5 Challenges blocking Radical Learning

Rachel Whale
Organisational challenges
5 min readMar 14, 2024

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Building a civil society that is better equipped to create a more just and regenerative world is our obsession at Koreo. We believe that stands the best chance of happening if we apply radical thinking to leadership learning and organisational design. Over our 20 year story we’ve been in many different organisational settings all facing cumulative external existential challenges, but our ambition for people and culture within every organisation we work with remains unchanged. The domain traditionally known as HR we believe should be the place where there is the greatest imagination, the most radical ideas and delivered by the most talented teams in the sector. Social change work happens through people, yet so often the learning programmes we and others are trying to design and deliver are facing some classic challenges. In the interest of doing work in the open and generate collective learning I wanted to share thoughts on 5 challenges we often experience here, as well as how we are trying to positively respond and overcome. Hoping to hear your experiences, thoughts, as always reasons to disagree.

No Time, Heavy Workload

We are constantly working with leaders in non profit organisations who feel the burden of a heavy workload. While they largely welcome the opportunity to take part in personal and collective learning with peers, they can struggle to protect the time to take part. We work with this reality in a number of ways. Being open and honest about this challenge at the beginning of any programme and reflect in early comms and onboarding calls, setting a learning culture of personal ownership and accountability but mainly by instilling a sense of possibility and excitement for the journey ahead, establishing individual buy in early and peer to peer accountability. Keeping it practical; we are a team with direct experience of the context participants are working within so we hope to win trust and respect early by showing this understanding and reflecting it in a programme journey that requires just the right amount of dedicated time as well as content that is completely related to the day job. We co-design to make sure we have a very considered balance of in person and on line time, directed and self directed learning We establish a programme culture that is rooted in accountability for learning, this means our facilitators are practised in creating environments that bring both high support and high challenge, as well as a programme design that encourages connection into the manager / 121 spaces / three way accountability. We encourage senior leadership teams to communicate and role model engagement expectations.

Unlocking Engrained Ways of Working

We are often working in organisational settings where ways of working are deeply engrained and leadership behaviours are relatively locked, even when they aren’t serving the organisational mission or strategy. People often underestimate the agency they have to change these working cultures and finds better ways of being. We try to respond to co/overt forms of resistance to change in a number of ways. Managing expectations by recognising through our communication that changing cultures is long term and deep work and being willing to work in long term partnerships with our clients and reflect that in tender proposals. Designing learning programmes that have strong systemic foundations, using Theory of Change and Three Horizon methodologies that lead to producing leadership behaviour frameworks that speak to the future rather than the past. We are committed to bringing a facilitation style of high support and high challenge to ensure participants commit to take the progressive actions needed to unlock new cultures, including through intentional discomfort. We experiment with light touch playful techniques for making the learning stick during the day job; fortnightly reflection prompts, physical toolkits, visualisations of leadership behaviours as mini art work for the office, competency cubes for personal prompting.

The Comfort of Silos

Linked to locked ways of working, we often experience a specific challenge of persuading people to leave behind their silos and work collaboratively. Silos are often long established and create a space of comfort and ease for leaders, compared to the perceived and sometimes real energy and time it takes to work across team boundaries. We try and release this tension and encourage greater connection by; Recognising the underlying causes which are often rooted in when something has gone wrong, people have been blamed and have therefore retreated into their own lanes for safety. We try to intentionally design psychological safety into every programme we run. We use social network analysis tools to map connections in an organisation, understand where there are silos or mini worlds and who are the bridges or super connectors. We encourage the client to think about a strategic approach to cohort design that maximises the chances of connecting important people and teams in the organisation. We use action learning work and experimentations to rapidly increase connections during the programme.

De-Valuing of Organisational Development Work

While we are often commissioned to design and deliver leadership development and culture change programmes by senior leaders responsible for OD, they are often not sitting on the top leadership team holding this level of positional power within their organisations and furthermore they can be working with colleagues (our potential participants) who may not have an understanding of OD. So perceptions of OD as a specialism, a priority for investment of money and time can be mixed. We try to mitigate these risks by; Demonstrating our expertise through our track record over 20 years with household name organisations. Making sure our practice draws from a diverse range of evidence based tools. Implementing robust evaluation methodologies across our programmes that evidence a compelling impact story. Advocating with our clients and our external comms that people and culture should be represented on the top leadership table and resourced at an appropriate level.

Building Capacity for Ongoing Learning

We are always conscious of how we can work in a way with clients that generates long term impact and this often means working in a way that means the work is sustainable when we are no longer involved. All of the organisations we work with experience cost pressures so working with us to design and deliver a learning programme with the aim of ultimately bringing in-house makes good financial sense as well as encouraging agency and ownership on the client side. We try to make this happen in several ways: Ensuring initial alignment that client ownership and taking in house is an option or intention. Setting up co design work to involve the key stakeholders who would own the programme longer term. We work with flexibility from the beginning to ensure we stay for as long as we are needed and no longer. We design capacity building workshops beyond year one for facilitation, coaching and action learning, in addition to any other content/thematic workshops needed.

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