4 pillars of facilitating successful organizational learning programs


When it comes to facilitating complex organizational development and learning programs, there’s no one quite like Glenda Eoyang. Together with her team at the Human Systems Dynamics Institute, Glenda has successfully supported a wide variety of training and transformation processes across several verticals and continents.

In this post, Glenda shares her insights on how to structure, design, and run learning programs that have a sustained impact on the organization.

Step 1: Design with the learners

According to Glenda, designing an effective learning program comes down to two things:

  1. Fulfilling the needs of the learners and
  2. Satisfying the learning requirements of the organization.

“The challenge here is that these goals are almost never the same. My job as a facilitator is to bridge the gap between them. To get there, we have to collect inputs from both groups,” Glenda explains.

“We start every learning program by identifying the client’s goals. With their help, we put together a design team that consists of half a dozen learners. It’s really important to select a diverse group of people: you’ll want someone who’s really enthusiastic about the learning initiative, someone who’s not excited at all, and everything in between,” she continues.

The client can also be invited to the design meeting but if they attend, they’re expected to assume the role of an observer. The members of the design team, on the other hand, actively contribute to the content and structure of the program.

“While many facilitators prefer one-on-one interviews in the initial data collection and design phase, we’ve found focus groups to be more effective. That’s because I get to witness how the participants relate to one another. And when there are conflicts, the group setting encourages them to negotiate among themselves,” Glenda says.

“At this point, we’re trying to collect as much information as we can about the learners’ context, needs, and constraints. If, for example, we find out that someone only has 15 minutes they can dedicate to learning each day, it doesn’t make sense for me to include something that would take 6 hours to complete,” she sums up.”

Step 2: Develop and customize learning materials

After the first design team meeting, Glenda and her team start preparing materials for the learning program based on the information they gained from the learners.

Learning material can be roughly divided into three groups:

  1. Agenda. The first critical piece is an agenda that covers the entire program. According to Glenda, it can be a slide deck or any other format that captures the flow and structure of the process. The goal of this document is to communicate the big picture to the learning program participants so that they understand what will happen and when.
  2. Resources. Depending on the goals and format of the learning program, resources can come in a variety of formats. For example, they can include pre-reading, reference materials, and/or different kinds of exercises.
  3. Long-term references. Glenda also recommends leaving behind useful materials that the participants can refer to long after the program itself has ended. This helps the participants refresh their memory.

Once Glenda and her team have the first version of the materials ready, it’s time to consult the design team again.

“Once we have a suggestion of the contents of the learning program, we organize a review meeting with the design team. This allows us to make final tweaks to the structure and content of the program,” Glenda explains.

Step 3: Facilitate and support

At HSD Institute, live interaction usually happens through Adaptive Action Laboratories, which are workshop-like, facilitated sessions where the whole group comes together to learn in the context of their own work.

“One thing that makes our learning programs unique is that people bring their real problems to the classroom. They leave each Adaptive Action Lab with something that they can apply directly to their own work,” Glenda explains.

Each Adaptive Action Laboratory consists of the following 4 steps:

  1. Introducing a new tool. Glenda starts each lab by briefly introducing a new tool that they will learn how to use during the session.
  2. Reflection. Since all the learners have brought their unique issue to the session, they are given some time to reflect on how the new tool can be applied to their own work.
  3. Peer-to-peer coaching. Next, the participants form small groups where they discuss and coach each other on their problems and how the tool can help them in their specific situations.
  4. Reporting. Before leaving the session, each small group summarizes and reports their findings to the rest of the participants.

And to her fellow facilitators, Glenda has one critical piece of advice:

“When someone asks you a question, you’ll want to not only answer it but also understand where that question came from. Remember that the learners are there to learn, and that’s why they might not always be able to ask the right questions.”

Glenda shares a recent example where someone asked her a question about how long it would take to complete a specific course.

“I could’ve just said ‘4 hours’ and moved on with my day but instead I asked him why he was asking that question. Through my poking and prodding, I found out that he was a manager who was interested in knowing how his team could integrate learning to their work. His real question had nothing to do with how long it would take and everything to do with how his busy team will be able to learn at work,” Glenda recounts.

Step 4: Adapt and learn

The final step is perhaps the most important.

“The only real piece of advice that I can offer about this last step is to just do it. Have a plan but hold it lightly. Be adaptive to changes along the way,” Glenda recommends. 

And when it comes to learning and adapting, Glenda is definitely no exception. 

“Over the past few years, we’ve made several changes in the way we work. For one, we now do our work in smaller chunks because people are busy, and we need to offer them learning experiences that fit their schedules. On the other hand, we’ve started using more online platforms like Howspace, because our audience has become global,” Glenda explains.

“We’ve also moved away from teaching people facts and towards coaching them on inquiry, because we’re learned that when things are changing quickly, it’s more important to know which questions to ask than to know how to answer them,” she emphasizes.

If you’d also like to learn about the 8 trends that are currently shaping the organizational learning landscape, download your free copy of our guide.