Posted by Caveo Learning ● August 6, 2015

How to Get the Most Out of Your Learning Team

learning-teamIn the learning and development industry, we spend most of our time trying to maximize the performance of workers throughout our organizations. Ironically, it can be rather easy for learning leaders to overlook the barriers to performance within their own learning teams.

As a learning leader, your background might be any number of things—instructional design, training facilitation, industry expertise, formal education, management experience. The skills and experience of your learning team may be just as varied. Regardless of your and your team’s background, you are responsible for improving employee performance and delivering a positive impact on your organization’s bottom line. 

A strategically cultivated and supported learning team can help accomplish these goals and enhance the learning function's credibility and reputation as a productive, contributing department in the organization.

Assess the L&D Organization's Skill Set

When seeking to optimize the effectiveness of your learning team, one of the first evaluations should be of the group's collective skill set. It's important to realize that your team doesn’t necessarily need to be large or possess all of the skills needed to develop and deliver learning—strategic learning consulting can help fill in expertise gaps. That said, it is helpful for a learning organization to have some instructional design knowledge. Project management skills are a plus, but certainly not a requirement. And some familiarity with the industry and organizational culture is helpful when it comes to working with subject matter experts.

L&D associates may bring other skills to the table that are often overlooked or underappreciated—a big one is consulting. At some point, every learning organization is asked to build a specific training program on specific content to fix a specific problem; your team needs to be able to move beyond a request and into what triggered the request, including situation, problem, needs, and desired outcomes. Consulting skills also come in handy when working with SMEs and reviewers.

Comfort with visual design is a bonus for your entire team. Text-heavy, blandly formatted, and poorly illustrated learning is demotivating no matter the delivery method. If someone on your team can view the material from a purely visual perspective, he or she can make recommendations on use of space, text formatting, and use of graphics.

If you don’t have a designated quality assurance function, it’s vital that someone on your team has detail orientation beyond using spell check. When doing content writing or course development, it’s easy to lose oneself in the content and miss typos and grammatical errors, including finer points like sentence construction and voice.

It’s possible, though not likely, that members of your team possess all three skill sets. Options to fill in the gaps include partnering team members on projects, giving team members exposure to your industry, and professional development. Those and other skills, such as programming, graphic development, and audio production, can always be outsourced. Carefully consider the pros and cons of staff augmentation vs. consulting when pursuing that option.

Consider the Tools and Resources Needed

Equip your team with the tools and resources they need to meet expectations.

There are many ways to build learning, ranging from inexpensive (PowerPoint with animations) to very expensive (using highly skilled vendors or contractors). If your organization expects high-quality learning, or if you want to set a new, higher standard, don’t hamstring your team with inexpensive and limiting tools. If you have more than one development tool option, go with the one that has a feature set that not only addresses current needs but can also address future needs. The tool you choose should also be able to handle a wide variety of instructional approaches and delivery methods.

Consider equipping your team with the following tools/tool types:

  • Audio editor—even if you have a reliable voiceover vendor, you may still need to do some fine tuning on an ad-hoc basis.
  • Image editor—there’s only so much one can do with Microsoft Paint; a powerful, easy-to-use image editor can help your team enhance and tailor learning visuals.
  • Stock image subscription—one of the most common errors that learning organizations make is to depend on the images that are packaged with software. Visual appeal is a key ingredient in making your learning engaging and different.
  • An eLearning development tool that combines power, flexibility, breadth, and ease of use. Go beyond screen capture software and give your team a tool that they can use for a variety of content.

This extends to organizational access. Remove barriers to your team members accessing who and what they need, from documentation to contacting front-line coworkers to getting hands-on with systems.

Also, consider economies of scale. If your organization is trending toward asynchronous learning delivery, consider investing in eLearning development tools. Or, find a partner to work with on a consistent basis, rather than treating each project as unique. For example, a subscription to a stock photo service can lead to not only improved visuals, but may also lead to greater creativity from the team.

Help Facilitate Cross-Departmental Business Relationships

Learning leaders can make a big impact on the effectiveness of the learning function by helping to facilitate and cultivate team members’ cross-departmental business relationships within the organization. L&D team members may feel marginalized due to their limited interactions with the revenue-generating members of the organization. If team members also lack industry experience, the perception can be even greater.

Encourage your team members to view project stakeholders as clients and themselves as vendors performing a service that the client cannot get anywhere else. Incorporate elements of the vendor-client relationship into the learning strategy plan, including kickoff meetings, status reports, and review meetings. If possible, assign team members to work on all projects with a specific department. When this happens, stakeholders tend to view the L&D team with a higher level of respect.

Encourage your team members to network outside the L&D team. Allow time for participation in employee groups. Challenge your team members to contact project stakeholders beyond the SMEs and review team. Facilitate connections between members of your team and members of other teams.

Set and Communicate Expectations for the Team

It’s likely that some, if not all, of your team members have experience in your industry beyond instructional design or formal education. They have differing motivations for joining the L&D team, and differing perceptions of what it means to be part of the L&D team. This can lead to inconsistent interactions with project stakeholders, varying quality of training deliverables, and possibly staff turnover.

Even though the purpose, role, and expectations of the L&D group may seem clear or intuitive to you, it’s important that you level-set for your team. For example, if the organization expects L&D to respond to requests without making recommendations or changes, communicate that. If you are working to position L&D in a specific way, communicate that and explain how that impacts projects, process, and interactions. If your team is comprised of members without formal or extensive learning backgrounds, consider investing in or conducting workshops on process and design.

Support Growth for Your Team… and Yourself

The landscape of learning evolves continuously. New technologies within and outside learning impact curriculum design and development. In addition, L&D is often called to expand its role beyond performance improvement and into analysis, change management, process improvement, and technology assimilation. Previous formal education and “learning on the job” are not enough to keep skills current and anticipate future needs.

Encourage and support formal and informal opportunities for your team members to gain exposure to new ideas, trends, tools, and skills. Opportunities range from reimbursing tuition to hosting a workshop onsite to sponsoring learning industry association membership and event attendance.

As a learning leader, you have much to gain from taking advantage of these opportunities. Networking with other learning leaders can give you a fresh perspective and enable you to share information with your peers. Developing your skills and backfilling expertise helps you support your team and provide expertise to your stakeholders.

Topics: Managed Services