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Friday, September 15, 2017

A reorganization forced a decentralized learning function to centralize operations.

As Benjamin Franklin said, "When you're finished changing, you're finished."


Organizations of all sizes continuously reorganize and realign themselves to keep up with rapidly evolving business environments. Chances are, you've been through at least one reorganizational restructuring or realignment in your career. A reorganization means that roles change and power dynamics shift in an organization, creating challenges to figure out how to get work done, and offering new opportunities that didn't previously exist.

A recent reorganization at the World Bank affected my team, the operations learning team, in profound ways.

Shifting from six regional learning teams to one centralized team

For years, operations learning teams reported into six different regional units. Each managed a separate regional budget and plan for the design and delivery of operational training to the staff of its specific region, yet World Bank operational policies and procedures were similar across the organization.

The operating environment at the World Bank is dynamic, with new policies and procedures being continuously implemented. The decentralized structure of operations learning created challenges with ensuring that training addressed the most recent policies and procedures and that the correct corporate messages were being shared.

Regional learning teams worked loosely with a small corporate operations learning center; however, efforts were not coordinated and learning programs were not harmonized. With the highly decentralized approach to operational training, the smaller corporate operations learning center often was unaware of the various training provided by a regional learning team and, therefore, unlikely to have seen the materials developed and presented. Furthermore, learners could not see the full picture of what operations training existed because operations training offerings were spread and managed all over.

The recent World Bank restructure, aimed to focus the organization's efforts on its competitive advantage as a global organization, shifted the structure from six regions into 14 global practice groups. With the primary target audience of operations learning now dispersed under different global practices, the logical decision was made to centralize the regional learning teams.

This shift in the operations learning team structure was significant and required substantial work from the learning management team to develop a team structure, work program, and key deliverables. We no longer had six different learning teams, used to working and organizing learning programs a certain way. We now had a large team that needed to learn to work together.

Working with a leadership coach through a series of extended meetings, we initiated a team-integration process. We developed a team work program template to define the "buckets" of work such as delivery of workshops, international learning hubs where in-person programs are delivered, core content areas, e-learning programs, and technology platforms, to name a few. The leadership team defined key deliverables for each area of work and what success would look like in a year, and formed small teams.

Communicating the changes with team members also was essential to the new team structure. Through a series of retreats with a leadership coach, both management and staff clarified roles, identified areas of overlap to eliminate, and developed new processes to communicate with clients on a global rather than a regional level.

Shift to a program focus

A key challenge to the new team's structure was the transition from a regional focus to a global one. In the previous structure, six small teams managed multiple learning programs for their own regions. Initially, when the six teams were combined, the structure maintained a regional focus.

What quickly became clear, however, was that a shift to a program focus was more efficient. That enabled the teams to gain a deeper knowledge of a specific learning program, with the added benefit of shifting to a global approach to the learning programs—which aligned nicely with the overall shift in the organization.

The global operations clinics program

One example of how centralizing operations learning has been beneficial to learning at the World Bank can be seen in the success of the Global Operations Clinics program. It consists of 90-minute face-to-face and virtual classroom training sessions on various operations topics. The sessions focus on key challenges for operations staff who are working on World Bank projects around the globe. Previously, each regional learning team ran its own clinics program. After centralizing the program, we experienced 60 percent growth: from 82 sessions reaching 3,300 participants to 134 sessions reaching 6,200 participants.

The team working on the Global Operations Clinics program gained significant economies of scale. Working collectively, we can do more with fewer resources and scale the program because we have developed a unified, global platform. Now we have one centralized team working on clinics that are available for a variety of time zone offerings. We run sessions at four different times during the day to reach the entire world. We also developed an end-to-end delivery mechanism (effective announcements all the way through to a follow-up email with the session recording and handouts) to serve our frontline operations staff.

One main reason for the growth was that the combined global program provided more frequent opportunities for staff across all time zones. Rather than each region announcing regional clinics to its specific audience, a global announcement is now sent to all operational staff, regardless of location. That means a busy, mobile workforce can choose to attend training whenever it is convenient and even while traveling. The result is a mix of staff from around the world in nearly every clinic offering. For example, staff in Washington, D.C., who cannot attend training during the day can join an early-morning or nighttime webinar targeting staff in Asia.

The program content also is centralized. With only one set of standardized materials to use, the quality of these materials is more easily maintained.

Another benefit of establishing standardized materials is the time this frees up for the subject matter experts who are also the key facilitators for World Bank operations training. Prior to the centralization of standardized materials, each trainer had to spend time developing her own presentations on basic topics. Now the learning teams work with the experts to look beyond the current content into new topic areas, enabling the clinics program to expand.


Centralized service

Overall, the shift from a decentralized to the centralized learning team has resulted in a stronger operations learning program that better serves the learning needs of World Bank staff. A few lessons learned from the organizational restructuring follow.

Articulate an elevator speech. As part of the team retreats held to integrate the teams, we developed an elevator speech. This process helped us to articulate the focus of the new team, key lines of business, and key roles. We wanted everyone to share the same story when we were approached by other teams about what had changed and how the new operations model worked.

Approach the change in steps. It took several months for the team to determine the best way to formulate a team structure and develop new processes. We didn't have all the answers when we started reorganizing our work program, but step-by-step we figured it out.

Communication is imperative. Identify key stakeholders and let them know how your services are changing. Also keep staff informed about changes and solicit their input on what needs to be done to implement the change.

Celebrate success. One year after the restructure, we looked ahead and saw many challenges that still needed to be resolved. But when we looked back at what we had accomplished, we realized how far we had come. At a team retreat we took time to quantify those successes and celebrate.

The centralized operations learning team at the World Bank continues to evolve. Rather than rest on our laurels, we continue to look for ways to become more efficient and better serve the learning needs of staff.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Darlene Christopher, CPLP, has designed and delivered virtual training programs for global audiences for 10 years and has authored a book, The Successful Virtual Classroom, on the subject. She is a knowledge and learning officer for the World Bank, where she directs learning programs and provides technical leadership on distance learning programs for international government institutions. Previously, Darlene held technology management positions at Disney Internet Group, 3Com, and Nextel. Darlene has an MPA from the Monterey Institute of International Studies and a BA in Spanish from the University of California, Davis.

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