“Wait … aren’t we already on the same team? We’re all in learning and development for the same company.” You might think so, but despite being on “the same team,” learning team members are often surprisingly siloed. Too often, employees don’t realize they’re buying training from the same vendor. For example, one doesn’t know about the plan to roll out a leadership portal, or another doesn’t realize needed training on forklift safety is already built.
A 2009 survey from the Center for Creative Leadership found that although 86 percent of senior executives believe working effectively across boundaries is “extremely important,” only 7 percent of these executives believe they are effective at doing so. By focusing exclusively on the needs each learning team member is responsible for, silos restrict clarity of vision and execution of strategy across the organization — creating an environment where employees are less likely to collaborate, share information and work cohesively as a team. These factors can have a negative impact on productivity, efficiency and overall ROI for the learning organization and the organization as a whole.
A team brings together individuals from different backgrounds and job roles to work toward a common goal. These people may have competing loyalties and obligations, while constantly vying for access to limited available resources. The ultimate goal would be to take functionally disparate learning professionals and unite them into a cohesive, cross-functional learning team. This team:
- Improves the knowledge and individual skills of each team member.
- Leverages buying power across departments.
- Eliminates wasteful duplication of learning resources.
- Strengthens the vision and strategy of the learning organization.
Most importantly, uniting learning leadership maximizes the value of learning and allows the team to more accurately define program ROI for the overall organization.
The learning department’s impact, however, is more than reducing wasteful spending or meeting goals. In the end, everything is focused on creating a satisfied customer — an employee with stronger skills. According to Stephen Porth’s book, “Strategic Management: A Cross-Functional Approach,” an organization’s financial success is linked to “its capacity to build a committed team of employees, unified by a shared vision of the future, and adept at innovation and organizational learning.”
By uniting the vision and strategy of the learning organization and using the resources across departments to their fullest, cross-functional training teams create more development opportunities for their employees and better leverage talent across the workforce.
According to Porth, to move from a siloed learning organization to a cross-functional one:
1. Establish the vision and mission. Identify the vision and mission for the learning organization. What is the raison d’être for the learning organization? The vision and mission should consider learning’s role within the organization and explain why the organization should invest in the department.
2. Perform a situation analysis. Perform an internal audit. This audit, or SWOT analysis — strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats — should identify what the learning organization does well and areas for improvement. This analysis should consider external forces, such as budget, technology and perceptions or pressures from outside departments.
3. Set objectives and craft a strategy. “Strategic objectives are targets set to both motivate and direct organization activity,” Porth wrote. If the vision and mission are the destination, objectives are the roadmap. This proactive step should avoid unaligned short-term objectives. Objectives should be measurable, have defined timelines and work toward the ultimate desired outcome.
4. Implement the strategy and assess success. Before implementation, each initiative should be reviewed to determine the best way to measure impact on the outlined business goals. This step arms learning leaders with the evidence they need to prove ROI.
Unfortunately, change is often met with pushback. Research shows people frequently experience a predictable emotional and psychological four-stage response to change: avoidance, resistance, exploration and commitment. An advocate can help move team members through the first two reactions — avoidance and resistance — foster a willingness to explore the long-term value created, and move the team toward a commitment to a cross-functional organization.
The value created by a cross-functional learning team will surpass what is immediately obvious. Knowledge sharing will lead to more robust skill sets, less errors and greater innovation. The team may be able to offer more variety in learning programming, or delve more deeply into a specific competency because collaboration will free up cross-functional learning resources. Most importantly, a unified learning team can work toward a common mission and vision, supporting the organization as a whole in achieving success.