First Advisor

Maria Talbott

Date of Publication

Fall 12-12-2014

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Social Work and Social Research


Social Work




Organizational learning -- Pacific Northwest -- Case studies, Social work administration -- Pacific Northwest -- Case studies, Organizational change, Organizational behavior



Physical Description

1 online resource (viii, 323 pages)


Although learning organization theory evolved in corporate settings, literature suggests that the theory has much to offer human service organizations. This dissertation examines the implementation of a modified learning organization model in three small field offices of a publicly-funded vocational rehabilitation organization in the Pacific Northwest, at a time when the organization was negotiating financial cutbacks and organizational changes. The model - known as Strengths in Action - was based on Senge's five learning organization disciplines, and informed by organizational culture theory. In each participating office, all staff worked together to set a goal, make a plan, and achieve the goal.

This dissertation covers the implementation of the modified learning organization model; the factors that facilitated and impeded the model's implementation; the model's impact on participating offices' climate and culture; and the similarities and differences among participating offices. This primarily qualitative study utilized mixed methods: observations, interviews, and an online survey.

Implementation of the model resulted in individual and team learning, better staff communication, more productive teamwork, stronger staff relationships, stronger office/community partner relationships, and improved office morale. This study shows that such a model can be effective in a human service setting, moving workgroups away from a mode of individual workers reactively handling individual cases, and toward a mode of proactive collective problem-solving. It also provides strong evidence that a learning organization model, implemented during a period of resource retrenchment, can produce substantial benefits for small workgroups within human service organizations, even when the model is not disseminated organization-wide.


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