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How Organisation-Wide Change Grows Out of a Leadership Learning Network

How Organisation-Wide Change Grows Out of a Leadership Learning Network


That’s a very useful article from The Systems Thinker on the needed steps for establishing collaborative learning in your organisation.

In our in-house leadership learning networks, the interactions of those in the collaborative learning community can lead to organisation-wide change. One-off experiments and policies that were hidden become company standards (such as how Lissy changed IHG…).

But in order to get to that point, the organisation has to establish an overall collaborative learning culture.

The one point I would contest with the write-up is on the ‘bridge’ to establishing collaborative learning beyond an individual level, via creating ‘internal learning groups’. The idea here being that each group focuses on achieving business results while building collaborative capability, as they are drawn from various divisions and levels within the company (the example given in the essay is a chemical company as one group, communicating with a lab as the other).

I get the idea… sort of. It feels like a natural expansion to go from ‘individual’ to ‘group’ before ‘organisation’.

But there are a couple of dangers to this approach

Our experience of having run a Leadership Development community for ten years is that you SHOULDN’T start with small groups in some cases, but start with an organisation-wide learning network focused on a particular subject – in our case, leadership – then see if there is the appetite for the smaller groups once you have helped establish the overall collaborative learning culture.

Because there is a danger that right from the start you dissipate the momentum or energy by focussing it within particular groups rather than having a cross-organisation culture you are developing that is a common experience for all of the learning network members.

Collaborative Learning CycleHowever, our experience isn’t the only experience to draw on. Others may have started with existing small groups in organisations and brought them together within a larger network. 

Find where the energy is, use that to create traction and momentum and build from there

That’s the principle of success. If that energy already exists in small groups, draw on that first.

We are about to start work with a client where some of its employees, in the absence of an online collaborative work environment, have set up ‘unofficial’ Yammer groups to share learning on different areas of expertise, as small communities of practice. 

We are about to co-build with that organisation an ‘official’ company-wide Leadership Learning Network so they can begin to establish collaborative leadership. The digital community will become the organisation’s Community of Practice for leadership.

But, we can’t ignore the existence of the unofficial groups. So, we are looking to co-opt them – find out what they use the groups for and somehow make them sub-groups of our overall network, or offer a more user-friendly and more useful learning community than Yammer so that they might want to migrate over to the main community, taking their group with them. 


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