As a leader (whether formal, social, or informal) in an L&D organization, you have a vision of that organization and its role within the larger enterprise. Once you have articulated the mission and checked it out against the desires of the stakeholders, execution of the vision depends on the people on your team. The challenge is getting that team aligned on the strategy, and making sure the team members have the competencies, skills, and knowledge required to deliver on it.

Support for this requires a strong learning culture and modern developmental practices, structuring your team, adopting a transformation approach, and discerning the development strategy for your L&D talent. The question is, what are your options to do this?

I recently spoke to Catherine Lombardozzi, a lifelong learning and development practitioner, about this question.

The drivers

BB: Catherine, what's driving the need today to build and develop your L&D team?

CL: Well, I think the obvious answer is that things are changing all the time. The need for development is often driven by new tools that people want to try or new techniques that they think are going to enable them to better meet needs in their organizations without doing traditional training.

The other thing is, L&D is often staffed by people who are relatively new. It's a field people tend to fall into. And some of us stay forever and a day. But other people will just be in it for a few years, and will move on to other roles in the organization; they just wanted to have an opportunity to share some of their experiences by doing training. They want to do this kind of work for just a short time, and they're not really intending to stay in the field. But what that means for L&D leaders is that they've got people who may have subject matter expertise, or may have some strong skills in very specific areas that made them valuable hires, but they still have to give them some grounding. These kinds of newer staff may need development in L&D principles, in our practices, in the processes we use to design and develop training. So I think that's the other thing that really comes to the forefront.

Skill sets vs. business needs

BB: Let me ask you to build a little on that. Do you think that the problem may be in deficient skill sets? Not through any fault of the individuals, but simply because things are changing so quickly? Or is it a matter of organizational culture that has not evolved? Where you've got leaders in the organization that are still thinking in terms of courses rather than experiences? Or is it a matter of different individual priorities among the team members?

CL: I think it's a little bit of all of them. One of the primary drivers is the changing nature of our work. You're merrily rolling along, maybe doing eLearning and social learning because they’ve been at the forefront of the way we deliver learning solutions in organizations, and all of a sudden your organization wants to do a project with virtual reality or something equally jarring, and you're not ready for that. But say that’s something that the organization could really leverage to achieve its goals. And so you really want to upskill very quickly to try to take advantage of whatever those new techniques are. Now that example is a pretty big leap, and most organizations are not making that dramatic a leap. But I can remember in the past, managing teams that mostly did instructor-led training, and yet we needed to move from instructor-led training to curation for learning, or social learning, or eLearning, to see if those kinds of techniques could really help us to accelerate development in the organization. Those are great visionary aspirations, but it requires people coming up to speed. They have to upskill very quickly on these new approaches. I think that that's a big deal.

Also, if you if you're lucky enough to have a large team, they're likely all over the place in terms of their skill sets. Some of them might be really effective designers but don't have great consulting skills. Some may have the opposite. They're good at working with the clients, but they're not necessarily very good at executing the details of whatever strategies they want to recommend. And so each of the people on the team, as on any team, has individual development needs that they really want to pursue.

BB: Are generational differences a factor?

CL: You know, I don't think so. I think that there's a lot of attention paid to generational differences, and that doesn't really play out in real life. I think it's dangerous to think of people in monolithic categories like that. If you're a millennial, you're going to like this or that. I just don't think that that's necessarily true. And so I'm wary of using that as a basis for doing anything, I think it's really much more individual.

What works?

BB: Given those factors, it's challenging for an L&D leader to find opportunities that can be leveraged to help team members upskill to meet business needs. How can an L&D leader do that?

CL: I think we have to continue to think about learning in the flow of work the same way we ask people across the organization to do, right? There's plenty of opportunity in the day to day work to coach people, to pair them up with others who have a better skill set, to put aside a half an hour to orient somebody to something new and get them started and help them to move a little bit forward and start working on a project in a way that might be different from what they've done in the past. So I think that finding the opportunities in the work to build up the skills is one important approach because it doesn't cost anything. Well, of course it does cost time. But you're developing people as the work permits you to do it. And there are other developmental practices that managers can put into place to help the whole team to grow their skills, in tandem with one another. For example, in team meetings you can share projects and help people learn from the successes and the stumbles that other members of the team have experienced by sharing those stories and talking about what happened and why it happened and what we might do the same or differently in the future. That can be a standard practice that a manager can put into play.

Peer coaching or peer mentoring is another standard, ongoing practice that managers can enable to help people have the social support that they need to continue to learn. A manager can give opportunities for people to try things out without being overly concerned about people, frankly, failing at it. I mean, you don't want to allow people to fail horribly. But you do need a little bit of wiggle room for people to stumble so that they can learn and grow. And so where you can give people that space, without severe consequences every time they do something a little bit wrong, that can be a really important growth opportunity for people. And it's often doable to give that kind of coverage.

I really think L&D needs to lead the way in terms of having a learning culture within their department. And I'm not sure we always do that as well as we could. But if we set our sights on that, I think we can be a beacon of light to the rest of the organization to show the power of what a learning culture can do in an organization.

And there's more

Catherine Lombardozzi will lead "Building and Developing Your L&D Team" at The eLearning Guild’s November online conference, The Business of Learning. In her session, you will learn:

• The competencies necessary to execute your vision

• Options for aligning or transforming your L&D team

• Strategies to assess your team’s capabilities and upskill for the work ahead

Register for The Business of Learning online conference today!