Learning organisations: a practical model for training and professional development

Learning organisations:  a practical model for training and professional development

The best way to learn is to teach” (Frank Oppenheimer)

 

During the meetup on Tuesday 3 November 2021, Agile Reloaded pleasurably hosted Alessandro Giardina, from 2019 Agile Delivery Manager at Intré, a cousin company of Agile Reloaded.

As an enthusiastic practitioner of agile methodologies, Alessandro talked about training and the fundamental role of this discipline within business scenarios. So, he brought the observable and tangible example of Intré, the “Learning and Development” model and its constant evolution.

 

What is Intré, or who is it?

Intré was founded in ‘99 in the field of Software Development, dealing with production on behalf of third parties. Today, the company employs 60 people including developers, designers, system engineers, delivery managers, social media managers and accountants.

We offer a close description to understand the company reality of Intré.

The organisation has a flat hierarchy: there is no organisation chart and no management area. But the main feature of Intré is the ability to create development teams – “mixed teams”. There are 11 development teams, each of which deals with 3 areas: energy, insurance and content delivery.

The company follows 2 streams of values: the production of software and the growth of people. Its motto is: “learn, code, deploy and value”.

Finally, a look at how the Intré operators themselves read the market.

aziende-vantaggi-svantaggi

There are 3 macro categories of companies with their own set of advantages and disadvantages.

  • Product or service companies, which operates in both B2B and B2C environments;
  • 3rd-party software development companies (Intré itself), consultancy companies;
  • Coaching or training companies.

Intré operators underline and increase the offer of advantages of each one.

 

The Learning & Development model of Intré

Let’s go to the heart of the article and start with a disclaimer.
The L&D model has been owned by Intré since the company’s inception; consequently, it is difficult to implement it for other realities, both because of its peculiarities and because of the different contexts.

Model areas

The model includes 6 main areas of intervention; here you are a summary:

Modello L&D

Let’s look at them individually.

  • The training budget consists of 1000 euros (net of VAT) that every year each individual receives to spend on spontaneous and personal initiatives, even outside the work environment, as well as 100 euros (net of VAT) to spend on books and ebooks.
    In the case of higher expenses, Intré can freely decide to cover the difference (for example, in the case of excessively expensive courses).
    Accessible initiatives include courses, workshops, conferences, travel & accommodations, training licences.
  • GildeGuilds are spontaneous and temporary aggregations of people around a single objective: sharing and learning. It is an organisational strategy so effective and so deeply rooted in Intré, that it has become its workhorse.
    In the picture, some examples of Guilds in Intré:

Few more words about Guilds.
They are formed by minimum 4 participants, to a maximum of 8 (for reasons of efficiency, effectiveness and internal organisation). They meet every 4 months – for a total of 3 annual cycles – during camps organised by the company.

Each Guild has 1 name and 1 or more training objectives. Self-organisation is one of the guiding values of the guilds: the individuals themselves propose different themes for the birth of new guilds; after a democratic vote, two alternatives will results:

    • If there are less than 4 votes, the potential new guild will be discarded;

    • If there are more than 8 votes, two groups will be formed for the same topic or the new guild itself will decide how to be placed.

During a work of 4 hours per week, the groups experience team working dynamics. At the end of 4 months of work, they have to show an outcome, an artefact resulting from the learning period: examples of past outcomes can be presentations, videos, blogs, softwares or also a conference (followed by other editions under the name of “guildonference”).

Finally, if someone is not interested in any of the guilds, 1 time per year he/she can access a period of individual learning, after a brief presentation of the program to the rest of the community. The learning path lasts 4 months, for 4 hours a week; if necessary, participants can use their 1000 euros budget. At the end of the period, it is compulsory to submit an outcome (just like in traditional guilds).

Over time, Guilds in Intré have become an exemplary organisational model; we at Agile Reloaded have also drawn inspiration (read the article for further informations about AR guilds).

  • Intré campThe camps are one-day events organised every 4 months. During the first half-day, CEOs and partners meet to discuss market trends; the morning ends with a gildonference.
    In the afternoon, Intré people organise an Unconference, a discussion place in an open space format with only one rule, the law of the two feet: participants are free to move around, completely autonomous in choosing when and how to contribute in the various works; everyone is responsible for using their 2 feet to move between the various groups, where they can make the difference.
    Outsiders, friends, relatives or simply curious people can also participate.

