Learning as a Team: When Does It Make Sense in the Workplace?

For most companies in our post-COVID economy, team upskilling is more than just a nice-to-have. According to McKinsey & Company, 87% of companies are either experiencing a skills gap in their workforce or anticipating one in the next few years. As a result, a vast majority of leaders say capability building is important to their organization’s long-term health. 

Yet recent research from PWC shows that less than half (40%) of companies are investing in upskilling employees

The message is clear: Companies can and must do better to remain competitive in a world where it has become more challenging to build strong talent pipelines with the skills needed to thrive in today’s economy. And old approaches, like offering reimbursement for college degree programs, don’t always serve employees or employers. 

A new approach is needed—and in many cases, approaching learning as a team is the key to driving measurable results. Today, numerous options–including private cohort-based courses and enterprise solutions–are available to facilitate a smooth team upskilling process with a powerful return-on-investment. 

Individual vs. Team Skill-Building

In the past, many companies encouraged upskilling on an individual employee basis. Often, this came in the form of traditional tuition reimbursement programs or, more recently, encouraging employees to take courses online (for instance, utilizing Massive Open Online Courses, or MOOCs) or through company portals on their own time. 

However, in many cases, a team upskilling approach can be just as, if not more, effective in building employees’ skills and improving a team’s efficacy as a whole. Team skill-building makes sense as part of a number of different organizational initiatives, including the following.

1. Launching a Strategic Transformation

In the face of new and evolving technologies and competitive pressures, many companies launch a digital transformation (or another type of strategic transformation). However, success in these initiatives cannot be taken for granted. In fact, 70% of large-scale strategic transformation efforts fail.

Graphic showing that 70% of large-scale transformation efforts fail within organizations.
Source: McKinsey & Company

Often, a company’s failure to build the necessary skills across the organization lies at the root of these failures. Additionally, a lack of engagement with and understanding of the initiative’s goals can hinder employees’ ability to contribute their best work. 

Team skill-building is especially effective within the context of transformations. In addition to closing skills gaps, it helps teams develop a shared understanding of their organization’s goals and processes and the language needed to communicate well as the transformation is executed. For example, the Emeritus Digital Transformation Academy offers teams curated learning pathways designed to address multiple job functions within the organization. (Learn more about our skills transformation academies.)

2. Closing Organizational Skill Gaps

Hiring new employees to fill skill gaps is often expensive, time-consuming, and unpredictable—so it’s no surprise that more than half of organizational leaders prefer to fill gaps through upskilling and reskilling. Since skill gaps are often pervasive throughout companies, it can make sense to use a team-focused approach to upskilling. 

Unfortunately, many large organizations face not just one skill gap but many. These can range from deficiencies in soft skills like communication that impact broad swathes of the organization, to more technical skills gaps specific to smaller teams. For example, data analytics is a technical skill that might benefit an entire marketing team (as opposed to just a single employee).

3. Addressing Critical Needs 

As the technological environment becomes more complicated, many companies are turning to team upskilling to address emerging, highly specific demands like cybersecurity and artificial intelligence. These topics require understanding at multiple levels: the technical level, for those creating and implementing programs, and the more abstract or strategy level, for the leaders who oversee the programs.

In the case of issues like cybersecurity and data literacy, where base-level knowledge across the organization is helpful, a curated program or solution like Emeritus Academies may be ideal. If the need is more targeted to a team or employee type, it may make sense to utilize private, cohort-based courses instead to get employees up to speed. At Emeritus, these programs can be customized to meet the needs of your organization as a whole–another reason why learning as a team makes sense in this context.

4. Developing Leadership Capacity

While management and leadership abilities are often treated as personality traits, they are in fact highly trainable—and neglecting to invest in their development can be a costly mistake. Engaging people managers across an organization in leadership training—which may focus on soft skills such as communication and more tangible actions like performance management and career pathing—can be invaluable. Not only will this investment improve the quality of individual leaders, but learning as a team can help ensure more consistency and adherence to organizational procedures and policies.

The need to train managers in leadership is clear: A staggering 98% of middle managers agree their peers need additional training on issues like professional development and conflict resolution. Given that Gallup has found that managers account for 70% of the variance in employee engagement, this lack of training represents a serious oversight by most companies.

5. Developing an Organizational Growth Mindset

Companies with a well-established organizational growth mindset in the workplace enjoy many advantages, including greater trust, increased morale, and a higher level of innovation. Organizations can take steps to cultivate a growth mindset at the company-wide level, including tying feedback to learning rather than output and encouraging employees to share ideas and opinions–with each other and their managers.

Chart differentiating between growth mindset (belief that you have the capacity to learn and grow) vs. a fixed mindset (skills are unlikely to change)

6. Improving Company Culture and Strengthening Employee Relationships

One of the most powerful ways to develop a culture of innovation is to invest in organization- or team-wide learning opportunities, which can boost employee collaboration and ensure employees build strong relationships with each other. 

Offering employees opportunities to learn as a team sends a powerful message about the importance of upskilling and can also help you build a company-wide culture of learning. Plus, team upskilling pays dividends in both worker output and morale, especially if they progress through a program together through cohort-based learning. After all, building a sense of community is at the core of this learning format.

7. Improving Overall Retention and Engagement

Amid the pressures of the so-called “Great Resignation,” improving employee retention is a top priority for many companies. After all, replacing an employee—itself a challenge in today’s hiring environment—is costly. Companies might spend one-half to twice an employee’s annual salary to replace them, which does not account for more nebulous negative impacts on colleagues’ workloads and morale.

Investing in learning as a team is a powerful strategy to replace damaging turnover. LinkedIn has found that 94% of employees would stay in their roles longer if their company invested in their education and growth. Plus, shared learning opportunities build employees’ connections and camaraderie within their organization, both of which are powerful engagement and retention drivers.

Why Learning as a Team Matters

Today’s business environment demands individual skills, but it also demands cooperation and collaboration. Companies can address both needs simultaneously through team upskilling. A team-based approach to learning offers cost savings and time efficiencies, serves as a powerful community-building tool, and helps organizations build a shared language around new skills and business approaches.

By Rachel Hastings


Whether you’re looking to embark on an organization-wide upskilling effort or to impart specific skills to a single business unit, Emeritus Enterprise offers online employee training programs to meet your company’s needs. Our courses are delivered in partnership with global experts at top universities and designed to complement a professional lifestyle.

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