural changes to their organisation, and they decided to put the theory into practice.
The Teton County Library created a team called Team Leaders to deal with management-related matters. This was a cross-function-based team comprised of librarians from each of the departments in the library. They met once a week, when they discussed matters relating to library management, and developed a new vision for library management.
Bernfeld then set out to implement management reform. She drastically reconfigured the original team, which had been assembled arbitrarily, and clearly defined the purpose and meaning of each team based on the new management vision. However, she also delegated authority to team members in a way that encouraged them to assume responsibility for management reform. With the new management-reform team in place, seminars that reviewed the management theory of the learning organisation were offered, and the librarians shared their visions of management with one another.
Bernfeld and her staff developed a model for team learning that clearly incorporated Senge’s five disciplines. She writes about the merits of following such a model:
The value of providing this model, this ordered ensemble, is that it sets priorities and it poses a methodology for accomplishing tasks that incorporates all of the disciplines, thereby predisposing the organization to learning. This model communicates to staff that the personal mastery of employees is the first and foremost concern of the Teton County Library. (Bernfeld, 2004, p. 123)
By prioritising the development of the employees’ individual expertises, diverse and skilled input can be gathered into teams and contribute to the organisation’s learning and subsequent growth as a collective entity.
The Teton County Library hired an external management consultant to implement management reform because the existing librarians alone were unable to assume responsibility for the new operational task of management reform. The management consultant optimised the learning process of the organisation together with the Team Leaders, in a way that better suited the Teton County Library. This experience provided the foundation to enable the Team Leaders to share their common vision with other librarians and their teams, and begin to undertake tasks based on priorities. The Teton County Library improved its productivity by implementing the concepts for a learning organisation.