Time spent in guilds and camps is “protected” by the various individual contracts.

  • Communities are meetings organised by Intré, in which you can take part as a participant, a speaker, an hostess or a steward, or as an organiser. The aim is to stimulate the active participation of people within the company.
  • Traditional learnings are meetings organised 3 times a year – in addition to Guilds work – whose participation does not affect the training budget; they are set to develop and improve soft skills of individuals. You can choose between:

    • individual training sessions, such as attending conferences or workshops, or giving courses;

    • language courses;

    • group initiatives, on practises such as conflict resolution, exchanging feedback, host leadership, non-violent communication (NVC), well being and smart working.

  • Personal goals are a tool strictly aimed at defining everyone’s personal goals. A performance review is organised every 6 months, with an Intré partner and a delivery manager, to decide between 2 or 4 personal goals per year – usually, learning-oriented. Their measurability is the public manifestation.

Training indicators: lagging vs leading

There are 2 types of training performance indicators.

  1. Lagging indicators – or even late – appear at the end of a phenomenon (e.g. turnover). They are easy to manage and comprehend. They are quantitative indicators to measure the effectiveness of the training or of the performance of participants through surveys and tests. Their limitation lies in the fact that they do not say much about the impact of what people produce or on customer satisfaction.
  2. Leading indicators are more nuanced, difficult to grasp. They are indicators that, for example, show how many potential customers have been met during an event. They are qualitative indicators to assess the level of guild outcomes through functioning artifacts. In contrast to lagging indicators, they also evaluate customer involvement and satisfaction, so the level of business growth.

 

Continuous evolution

The L&D model is not a static model: each element originates from an experiment which over time becomes habit.

Few practical examples of the model’s evolution.

Initially, the training budget amounted to 500 euros and could only be used for individual activities or services; today, 1000 euros also cover guild activities, promoting greater autonomy of individuals.

canvas-gilde

In addition, it has been introduced a certification program entirely paid by the company; just in the case of a failure, the fee is shared with the participant.

But among the most singular novelties, there is the Guild Canvas: a new guild built and proposed through a canvas table (replacing the descriptive text). This is a new experiment, which will be applied for the first time in the new guilds cycle of February.

Engagement and professional growth

In Intré they are always looking for better ways to provide corporate training, doing it and helping others to do it.
Engagement is a delicate but indispensable tool; from an HR perspective, it means meeting people’s needs, not your own ones.

Four values of the Agile Manifesto inspire this purpose:

engagement

  1. experiential learning over notionism;
  2. group training over individual training;
  3. proactive training over top-down training;
  4. showcases and working artefacts over exams and tests.

Within Intré, individuals can ask for a change of team, they can take a leadership role (such as Teach leader, Scrum Master), but the business model does not allow traditional career evolutions. Instead, it allows professional growth.

Investing in people is an essential value and a certain win, whether the outcome of the engagement is: if the person leaves, he or she will remain one of the best ambassadors for the company.

Pros & cons of the model

To conclude, we offer a transparent listing of the advantages, but also the challenges of the Intré Learning Organisation Model.

Pros

  • The collective activities, for the joy to be together;
  • The “peer learning” format: this format creates a beneficial pressure in the group, encouraging participants to show up and being prepared to every guild meeting;
  • Corporate cohesion: in the medium-long time, everyone has the opportunity to work in guilds with everyone else in the company;
  • Shared knowledge: individual knowledge and skills are available to everyone, not just to teammates, allowing a continuous and free exchange of advises;
  • Corporate Social Responsibility: guilds and camps are opportunities for weekly breaks from long ongoing projects;
  • The numerous business opportunities: each individual is a point of contact with the outside world for continuous learning; this results in more skills than are really needed in a day-to-day basis;
  • The talent retention: the L&D model is the main attractive feature of the company when it comes to hiring.

Cons

  • The Guilds: the risk is that learning could be dispersed among participants, due to long intervals between meetings or the overall duration;
  • The remote: sometimes distance is an obstacle to the effectiveness of the model;
  • Sometimes, difficulty in organising the week: it depends on individual commitments;
  • Sometimes, the low energy level of the group: this is a condition that needs to be continuously nurtured and depends on the mix of people or the charisma of the leader;
  • (The apparent) inability to apply what is learned in the daily activities of the team; actually, these outcomes will be necessary for future clients or projects;
  • The difficulty in finding something new to propose in the guild: the search for novelty becomes a challenge itself.

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