What are the pros and cons of the different structures for the learning organization?

The learning function within an organization can generally be seen as centralized, decentralized or a hybrid. Brandon Hall Group defines these organizational structures as:

  • Centralized – A single corporate learning function across the company serving the internal learning audience. Eighty percent or more of the learning-function staff reports to this centralized corporate organization.
  • Decentralized – Corporate learning-function team with some decision-making but most learning-function decisions distributed to business-unit teams. Eighty percent or more of the learning-function staff in the company report to business or geographic unit learning-function teams.
  • Hybrid – A combination of centralized and decentralized

According to the most recent L&D Benchmarking Study from Brandon Hall Group, organizations overall are relatively evenly split in how they would define the current structure of their learning function. Forty percent say it is centralized, 36% say decentralized and 24% have a hybrid model.

Selecting the right structure can be critical to a well-executed learning strategy. The structure can have a strong influence over the agility and effectiveness of learning and development to help the overall organization meet its business goals.

It is not as simple as choosing one and running with it. There are many factors at play; the most obvious are the size and global footprint of the company.

Unfortunately, most organizational structures, processes and cultures were built decades ago and are not constructed for a volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous (VUCA) environment. Most organizations also are not good at change management or marshaling resources, including new technology, to adapt to change.

L&D Org Structures by Company Size

L&D Org Structures by Geographic Distribution

The structure of the learning function can mean the difference between a cohesive, standardized learning environment or controlled chaos. It can also be the difference between agile adaptability and an inability to respond to the business. Companies should find the right approach that matches the needs of the business and those of its learning audiences.

  • What is our overall organizational structure?
  • What is the strategic value of learning in the organization?
  • Does the company operate in a highly distributed environment?
  • What is our learning-governance process?
  • What are the learner requirements and conditions?
  • What is the governance model for learning technology?
  • Who has budgetary control?

Creating the right structure for the L&D function has its pros and cons:

  • Centralized – One learning team with a single chain of command; offers economies of scale; responsible for overall allocation of learning organizational resources; can be too far removed from the “front line”
  • Decentralized – Learning initiatives are the responsibility of individual lines of business; allows learning to be more aligned with the needs of the “front-line;” can lead to disconnect from “top-down” initiatives
  • Hybrid – One team responsible for professional development and lines of business are responsible for technical, compliance or industry-specific training; allows for shared expertise model, each focusing on their respective strengths; can be challenging to govern (who is responsible for what)
  • Emerging: Business Partnership – Centralized learning model with learning professionals embedded in the lines of business; gives best of all worlds; can be a challenge regarding solid- and dotted-lined reporting lines for learning professionals

When considering the right model for your organization, these are driving factors:

  • Organizational structure — Is the L&D structure in harmony with the business structure?
  • Strategic value of learning — Does learning report into the executive leadership of the organization?
  • Learning governance process/objective setting — How are learning goals currently set and prioritized?
  • Learner requirements and conditions — Are the needs of the learner — and how they need to learn — based on their work?
  • Learning curriculum — What type of learning content is currently used and in what sequence and cadence?
  • Learning scale — Is learning able to move at the speed of business?
  • Technology governance — Who is responsible for the learning-technology ecosystem?
  • Budget control — Does the budget allow for growth or maintenance of learning?

Brandon Hall Group Strategy Briefs answer the critical questions learning, talent, HR and business leaders must address to manage their human capital. To tackle these critical questions in more detail, we built tools, frameworks, research summaries and business builders based on up-to-date research and case studies for you to implement best and next Human Capital Management (HCM) practices. To gain access to these valuable resources, contact [email protected].

Leading minds in HCM choose Brandon Hall Group to help them build future-proof employee-development plans for the new era. For more than 27 years, we have empowered, recognized and certified excellence in organizations around the world, influencing the development of over 10,000,000 associates and executives.

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