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Transforming culture through team and cohort learning and leadership programs.

When you think of coaching and a leadership development program, you likely think of the traditional, one-on-one coaching sessions between a leader and their executive coach. Perhaps you picture individual or small, classroom style training sessions. But in a business world characterized by VUCA (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity), a different approach is demonstrating a dramatically greater return on expectation and investment.

Organizations that create an environment that increases the collective capacity for leadership, and encourages effective and purposeful intersystem relationships, are proving to be extremely successful in achieving their desired outcomes – positive cultures and business results. That’s why team and cohort-based learning and development, that addresses both individual and collective leadership development, is such a valuable investment for organizations who are looking to build a well-defined team culture.

What is Team and Cohort-Based Learning & Leadership Development?

To define a team and cohort-approach to leadership development and coaching, it’s important to first understand what it is not.

A team is not an organizational structure or group of people. You can’t just put people together, or have them work on the same project, and call them a team. True teams arise when everyone is collectively working toward the same outcome, supporting each other, and are invested in each other’s success.

Similarly, simply grouping people together to go through a curriculum, or off-the-shelf material, is not cohort-based learning and leadership development. While these types of corporate training session have their place for sure, they are not designed to have the same impact as a collective, cohort-based leadership development effort.

Instead, a team-approach or cohort-based leadership development engagement is one that is designed to purposefully and creatively build a culture of high accountability. Peers are encouraged to learn together, support each other, succeed together, collaborate, and coach each other. The design of a cohort program for leadership development must intentionally create a “holding environment” for individual and collective learning and growth.

The focus of this development is not just on “me” as a leader, but on “we” as a collective. Targeted content addresses the skills, knowledge and competencies within each leader and applies the skills to positively impact what is happening between the leaders.

A strategic time-out.

Just as one-to-one coaching creates the space for an outcomes-focused discussion that is unique to the individual leader’s current style, challenges and culture, team or cohort engagements are designed to create that same bespoke learning environment amongst a group. Led by the unique challenges facing the members of the cohort, the cohort will not only learn together, but synthesize together and support each other as they start applying their learning to their daily work.

Leaders are asked to start solving specific problems as a group within the session. This is where a coaching approach really comes into its own. Because the sessions are tailored to the team or cohort the coach facilitator is able to provide meaningful, and immediately applicable, tools that help the team perform. Through interaction, conversation, and a collective approach, participants are encouraged to recognize that they are only as good as their colleagues around them, and that working together is far more effective than working individually in silos.

Keeping the momentum with peer-to-peer coaching.

Leadership development is an ongoing investment, and if the skills acquired within the learning sessions are not applied and practiced on a regular basis, the change in behaviour amongst your people and teams may be short lived. A key skill that can be developed and honed through a true collective leadership development effort is peer coaching. Peer-to-peer coaching is one technique that can help teams build on the momentum and continue to implement a purposeful team environment. It asks team members to be able to graciously solicit, provide, and accept feedback from each other, and creates a culture of accountability that is based off positive intention, courageous authenticity, systems thinking and integrity.

When coupled together, cohort-based learning and peer-to-peer coaching have the power to transform the leadership culture from one of telling and criticism to one that encourages trust, openness, collaboration and support between team members when solving difficult problems. It can help tear down silos and the reliance on command-and-control hierarchies and move the organization toward an agile, interdependent network that enable leaders to step up and make decisions about the future of team, organization, or community. This helps everyone drive toward a common goal.

My Challenge to You – Surface the opportunity for team or cohort-based learning in your organization.

Before investing in training, clarify the purpose and the goal. It’s far more effective to focus on specific leadership skills that are pertinent to the vision and growth of the company. Make sure your program design is carefully tailored to the leadership needs of the group and the organization.

Because leadership learning and development is an ongoing journey, it is critical to ensure there is sustained effort to maintain momentum. Consider including executive coaching, establishing a learning cohort that meets between formal learning sessions, or conducting shorter trainings over a longer period of time. For example, try 6-8 half-day “strategic time-outs” rather than full-day intense sessions.

  • Take the time upfront to consider how you will measure success – both qualitatively and quantitatively. Measuring how much participants enjoyed the program, while meaningful, may not be enough. Determining ROI and ROE measures for your company may take patience, but this clarity is valuable enough in itself.

  • Identify the unique challenges your people are facing collectively, and what’s preventing them from overcoming these challenges. Assess whether current development efforts truly address those real-time challenges?

  • Start building an environment where peer-to-peer coaching and feedback is encouraged and accepted.

Jennifer Collins is CEO of Radiant. Learn more about their culture transformation services.

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