note paper with lightbulb drawing to illustrate innovation and creativity
ATD Blog

Benchmarking Innovation in the Learning Space

Monday, October 4, 2021

The last year most companies pivoted from primarily on-site work to predominantly remote work. During this time, many innovations and changes were made so work could be done. Some of these will die on the vine because they were unsuccessful, and others were silver linings that will move forward with whatever the future turns out to be. Still, there are opportunities for further innovations.

How might you take these trigger opportunities to the next level? What can you do to enable the ideas to morph into prototypes? Serial entrepreneur Steve Blank is known to say, “There are no answers in the building,” and recommends employees get out and get ideas and inspiration from others.

In line with this guidance and the pre-pandemic practice of meeting biannually at member locations to connect, collaborate, and share practices and lessons learned, the ATD Forum and Intermountain Healthcare hosted a minilab. The session was led by Jill Carter and her colleagues and held on Saturday, August 28, in Intermountain’s innovation facility, the Intermountain Kem C. Gardner Transformation Center on the Intermountain Medical Center campus in Murray, Utah. The purpose for the transformation center (TC) is to transform healthcare in ways that are patient-focused and that consistently provide the best clinical outcomes at sustainable costs.

As is to be expected when colleagues meet, the best part was the connecting. It was inspiring to see the smiles on faces and the joy in eyes as we first gathered over a meal on the patio. Some of these talent professionals have been together for more than 10 years and talked about prior labs (“Remember when we were at the Q Center …” or “That was when we were in Grand Rapids …”), hobbies, families, and times they have worked on Forum projects together. Others were new members and may have never experienced a lab previously but had connected with others at virtual roundtable discussions or may be in the same informal small cohort group. With all attendees being in the same profession, building performance capability within their respective organization, and with this being the first face-to-face gathering for the Forum and for many of the people in 18-months, the conversations were lively and varied.

As with most labs, the unique differentiator is benchmarking the host members site and various programs and practices. The lab included a personalized tour of the magnificent Intermountain facility that was designed to transform healthcare and honor the natural beauty of Utah. The architects included curves in the shape to represent the mountains in the southern part of the state. Many of the walls were made of glass, which enabled participants to view the Wasatch Mountains on the east side and the Oquirrh Mountains on the west side. Each floor is adorned with pictures of national parks located in Utah.

To create a transformational experience, the TC was built to enable various opportunities in the areas of leadership, clinical competency, and delivery expertise. The Leadership Institute provides an immersive, intensive, and interactive program that focuses on specific leadership attributes and competencies. The course includes assessments, instruction, case studies, simulations, coaching, and mentoring. It is primarily offered to leaders outside of the Intermountain system.

Here are some highlights about what Forum members learned:


The Character of Leadership Model. Many models of leadership are available, such as strategic and innovative; however, the TC’s Leadership Institute’s focus is on leadership behaviors such as vision, integrity, resilience, emotional intelligence, psychological safety, and stakeholder alignment. The emphasis is on practical knowledge and experiences that enable participants to immediately apply the lessons they learn. The design of the content was influenced by the work of Harvard professor Clayton Christensen, especially his book, How Will You Measure Your Life? His colleague and co-author, Karen Dillon, is a speaker for the current sessions.

Simulations. The space built for leadership simulations enables participants to practice the skills in a realistic environment. There is a “real” elevator for engaging in an elevator pitch to the CEO. Small offices for practicing a difficult but courageous conversation are available, as is a large “board room” for leading an effective meeting. With the sim spaces enabled by technology, some are participating in the simulation while others are watching it. For any simulation, the immediate feedback is critical. These spaces are designed for the facilitator to lead the debrief but allows for all participants to contribute so that everyone learns from the exercise.

The simulation consortium director stated: "We take our simulations very seriously. We certify all of our simulation facilitators and our technologists in their various areas of expertise. Simulations and their debriefs can take learning to a deeper level with facilitators who take the time to make the learning real and applied."

Multimedia enhanced room. The Intermountain and CHIME Innovation Center powered by Sirius Healthcare is an immersive projection collaboration space. The technology involves four 4K laser ultra-short throw projectors nearly 16 thousand pixels wide and seamed together to cover 60 feet of floor to ceiling wall space (more than half of the room). The surface was designed to support projection and whiteboarding, which allows for greater interaction with the projected content. The room is controlled by a touch panel for lights, shade, and phone while also allowing multiple inputs to be projected on the wall and rear displays simultaneously on top of the projected canvas.


Through the technology, multiple slides or images can be projected on three of the four walls. Templates on the walls can be used to promote collaborative activities for solving business challenges such as brainstorming, identifying root causes, and creating action plans. Remote participants can be projected and look as though they are a part of the in-person class. Various backgrounds can be used on the walls to set tone and mood for activities such as mindfulness.

Participating. But for Forum labs, it is not just about seeing great spaces and hearing about opportunities; it is about experimenting with new ideas and doing. Some attendee volunteers were able to experience the elevator simulation and met up with their “bosses” who asked poignant questions about their projects.

Sharing innovative practices. While the Forum lab model includes the host sharing ideas and practices, the sessions also include other members showcasing innovations. To do this and to capitalize on the space available, seven cases were shared via informative posters in a gallery walk. Once attendees had time to read and make comments or ask questions via sticky notes on the posters, follow-up discussions were held in the multimedia room where the posters were projected on the wall. For one member, this included a virtual connection; she looked like she was sitting among us. The topics included building integrated leadership teams, podcasting, brain hacks, program boards to drive 70.20.10, a learning ecosystem, new leader leadership principles, and communications in learning.

Carter expressed the feelings of the group when she summarized the minilab this way: "The Forum experience was fantastic! It was a great opportunity not only to share some of the innovative things Intermountain is doing but also to hear from other members what great things they are doing. This practice of sharing ideas and feedback with others helps us all to improve our programs."

Reflections for action. The labs are designed for connecting, collaborating, and sharing to leverage the lessons of others. Reflection is always included in Forum labs. During the poster session, Accenture shared their Brain Hacks project featuring the What Squares reflection tool. At the end of the lab, the Six Sentence Stems reflection from Ed Betof was used to encourage reflection and further action. The Six Sentence Stems included:

  • I learned…
  • I relearned…
  • I wonder…
  • I was surprised…
  • I hope…
  • I plan to…

For more insights, check out the ATD Forum website.

About the Author

MJ leads the ATD Forum content arena and serves as the learning subject matter expert for the ATD communities of practice. As the leader of a consortium known as a “skunk works” for connecting, collaborating, and sharing learning, she worked with members to evolve the consortium into a lab environment for advancing the learning practice within the context of work, thus evolving the Forum’s work-learn lab concept. MJ is a skilled and experienced design and performance coach for work teams, as well as a seasoned designer of work-learn experiences with a focus on strategy and program management. She previously held leadership positions at the Defense Acquisition University, including senior instructor, special assistant to the commandant, and director of professional development.

Be the first to comment
Sign In to Post a Comment
Sorry! Something went wrong on our end. Please try again later.