The 3 Stages of L&D Teams

What does a good Learning and Development team look like? 

It’s a good question, often asked by People Teams as they start to use Learning and Development to develop the skills of people in the business.

The way companies invest in Learning and Development (in my experience) is based on how mature the business is.  I think it can be broken down into these three stages:

  • Start up/Scale up – Driven by the need to increase sales performance and decrease customer leaving rates (essentially trying to lower the burn rate so all the capital investment isn’t lost).
  • SME – Driven by the need to decrease attrition in order to retain people that will help the company grow. 
  • Enterprise – Both the previous and also to use learning as a competitive advantage.

If these drivers are the reason why learning and development functions are created, what do those teams tend to look like?  Here’s my rundown on the team set-up, areas of focus, delivery methods, technology stack, and the Pros & Cons of this set-up. 


Set Up: L&D is mainly training and 1:1 coaching.  Run by Trainers/Learning Specialists that report to the function head.  I.e Sales Trainer Reporting into the Sales Director.

Area of focus/Goal: Induction (to decrease ramp time) and early career training (1:1 Call coaching) to reduce customer churn rate.

Delivery Methods: Classroom, Call Coaching.

Technology Stack: Limited to individual licences for platforms that the training specialist has no expertise in.  I.e. Pluralsight licences for data scientists.

Pros of this structure: Direct line of sight into the challenges of the function, can react quickly to changing needs, can spot skills gaps quickly.

Cons: The trainers/learning specialists have little say over content or delivery method. No insight into other functions (lack of joined-up thinking). The constant intake of new starters makes it difficult to be proactive.  Skills gaps in the general population remain as there is no process or facility to fill them.  Analytics tend to be lost as the trainers aren’t skilled in data analysis.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)

Set up: L&D is incorporated into the HR/People Functions.  I.e L&D Manager reports to the Head of People. Depending on the business can contain L&D Manager with Training/ Specialists.

Area of Focus/Goal:  A joined-up plan of action to help the HR/People Team deliver its priorities through learning.

Delivery Methods: Classroom, Call Coaching, Online Learning, External Partners used where internal gaps exist, Managers begin to take responsibility for the performance of the team usually focusing on 1:1s, Feedback, well-being, and Performance Management.  Some training of the management team takes place but isn’t tied to overall company performance.

Technology Stack: LMS/LXP has been purchased.  Blended and Hybrid programmes take shape around compliance and non-critical skills gaps.  Multiple licenses across learning platforms are in play.  Tech stack is used to track attendance, satisfaction, and ‘engagement’ (usually seen as total hours of content viewed).

Pros: Some insight into the company challenges which allows for limited strategy formation.  Relationships with Marketing and Finance can be formed as all three teams expand. The bandwidth to create a L&D brand and learning ROI are explored. ROI becomes essential for L&D to be seen as a ‘Must Have’.  Learning analytics emerge and targeted / adaptive programmes take shape.

Cons:  When learning is wrapped into the HR/People Team some of its ability to react precisely and quickly is lost. Stakeholders can feel fulfilment takes too long and is too loose.  Targeted learning can be replaced with general themes as HR/People Team need the L&D structures in place to promote company-wide programmes, leading L&D to be seen as a ‘Nice to Have’.  During financial difficulty, it is the first department to be reduced/jettisoned.


Set up: Head of L&D Reports to Chief People Officer / Chief Learning Officer in place.  Both roles still end up having regular 1:1s with the member of the C suite.

Other roles in the team include L&D managers, L&D Business Partners. E-learning Managers and Designers, Curriculum Managers, Early, Mid and Late Career Managers, Leadership Managers, Learning Tech Managers, LMS/LXP Admins (any combo you need really!).

Area of Focus/Goal: Drive business growth through learning and Development.

Delivery Methods: Classroom, Call Coaching, Online Learning (internally built and externally sourced) Management and Leadership Development are used to drive the performance of individual contributors.  External partners regularly engaged across multiple skill sets.

Technology Stack:  LMS/LXP is fully utilised across all colleagues.  Specific learning pathways/skills portfolios are created. All learning (Facilitated, face-to-face, Self-led, online, and external online learning platforms) are accessed through the LMS/LXP.  Single Pane of glass experience for all.

Pros: Separate L&D budget exists allowing L&D the autonomy to resource targeted, adaptive learning and leverage external partners as necessary.  A direct relationship with the Senior Leadership team allows for both reactive amendments to existing programmes and to strategically plan for skills for the future.  Analytics through the employee life cycle relating to learning is published and a monthly L&D Management Intelligence Pack can be shared.

Cons: The team can lose sight of the individual so all needs are not met and resentment in teams can build which needs to be closely monitored.

Before you leave the page have a think about where your company is now and then where would you like to be.   I ask this as it is possible for a Start-Up/Scale UP to have everything an Enterprise has without spending what an enterprise would.  You just need to know how…

I hoped you enjoyed reading this.  If you’ve any questions please feel free to contact me at

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