L&D Structures

An organisational structure is a system that outlines how certain activities are directed in order to achieve the goals of an organisation. These activities can include rules, roles, and responsibilities.

The organisational structure also determines how information flows between levels within the company. For example, in a centralised structure, decisions flow from the top down, while in a decentralised structure, decision-making power is distributed among various levels of the organisation.

Having an organisational structure in place allows companies to remain efficient and focused.  This theory is also true of individual departments.

Before L&D leaders can develop a culture of learning or implement cutting-edge technologies, they must look inward at their own structure, processes, and governance, and develop a stable yet flexible framework for delivering learning.

The backbone is fundamentally about where the learning people sit in the organisation.  In the decentralised personnel are dispersed throughout a variety of business units.  In the centralised approach, learning sits with the Human Resources (HR) team or in its own freestanding space.  A hybrid function, sometimes referred to as a federated structure, is a mix of both.

Research by the McKinsey Academy indicates that 23 percent of L&D functions are completely centralised, 46 percent are hybrid and 27 percent are decentralised.  Each has their own advantage and disadvantages.

Centralised function a single learning or HR executive, which helps avoid duplication of learning efforts and offers economies of scale.  The function is clearly accountable for enterprise-wide budget, resources, L&D talent, external partnerships, vendor management, and standards and guidelines.  However there is a risk that centralised learning teams will be less attuned to the specific needs of business units.

Decentralised functions give ownership of learning initiatives to individual business units, enabling them to tailor initiatives to their specific functions, needs and people.  In this model however, the learning function has limited oversight, and learning programmes don’t have a clear connection with other functions. 

Hybrid (balanced) functions are becoming the norm in larger organisations. In this model, a central team develops professional and leadership development programmes, sets and enforces standards, and manages learning platforms and tools, while business units are responsible for the technical learning.  This structure allows for better connections with business units while enabling more economies of scale.  However, hybrid models can create communication and coordination challenges by blurring lines and causing confusion about who is in charge of what.

According to Investopedia there are four types of common organisational structures are implemented in the real world.

The first and most common is a functional structure. This is also referred to as a bureaucratic organisational structure and breaks up a company based on the specialisation of its workforce. Most small-to-medium-sized businesses implement a functional structure. Dividing the firm into departments consisting of marketing, sales, and operations is the act of using a bureaucratic organisational structure.

The second type is common among large companies with many business units. Called the divisional or multidivisional structure, a company that uses this method structures its leadership team based on the products, projects, or subsidiaries they operate. A good example of this structure is Johnson & Johnson. With thousands of products and lines of business, the company structures itself so each business unit operates as its own company with its own president.

Flatarchy, a newer structure, is the third type and is used among many start-ups. As the name alludes, it flattens the hierarchy and chain of command and gives its employees a lot of autonomy. Companies that use this type of structure have a high speed of implementation.

The fourth and final organisational structure is a matrix structure. It is also the most confusing and the least used. This structure matrixes employees across different superiors, divisions, or departments. An employee working for a matrixed company, for example, may have duties in both sales and customer service.

The ideal place for the learning function in an organisation is determined by four factors:

  • The parent organisation – the function serves the organisation as a hole, no matter where it sits.  The determination of whether it is centralised, decentralised of hybrid depends on the organisations structure and size, and the location of adjacent functions.
  • The mandate of L&D – the responsibilities and outcomes ascribed to the learning function also have implications for its organisational structure.  A 2018 LinkedIn survey found that executives, people managers, and talent developers believe soft skills such as leadership, communication, and collaboration are a top priority – even over role-specific skills.  The relative importance of these learning goals has implications for the learning functions organisational backbone.  A focus on leadership development, for example would require the function to be aligned with corporate leadership – likely centralised within HR – while strategy to develop role-specific, technical skills would need to be more aligned with individual business units.
  • The needs of learners – to deliver effective learning, L&D functions must understand the learners’ business context well enough to determine the real issues underlying a request.  L&D professionals are often tasked with challenging and shaping business units’ understanding of skill development and deliver training.  They must also understand the more technical aspects of business units’ needs so they accurately translate their needs and delivery learning that directly addresses those needs.  The more technical the background, the more alignment is required between the L&SD function and the various business units – which may require a hybrid or fully decentralise model.
  • The need for scale or resource efficiency – as noted above, centralised L&D functions can more easily avoid duplication of efforts and can take advantage of economies of scale.  In an organisation where learning has limited funding relative to the number of employees, a centralised structure is more cost effective, though it may also be less responsive to emerging needs in business units.

