When working on a learning and development (L&D) team, it’s common to play multiple roles. One day you’re an instructional designer, the next day you’re a multimedia specialist, and then you’re a performance consultant. This day-by-day variety (or is it craziness?) often leads to fire-fighting focus on work—you concentrate on the issues in front of you, rather than on how your team is actually accomplishing goals and completing tasks.
I’ve experienced this type of scenario at a number of organizations. When it happens, I find it ironic that we don’t regularly focus on improving the internal operations of the team with the same vigor we demonstrate while working within the broader organization. Taking the time to step back, look at the bigger picture, and ask questions can lead to some surprising improvements.
The high-performing L&D team
A high-performing L&D team is comprised of several key pieces:
- clearly defined goals
- the right people—in the right roles, with the right skills, aligned and working toward the goals
- well-defined processes for designing and developing training materials
- reliable systems and tools that support the team’s programs
- internal metrics to track and improve team effectiveness and efficiency.
Once these are in place, the team should:
- efficiently design and develop materials
- produce training programs that are highly effective to the organization
- regularly report performance metrics
- make adjustments on a day-to-day basis to continually improve.
"Alignment with the business" isn’t one of the sexier topics in the world of L&D, but it’s critical. Your team's goals—and the goals of each individual team member—must align with the goals of the organization.
As a team leader, you must gain a crystal clear understanding of the organization’s goals, philosophies, aspirations, and any other information that may be important. Use this information to write the team’s goals, as well as each individual’s goals, aligning as directly as possible. For example, if your organization aims to increase sales in South America by 15 percent within the next year, ensure that your team’s activities are aligned to support business initiatives that specifically lead to achieving that goal.
When writing goals, make sure that the purpose of each goal is clear and that each team member understands how their contribution is aligned, significant, achievable, and urgent. Overlooking these details can lead to several people rowing in different directions in the proverbial rowboat.
Generally speaking, a learning and development team will consist of instructional designers/content developers, e-learning developers, and facilitators. Depending on your organization and its propensity for buying vs. building content, this structure may be slightly different.
If you’re building a team from scratch: Congratulations! You’re in a great spot, and you can choose the talent you need based on your situation. On the other hand, if you’ve inherited a team, you may have some work to do.
Have you ever noticed that sometimes people just end up in the training department? How it wasn’t their intentional career path? While these employees may have great knowledge of the business, they might need some help in understanding the principles and theory of learning and development.
Creating a standardized set of curricula for your team, with training materials specific to each role, is a great way to set expectations and create baseline of talent for current and future team members.
The table below outlines subject areas for each role, some of which may or may not be relevant depending on your organization.
Instructional Designers /
Grammar, diction, and tone
Working with SMEs
Writing effective learning objectives
User experience design
SCORM / AICC / xAPI
Learning management system
Once a set of baseline skills and coordinating curricula have been established for all team members, implement a mechanism for ongoing learning. This may involve coaching (pairing experienced team members with newer members), providing a set number of hours per month devoted to professional development, or (ideally) specific learning goals for each member of the team. You can also consider leveraging ASTD resources, Toastmasters, and existing resources within your organization to build these curricula.
Clear processes eliminate ambiguity and create accountability on a team. Consider “who does what” on your team and document processes where applicable—clearly defining each role, its goals, the day-to-day expectations. Make this documentation readily available to the team, and confirm that each process has at least one primary owner on the team, along with a back-up owner.
Consider processes that address the following:
- What is the in-take process: how are new L&D requests handled by your team?
- Who works with business owners?
- Who manages projects?
- Who works with SMEs?
- Who designs content?
- Who develops learning materials?
- Who QAs training materials?
- Who manages measurement?
- Who communicates measurement results to business owners?
- Who monitors feedback about the training materials, classes, eLearning courses, and so forth?
- Who prioritizes the resulting changes that are required based on feedback?
- How does the team handle one-off/ad-hoc requests?
- What are the back-up plans if one or more team members is out sick, on vacation, and so forth?
- Where is documentation stored?
- When should documentation be reviewed for accuracy and updated?
Systems and Tools
Taking a fresh look at the systems and tools used by your team may help you identify areas for improvement. Here are a few areas to review:
- Document storage: Does your current system support backups, versioning, custom permissions, mobile access?
- Project management: Does your current system work well with your team’s structure and procedures for managing projects?
- Media management: Does your current system support backups, tagging, search, and resizing?
- Workflow: Does your current system effectively manage the design and development lifecycle? Can SMEs participate in workflows, approvals, and so on?
- Development tools: Do you current tools integrate with your design and development lifecycle, and workflows?
Assessing each of these areas, especially after you have fully defined the team’s processes, will help you understand whether or not each system or tool is hindering or supporting your team work.
What is the best way to measure your team’s performance? Consider establishing metrics for the team, focusing on effectiveness and efficiency, and then monitor this information regularly.
Improving effectiveness. Using a well-defined and consistent process for collecting feedback is critical in order to understand the impact and effectiveness of your training programs. You may consider surveying or interviewing learners, interviewing their managers to see if they have observed their employee using new skills and behaviors, or conduct a pre- and post-measurement of business outcomes (for example, number of widgets created, increased sales, increased customer satisfaction).
Improving efficiency. It’s important to measure how long it takes to build e-learning, how many classes are taught by facilitators, and other key training efficiency metrics. This can help with planning, budgeting, and estimating timelines. A system can help training teams identify how they are performing and provide detailed reports for fine-tuning operations. You can check out Quantum 7 and Scoreboard, a system that I built myself and will be making available publicly at the end of March; please contact me directly if you are interested in a demo.
Building a dashboard. A dashboard is a great way to show a snapshot of your team’s monthly performance. It doesn’t need to be complicated. A simple summary that shows learner satisfaction scores, business results, and team output (in the form of e-learning courses built, classes facilitated, and so forth), can be effective for communicating your team’s story—both to the team and to senior management.
The suggestions provided here can certainly help improve an L&D team’s performance. However, instilling a philosophy of constant improvement within the team may be the most effective way to drive change. Empower employees to make decisions, listen to their input, and encourage their participation in improving the team. Continuing to collect information and make adjustments when and where needed will catalyze your team and have them performing at a higher level in no time at all.