How to Replace Top-Down Training with Collaborative Learning (4)

Fourth post in a series. In case you missed them, here are the first, second, and third posts.

Is your organization ready?

How ready are you to tackle Big L Learning? Where does your organization fit on the progression from Hierarchical Organization to Collaborative Organization?

You can take this survey online. We’ll report the aggregate results in a couple of weeks.

Our employees can access the entire Internet from their desktops. ☐ yes ☐ no

Our people are learning and growing fast enough to keep up with the future. ☐ yes ☐ no

Anyone can set up an online meeting at our company. ☐ yes ☐ no

We take time to reflect on our experience. ☐ yes ☐ no

We distribute information through podcasts, blogs, or videos. ☐ yes ☐ no

It’s easy to contribute to a blog or wiki. ☐ yes ☐ no

My team talks about the trends that drive our business. ☐ yes ☐ no

Relationships between departments are collaborative and effective. ☐ yes ☐ no

We learn something from every interaction with a customer. ☐ yes ☐ no

If you checked fewer than five ”yes” boxes, your organization is trailing the mainstream.



Assessing the cost/benefit of experiential learning is like asking for a cost/benefit of your telephone connections. You can’t live without it. As one pundit put it, “The ROI of social networking is being in business a few years from now.”

Among the potential benefits of providing a world-class learning function to workers and throughout the extended enterprise are:

  • Better, more knowledgable customer service
  • Faster response time
  • Higher morale
  • Reduced turnover
  • More flexibility
  • More effective supply chain
  • Bottom-up innovation
  • Collective intelligence
  • Build upon one another’s expertise
  • Recruit superior candidates

Your CFO will point out that these are intangibles. She’s right. But most of the value of companies is intangible. In the two decades of the 20th century, the value of the S&P 500 companies flipped from 80% tangibles to 80% intangibles.

Stock price reflects the value investors put on know-how, brand, track record, and the likelihood that the company will continue to create value in the future. All of these depend on the quality of the workforce and its relationships, and those in turn depend on people’s ability to learn and grow.


To keep things simple, we began by dividing the world into two types of businesses. We call industrial-age (old school) companies
Hierarchical and network-era (2012) companies Collaborative.

1. Control in Hierarchical companies resides at the top. Orders and instructions are pushed down through the organization.
Hierarchical organizations train employees. Hierarchical organizations micromanage: they tell people what to learn.
2. Control in Collaborative companies is distributed throughout the organization. Workers and supervisors have a large say
in what they do. Collaborative organizations help everyone in the extended enterprise learn: contractors, temps, partners, consultants — and customers.

Collaborative organizations give managers and workers the freedom to choose how they learn to do the work. This experiential learning is deeper and more long-lasting than classes.

What if our company has shifted from Hierarchical to Collaborative? Learning would become everyone’s business. We looked at likely changes. We asked what would give us the biggest bang in a Collaborative Organization if we didn’t even have a training department.

A good way to assess the adequacy of the technology you’re going to rely on is to look at capabilities on the consumer web. Facebook
has taught hundreds of millions of people about social networking. Ask net-savvy younger workers how they would like to learn new
skills, and they bring will up the features they enjoy outside of work.

It’s not just about the technology, so we examined also some of the human aspects of implementation, including the rationale for different sorts of social networks.


That concludes this series of posts. Here are the four posts:

White paper | Slideshare

Hats off to Citrix for sponsoring this research.