Beyond Training: Why Practice Matters In Capability Building

  |  January 29, 2019

Would you go to a doctor who had never seen a patient? For most of us, the answer would be an emphatic “no” – even if the individual was top of their class.

While organization design practitioners are not directly responsible for life and limb, they have a lot in common with physicians. They, too, are dealing with highly complex entities. The decisions they make have significant consequences on the health of their organization and the well-being of everyone involved in it. Yet, new practitioners are routinely given classroom training and cut loose in their organizations without having had the chance to practice in a safe, controlled environment.

While many organizations are seeking training to build internal capability around organization design and change leadership skills (and we think this is a good thing and we encourage it), what we’re finding is that training by itself isn’t sufficient.

Bridging the Capability Gap

In medicine, it is accepted that no amount of book learning is sufficient to prepare a person for the realities of medical practice. Having a period of extended training where the novice doctor can gain hands-on experience under the supervision of experienced medical professionals helps the individual gain confidence and experience while minimizing risk to patients.

The same is true for organization design and change management. A certain amount of practice and hands-on work is necessary before a person can become truly comfortable and proficient in these disciplines.

Unlike medical residency, however, there is no universally accepted pathway for a person to transition from training in the classroom to becoming a fully proficient practitioner of organization design. So, what can companies do to bridge this gap?

Two Case Studies in Post-Training Organization Design Capability Building

There are many different ways to help newly trained individuals gain needed organization design experience. Refresher webinars and Q&A sessions are a good start, but often they are little more than extensions of the training and don’t provide the depth of practice necessary to really cement a person’s capabilities.

I would like to introduce two post-training organization design capability building solutions that have worked well for some of our clients:

Organization Design Capability Building Case Study #1: The Gradual Hand-Off

Recently, a company engaged us to come in and do training with them. As we concluded the training, rather than simply going on our way, we set up projects that let us work side by side with their people for a time.

We led out on the project, and they’ve been watching us facilitate these projects. Now, they’re reaching a stage where they’re saying, “We want to do some of this work too. We were trained and we have seen it done, can we do this now?” And of course, we’re saying, “Yes, absolutely.”

We are now going through a process where we’re handing some of the project work off to them. We will shadow them as they work on the next round of projects, so that they have an experienced person in the room as they learn the ropes. Once they have reached a certain level of comfort and proficiency, we will step back, but make ourselves available on “speed dial” for a time to help them or answer questions as they continue to move forward on aspects of the work.  We are confident in their ability and so far we are seeing them build confidence and capability internally in a way that minimizes stress on the individuals and risk to the organization.

Organization Design Capability Building Case Study #2: The Coach Approach

Another model we have used successfully is to take on more of a coaching role. After we conducted the training, a client brought us in not to do projects but to support their internal practitioners on their projects. We had coaching calls ahead of time, to help them prepare for design sessions. Then, we went on site and stayed in the room with them as they facilitated the work. They were able to get direct and immediate feedback from us, but they were the ones leading the project. In this way, they gained a lot of valuable hands-on experience with a real-time coach in the room who could answer questions, talk through unexpected turns, and offer strategic advice on how to ensure a positive outcome.

We encourage companies to engage in organization design and change management skill building. If this is something you are interested in, please reach out to us to learn about our certified training programs. But we can’t stress enough the importance of following up any such program with some actual co-facilitated projects, so that the learning can be cemented in real-life, on-the-ground application.

We have found that those people who go through both training and actual projects with coaching and oversight have a much greater uptake in the learning and application of the principles and tools than those who undergo training only. Ultimately, this advantage is reflected in the health and success of their organizations.