From L&D to OD

I had a fairly minimal formal ‘induction’ into my current role, but one of the more interesting sessions I attended was about the rationale behind the creation of the Organisational Development (OD) structure – in particular, the move from a number of distributed and independent ‘Learning and Development’ or ‘Training Departments’ to the centralised ‘OD’ business unit that now exists in our organisation.

A key driver was to create efficiencies and cost savings – an obvious goal of centralised services. But what seemed progessive and positive about the reform process was that existing L&D functions weren’t simply mapped and consolidated into a single super structure. Stakeholders took the opportunity to reframe and redefine the role of L&D in the organisation, moving it beyond just providing ‘learning solutions’ and training delivery to make it explicitly about  developing organisational capability.

From divisional to functional structures

I read a really interesting post on organisational structures recently which helped me to conceptualise the nature of this change more concretely. This was Ben Thompson’s post on why Microsoft’s restructure is a bad idea. In it, he discusses divisional vs functional org structures, and the differences between them. And essentially, this is exactly the organisational change we’ve gone through in our L&D > OD restructure: moving from a number of independent, distributed L&D / training departments within each transport agency (division), to one centralised OD department structured on functional lines, supporting all transport agencies. Here is my ‘back of the envelope’ visual of the change, based on the  diagrams of divisional vs functional org structures in Ben Thompson’s post:


Thus our OD structure now consists of 4 main functional units:

  • Capability services – embedded OD business partners, talent pipeline/graduate/apprentice programs, diversity & equity
  • Learning services – learning design & delivery, trainer professional development
  • Change and Leadership services – innovation, organisational change & org design
  • Service Quality & Assurance – RTO/compliance, training admin, LMS / system support

Not just a structural change

But the new OD business unit doesn’t just represent a structural change; it also represents a qualitative change from L&D unit/s focused on training design and delivery to a broader business model which includes functions specifically focused on developing organisational capability and supporting organisational change, design and innovation – in addition to the learning design/delivery, and ‘back of house’ (training admin, LMS / system support) functions of traditional ‘L&D’ departments.

Functional teams need collaborative cultures

One of the most interesting points in Ben Thompson’s post was:

Divisional organisations have competitive cultures; functional organisations need collaborative ones.

In other words: cross functional teams must work together in order to succeed and achieve outcomes for the business.

Current challenges

Some of the challenges to achieving this collaborative culture that I’m witnessing / experiencing in this early stage of transition to the new OD structure (about 6 weeks in) include:

Past legacies

Employees who have moved from one of the previous L&D / training departments to the new OD business unit, must let go of their previous role and association with their previous transport agency (division), learn what their new role entails, and adjust their perspective as being part of an OD function supporting all 5 transport agencies (this may include a transition from viewing other agencies as competitors to viewing them as collaborators). This takes time and may be a challenge for some.

Command & control cultures and hierarchical structures

Another legacy is a command and control culture, and hierarchical structure, which I think will remain to varying degrees for some time to come. This sometimes brings with it a tendency to escalate issues up the chain, rather than addressing issues directly with relevant parties. The layer of approvals often required to make or enact decisions also impacts organisational agility and the ability to achieve outcomes quickly.

Pace and extent of change

The pace and extent of change that has occurred means that roles and responsibilities are still quite fuzzy – people are still in the process of learning what their role entails, what the various positions are, and what they do. You can only collaborate constructively with someone once you have a clear understanding of what they do in relation to what you do, and how you might be able to work together to achieve your respective goals.

Technology ‘blockers’ (…?)

Bringing together a number of diverse agencies has meant operating in an environment where agency networks and systems don’t talk to each other, and contending with Outlook entries that have missing or incorrect details. It’s near impossible to support an agency if you can’t access their systems remotely, and difficult to collaborate across teams without phone or email contact. In saying that however I’ve discovered there is a positive flipside to this: it forces you to get up from behind your desk and physically seek out the person you’re looking for.  As this often involves talking to a number of different people  to reach the person you’re after, you end up making a number of new connections in the process.

I’ve also found that having more face to face conversations makes you more inclined to be social in informal situations – so I’m now having more unstructured conversations with new people in the kitchen, the corridors, at desks – spontaneously building an informal network that will no doubt lead to cross functional collaboration in the future.

The lesson? In an age where we increasingly depend upon technology as an enabler to collaboration, it’s important not to underestimate the value of real, live face to face conversation in building trust and a foundation for future collaboration.