Case Study: Experiential Learning

For over 12 years we partnered one of the world’s most well-known technology companies through its growth path, as their global partner for leadership and high potential development. Our involvement with them started before the foundation of Living Systems, when our founder led the development of their Management Foundation programme, which became legendary in the organisation for developing a culture of management excellence.

As a result of our founder’s leadership of the Foundation programme, we were invited to take on their global executive high potential development programme as well as looking after their EMEA high potential managers. Over the course of the next 11 years we designed and ran a number of development programmes for these two target populations.

What they all had in common was a focus on vertical, as well as horizontal development. This involved shifting from a didactic, classroom-based approach to learning, to one that emphasised learning-by-doing, and experiential learning, and was central to the evolution of the organisation’s leadership culture over this period.

With their high potential managers we introduced the practice of Action Inquiry, a bit like a supercharged form of action learning,  Over the course of the first 3 years of the programme we helped to establish a learning culture in EMEA, introducing action inquiry as  a practice to support real-time learning and development whilst working on live business issues with peers.

This programme received some of the highest scores ever seen for a development programme in the organisation, and action inquiry has become firmly embedded as a practice within the organisation’s DNA. This case study is covered in another piece (see “Transformational Action Inquiry”.

For the high potential Executives we went even further. Working with the Executive we designed a year long programme that integrated work on real business projects with leadership development, introducing action inquiry as a practice for integrating personal development with work on live priorities.

At a time when there was an emphasis on Enterprise leadership and collaboration across organisational silos, we put people into small groups of 6 – 8  people formed to ensure a maximum mix of diversity across functions. We then designed activity to help these leaders broaden their understanding of the business to incorporate the perspectives of other functions in the business, broadening their understanding and developing systemic leadership capability. 

Over the course of the programme, we helped leaders develop their capacity for Connected Intelligence. We introduced the principles of whole system change and developed the ability of leaders to facilitate collective intelligence in groups. We helped leaders learn to codify patterns of language, making the invisible architecture of communication visible, and supported this with an intense programme of 1:1 development, developing vertical capacity by building mental, relational and task agility.

The results of the Executive programme exceeded our wildest expectations. Over the course of the four years it ran, the programme was responsible for a number of significant cross-functional innovation and transformation initiatives.

By developing connection across functions we improved collaboration between the key functions of Engineering and Sales and Marketing, and helped to develop a reflective learning culture. In the last few years of its being run, the programme was a key catalyst for much of the well-publicised change which would lead to the organisation making a major cultural shift towards greater cross-boundary collaboration and integration.

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