Every organization likes to build muscles around their ability to facilitate organization transformation. Internal capability building in disciplines such as organization design, change management, and program or project management is an excellent way to do this. However, care must be taken to bridge the gap between theory and practice when training people in these disciplines.
We recently conducted some training with a client who wants to develop internal skills in organization design. Their people were a smart group who asked great questions and did very well in the workshop. However, a lot of them confided to us privately that they were nervous about trying to do this sort of work live with leaders in their business. They lacked confidence that they would know what to do or ask when faced with a real-life organization design scenario.
I was reminded of when my kids were learning to ride a bike. You can show a child a bicycle, tell them how to get on it, how to pedal, and how to steer, but until they have spent some time getting a feel for it they won’t really know how to ride. The only way they will learn to balance on two wheels moving forward is to practice.
There’s an art or a feel that comes with practice, regardless of discipline. Part of what we want to do when building capability in an organization is to give people a chance to get that kind of practice. Without it, they may not pick up all the skills they need to have, and we run the risk that the capability building we are seeking doesn’t end up happening. So, one of the issues that has to be considered in internal capability building is how to create an environment where people new to the discipline can get their feet wet in a relatively safe environment.
Co-facilitation as a stepping stone to independence
One way to bridge the experience gap is to provide people with mentorship or guidance through their first project or so. We have a client that engaged us to train their organization in organization design. Knowing that it takes real-life, in-the-trenches practice to learn to do this sort of work well, once the initial training was over they ended up hiring us to stay on and help members of their organization apply what they had learned.
They chose to let their people cut their teeth on a project for their own group or function.
We did not do the project for them. Instead, we were in the room as they actually did the work, and coached them as they facilitated the work. That way, as they had concerns or questions they could immediately turn to someone with expertise in the subject and get answers to their questions. Then, they could immediately apply what they learned and receive instant feedback on their performance.
As a result of this guided practice, the client has reported a significant rise in the level of confidence of their people. They now feel far better prepared to be able to go and do this work on their own. In fact, some of them have already proven they can do so successfully. Several of the individuals we coached through the process have now gone on and led organization transformation efforts on their own. With an initial success under their belts, they have been able to move forward onto future projects with confidence.
Investing in experience building
It’s good to invest in internal capability building for your organization. But keep in mind that regardless of the organizational muscle being developed, those being trained need the opportunity to practice and apply what they learn. In addition to training people, it’s a good idea to plan how you will help them practice and experience what they learn. Appropriate support (like co-facilitation guidance) through their first post-training projects will help them bridge the experience gap and significantly improve their chances of success once they start leading projects of their own.