Through dialogue new routines are nurtured, which gradually forms new capabilities. 

Adapting to new conditions

The environmental contexts in which organizations exist are changing, at an increasing rate and towards increasing complexity. Because of this,  managers must devote more time to thinking profoundly about the future. Forming one’s own personal opinions is just the first step. Management teams also have to take collective responsibility for the results of their company. This asks for a focus on shared issues and the long term. There is a need for continuous learning, as the competitive dynamics are in constant flux.

In most organizations there is a tradition of dividing communication efforts into two types: information transmission (one-way communication) and problem-solving (two-way communication). However, increasingly there are situations which require combining these two ways to communicate into a dialogue, whereby the focus is on two-way communication and learning, but it is more of an open ended process compared to traditional problem solving in which the communication need is completed once the problem is solved. 

Reacting to new customer demands

Those focusing on efficiency have tended to see communication with external parties, such as customers and suppliers, as primarily a challenge in the efficient transmission of information. Internet portals and EDI-connections are examples of how information is now rapidly exchanged within the supply chain. However, the risk is that this fosters a focus on doing the same things more efficiently time and again, instead of recognizing when there is a need to consider whether a completely new approach should be pursued.

New customer demands often arise based on a completely new set of needs and requirements which are completely different needs and from the existing demands. The risk is that these new demands will be treated by the same people, who have been previously successfully, implying that no true dialogue will be established. The outcome is reminiscent of the famous metaphor of seeing all problems as a nail if you have a hammer.

Learning through dialogue

The action learning approach is ultimately about establishing a community based dialogue, which is nurtured and steered by the orchestrating nodal actor within the network. The more complex the business environment becomes, the more organizations will have to shift to this form of communication, both within their own organizations and when communicating with their external partners. As the communication pattern changes, the way of working together will also change gradually thus establishing new routines and new capabilities.