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  • Tracie Cantu

Designing Your L&D Team

How is your L&D department structured? What are the must have roles for a Learning & Development team? What can my 1-5 person learning team do to be thought of as organizationally impactful?

These are the most common questions I’m asked when it comes to designing and operating a successful learning and development organization. In this post, I want to focus in on the first of the three questions:

How is your L&D department structured?

The three most common structures for corporate learning and development are Decentralized, Centralized and Federated, and each model has its pro’s and con’s. Also, each model can be successful if thoughtfully enacted to support an organization's business needs and culture.

Decentralized Structure

What is it? Decentralization allows for decision making and team building power to reside across various business units and levels of management

Pro’s: Highly responsive to the needs of the business unit, self-sufficient learning teams, increased career options, promotes experimentation and innovation

Con’s: Expensive due to duplication of roles, tools and content, all learning teams aren’t equal in skill or content quality, organizational silos can form, harder to integrate into companywide resources, slower to adopt best practices, difficult to compare metrics across business units

Centralized Structure

What is it? Centralization creates a hierarchy, a top down flow of decision making and team determination.

Pro’s: Smaller headcount, maximize purchasing power, consistent branding and quality, companywide definition and output of learning metrics

Con’s: Prioritization of work can leave some business units on the backlog list, slower decision making, reduced career opportunities, bias toward one-size fits all outputs

Federated Structure

What is it? Federated has a strong central authority for enterprise wide decision making, standards, and purchasing while allowing each unit to form learning teams as needed to meet their learning and development needs.

Pro’s: Economies of scale, consistent branding and quality, highly responsive to the needs of the business unit, organizationally defined key metrics

Con’s: Headcount expenses, potential unequal distribution of L&D skills, silos can quickly form without clear lines of communications

As you can see, Federated is a hybrid model combining the best of both centralization and decentralization, while trying to minimize the negative effects of each. I prefer this method because it helps to create a baseline standard for brand, quality, and metrics that all organizational learning teams must meet, plus those teams can also exceed those standards and help inform the next iteration of the "baseline standard."


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