It’s interesting to consider that both learning and development (L&D) and organization development (OD) have the word development in their names. Yet, in most enterprises, the two functions rarely work together on a consistent basis.
Whether you are an L&D department of one, part of a larger global team, or somewhere in the middle, there’s little overlap or integration with OD, especially regarding the methods and knowledge base they each draw from. Even when a role is branded as L&OD, the scope of work tends to be siloed or lean toward one or the other.
These differences often lead us to see each other as adversaries rather than collaborative partners. We often compete for the same budget while working on seemingly different problems or different parts of the same project. Often, we treat these differences as barriers rather than assets.
In actuality, our goal is the same. We both want to develop and grow the collective capability in the organization, from the individual contributor to the entire organization. Both sides come to the table with a unique set of strengths and opportunities that effectively and thoroughly support the organizations we serve. How can we work together rather than in our own separate silos to make a bigger impact? It’s time to build a bridge between our fields.
“We build too many walls and not enough bridges.” —Sir Isaac Newton
In the next several blogs, we will share a framework we’ve developed, aptly titled “The L&OD Bridge,” along with how to use it in your organization. In this blog, we will start by describing the prework to consider before beginning the five steps to building a figurative bridge that taps into strengths and addresses challenges collaboratively.
Prework: Overcome the Baggage Left Behind From Our Formation StoriesBefore we begin to build, we have some prework to complete. We must stop seeing each other as competitors and sovereign actors in the workplace. We both come to this figurative construction site with our own baggage. By acknowledging and working to understand this baggage, we create a willingness to walk along the bridge toward each other and find ways to collaborate.
The baggage that reinforces the silos in practice today is rooted in each field’s dramatically different origin stories.
From training industry history, consider that military, government, and industry initiatives structured learning and development to implement efficient, repeatable, programmatic ways of creating learning designs. The goal was to upskill large groups of people in rote tasks.
Eventually, training evolved into corporate universities modeled after traditional educational practices. Businesses throughout the world brought employees into classrooms and used trainers to instruct them in a variety of related concepts put together in the form of a curriculum. Training culminated in a diploma or certificate to signify a learning achievement. L&D practitioners, equipped with clearly defined deliverables, have become the masters of their craft armed with a deep knowledge of concepts such as adult learning theory, instructional design, and effective delivery methods.
OD’s origin story differs significantly and has a much more dramatic beginning. A few minority voices, often thought of as nonconformists or heretics, challenged the prevailing philosophies of managing and leading people. The early pioneers in OD realized that root causes for organizational success or failure could be attributed to more than just profits. They became drivers for an ongoing movement to humanize organizations.
Over time, OD practitioners became experts on change and built the capability in organizations to change by integrating ideas from many fields, such as human resource management, social sciences, business, psychology, and neuroscience. The belief system recognizes that organizations develop and grow over time, and OD practitioners can facilitate that development in a positive way. They used organization systems analysis, dialogic change interventions, individual and team coaching, and more to drive cultural change that partners with business strategy.
In simple terms, L&D has more prescribed and follow-the-leader origins; OD has a walking-on-the-edge-of-the-organization approach. L&D is seen as a necessary, internal cost center providing training, while OD is often seen as playing the role of an internal or shadow consultant to drive cultural growth in ways that no one can easily define (or often, know exist!). L&D supports an organization with foundational, compliance, leadership, technical, and soft-skill learning. OD provides a junction where culture meets strategy and organizational solutions that include, but also surpass, training are explored.
With such different originating structures and beliefs, it’s no surprise that the two fields work independently at best, or clash, at worst.
Some Food for ThoughtDespite these differences, both fields seek to develop people and create long-lasting business impact. We need to work hard to identify the differences we perceive and to view these differences in a new light. Rather than assuming these differences are best left alone, or we should continue to work in silos, consider the opportunities collaboration offers:
- What if the expected roles were to change? What if L&D plays a more nontraditional, fluid role in the future, and OD adopts a more conventional structure that L&D has offered?
- What if L&D and OD consistently involve each other when the other’s strengths are needed? What strengths could we assemble and leverage from each arena?
- What are the shared problems L&D and OD are asked to solve? What models or theories do both L&D and OD use?
- How much more effective would we collectively be in our organizations?
If we are willing to explore these questions, we are ready to start building the L&OD bridge.
Stay tuned, as we explore the first steps to building the bridge in our next post.