The role of the manager in the learning of their teams (part 2)

In the last blog we discussed the symbiotic relationship between formal and informal learning to enable managers to develop the colleagues within their teams. You can find it here, if you haven’t read it to date.

The point being made can be elaborated on and further emphasised when we consider the expectations placed on managers to create a supporting climate that is conducive for learning (Ashton 2004; Eraut et al. 1999; Marsick and Watkins 1997). If managers have not been given adequate developmental support themselves, they will have no knowledge of utilising differing leadership styles, have little understanding of how to provide constructive feedback – let alone the importance of this (Koike & Inoki 1990, Koike 2002; Darrah 1996); and have scant appreciation of individual’s different goals, backgrounds, learning styles and motivations (CLMS). It is therefore rather hypocritical to expect them to lead on supporting subordinates…how can we expect them to do something when we have not shown them ‘what good looks like’? Organisations that find themselves in these situations are simply setting their management population up to fail.

All individuals, and indeed organisations, require differing approaches and levels of support, often dictated by the task they are being required to perform; Manager’s must be able to adapt and flex their approach to suit such varied needs of others. Such behavioural awareness and development stems from formal learning and is honed in informal scenarios. As such, the fundamental point remains the same:

“the effectiveness of managers supporting workplace learning depends significantly on whether they have the appropriate knowledge, skills, attitudes and have themselves received appropriate development. Such effectiveness also depends on whether the organisational climate is supportive of such managerial activity” (cited in Beattie 2006: 104).”

People often balk at the perceived ‘costs’ of formal learning, my kickback to this would firstly be…you are using the wrong suppliers, and secondly, have you considered the cost of all the above? The correct supplier will work with the budget you have and build meaningful ROI into the process; if you don’t want to work with an outside agency, buy some good training materials and deliver it in-house. Either way, always consider how you are setting people up for success, rather than failure…if you keep this in mind, your people are more likely to keep in mind how to make your business a success as an outcome.


Ashton, D. (2004) ‘The Impact of Organisational Structure and Practices on Learning in the Workplace’, International Journal of Training and Development 8(1): 43-53.

Beattie, R. (2006) ‘Line Managers and Workplace Learning: Learning for the Voluntary Sector’, Human Resource Development International 9(1): 99-119

CLMS (2012) MSc in Human Resource Management and Development, Module 1. Leicester: Centre for Labour Market Studies

Darrah, C. N. (1996), Learning and Work: An Exploration in Industrial Ethnography Garland Publishing: London

Eraut, M., Alderton, J., Cole, G. and Senker, P. (1999) ‘The Impact of the Manager on Learning in the Workplace’, in F. Coffield (ed.) Speaking Truth to Power: Research and Policy on Lifelong Learning, pp. 19-29. Bristol: Policy Press

Koike, K. (2002), ‘Intellectual Skills and Competitive Strength: is a radical change necessary?’ Journal of Education and Work, 14, 4, 390–408.

Koike, K. and Inoki, T. (1990), Skill Formation in Japan and Southeast Asia University of Tokyo Press: Tokyo.Marsick, V. J and Watkins, K. (1997)Lessons from Informal and Incidental Learning, in V. J. Marsick and M. Volve (eds) Informal Learning on the Job, Advances in HRD No 3. San Francisco, CA: Berrett-Koehler