Most organizations want to be learning organizations; many claim to be, and some actually are. High-tech companies, especially, like to think of themselves as places where data-driven decisions are the rule, where post-mortem analysis leads to improvement, and where new technologies are adopted in response to well-analyzed problems. Many, in practice, are not.

For both organizations that really do learn and those that mean to, new technologies are often acquired to address business problems--from network software to sales automation tools to inventory control systems. But what happens when a company acquires new technology to solve a business problem, and the problem is partly rooted in the company's behavior? Instead of being a silver bullet, the technology can become a lightning rod for cultural and interpersonal issues, and the path of training can be rudely bent--or at least made much less effective--by the non-technical issues stirred by the subject.

Single Loop Vs. Double Loop Chris Argyris, a professor at the Harvard schools of business and education, coined two useful terms, "single-loop learning" and "double-loop learning." To borrow his analogy, a thermostat exhibits the charac- teristics of single-loop learning: It is capable of keeping a room at some pre-set temperature by switching on the furnace when the temperature falls too low. A thermostat capable of double-loop learning would be one that could ask, "why this temperature?" and other questions about the meta-task of which it is a part, such as, "is this the most economical setting?"

At the single-loop end of the training spectrum, the subject is usually comfortably objective. For instance, instruction about installation procedures itself does not raise hackles. At the double-loop end of the spectrum, cultural and interpersonal issues may be the very subject of the training. For instance, programs on team member skills or process improvement consciously tackle the tricky subjects of assump- tion, communication, expectation, and personality.

Between these two ends are the majority of training topics, topics that outwardly seem single-loop in nature, but may beg questions about the second loop. For example, I recently visited several companies to help their customer-care groups understand how my company's technology allowed them to better support their customers. What seemed well-bounded at the outset turned out not to be. I ran head-on into issues the trainees had with their own support processes, from their resentment over their added responsibilities, to the way in which they tracked and resolved customer issues. It wasn't long before I realized that part of the trainer's role is to help draw lines between product and process, the tool and the company.

Indeed, your awareness of these issues can be critical. As an emissary of a supplier, you don't want your reputation or that of your company damaged because of issues with the way the client organization does business. Nor as a trainer internal to a company do you wish your efforts wasted, or your own efficacy questioned, or the technology with which you are associated besmirched because of land mines you stumble over. In either case, part of your responsibility is to be aware of where the technology leaves off and where the company's process begins.

By knowing the processes tangent to the technology you bring, and the issues these processes might raise, you can help your participants to address these issues constructively. It is a real pleasure to anticipate the course of interaction, to let the issues bubble up, and then to steer the conversation in productive directions. The highest order response is to build in to your program appropriate places to address these issues. Ultimately, you might even brief your client on the role of the technology you bring and the kinds of problems they might expect, problems beyond the scope of the training program.