Within L&D there are many roles, responsibilities and skills required to design and deliver face to face, blended or digital solution.  Common roles include:

An L&D consultant business partner is accountable for ensuring learning and development contributes to, and influences, improved performance in the workplace at an individual, team and organisation level.  The role can be a generalist or specific.

L&D practitioners are typically involved with identifying learning / training needs, designing / sourcing training and learning solutions, delivering and evaluating training, and working with stakeholder / business areas.  The role typically exists in a wide range of organisations including private, public and third sector.  The L&D practitioner role supports the L&D function to contribute to, and influence improved performance in the workplace at an individual, team and organisational level.

Learning mentors will have sector-specific experience and qualifications, as determined by their employer or professional body, which they use to guide and advise those who are less experienced and new to a work role.

A recent People Managing article, “The L&D roles of the future”, discussed what sort of jobs will help tomorrow’s workplace learners flourish.  They reported that the world of learning is changing fast and that the statistics suggest a significant mismatch between the skills learning leaders witness today and those they think will be important in the future. They suggest future roles will include:

Performance Engineer – being a shopkeeper is a noble calling. But Andrew Jacobs, L&D Transformation lead at HMRC says it’s not the role learning leaders need to play in the future. He points instead to the idea of a ‘performance engineer’ who looks holistically at business objectives, relationships, systems, technology and culture and how they fit together, rather than just providing products.

Data analyst – analytics mean different things to different people, but there’s a general understanding that L&D has to follow the example of customer marketers and target what its doing based on behaviour.

Technology Specialist – there’s a clear need to deploy the latest cutting-edge tools, but lack of understanding about technology can mean it fails to deliver. “A learning management system is often brought with the aspiration that it will fix everything, and it doesn’t” says Andy Lancaster, head of learning and development content at the CIPD. He sees the solution as a range of part-time contract toles to advise a core L&D team.

Community Manager – the top 10 learning tools on consultant Jane Hart’s well-known annual list are always social. If you’re not using some of them to engage with learners, you wont remain relevant. Hindley has previously used closed Facebook groups for leadership development programmes, and when he launches an online academy shortly, he’ll be including professional communities. The idea is to create groups that self-learning, but that L&D is also involved in.

Marketing and Communications expert – shouting about your success is critical for the future of L&D. Hindley says practitioners are should be adept at “the art of attracting people to you, to interest them in what you are offering”. Marketing learners also means leading by example, says Hindley: “We have to show that as as L&D team we have the best, most fun-loving learning culture in the whole organisation.”

Virtual facilitator – If you’re going to reach an increasingly dispersed workforce, you need a new set of facilitation skills. Michelle Parry-Slater runs CIPD skills webinars and says the biggest challenge for traditional trainers is usually twofold: fear of technology and lack of confidence.

Digital content creator/curator – The role of digital content creator is far greater than today’s instructional designer. There’s a need for someone to produce videos, podcasts and mobile-ready resources to support learning in the flow of work. Johnson has recently hired a full-time videographer, as she sees video as integral to her plans for an online toolkit of multimedia resources. Face-to-face practical masterclasses will complement this to help solve real business challenges.  Meanwhile, Jacobs curates rather than creates content when he can, using Windows cheat sheets and Microsoft videos for Office 365. Charities are adept at curating like this – lack of budget has fostered creative solutions.

Head of human intelligence – The future for Marie Duncan, head of learning development at Kibble, is not just about technology but building on L&D’s people skills: “For me, the skills of the future are about being more human,” she says. “We will continue to use analytics and digital technology. But none of that is possible unless the human aspect happens first.” And that means talking – to peers, to the business and to learners.

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This report gave me the opportunity to investigation the structure of our team and what would work best for the future. This does depend on the needs of the business but our structure is currently:

  • HR/L&D Manager – overseeing the strategic aim of the business and ensuring current training will meet future needs, including industry or legal / specific training.  Coordination of apprenticeship activity and progress.
  • Training Facilitator – internal delivery of accredited and non-accredited training such as Highfield Health & Safety, Highfield HACCP and Leadership.
  • Process Improvement Technician – reviewing SOP’s and training assessments in the production facility
  • Training Coordinator – arranging a coordinating training activities on and off site. 
  • Driver Trainers – responsible for delivering reach, counter balance, rider and pedestrian truck training and re-training, including monthly observations of all approved drivers.
  • Process Trainers (learning mentors) – work along the Process Improvement Technician to review and update current training material, develop a learning pack for new starters and assessment methods.

Having a centralised outlook means we can work towards the goals of the organisation as a whole but having members in the specialist areas allows us to have experts internally.

It will be interesting to see how this develops over the coming years and projects.

Watch this space …

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