Published On: June 5, 2018By
How is collaborative learning transforming nonprofit leadership development? Listen to the Talented Learning Show podcast with independent learning technology analyst John Leh and nonprofit management consultant Meera Chary of The Bridgespan Group


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What does it take to create a compelling facilitated team learning experience?  And how is this innovative concept helping consulting firms extend their reach?

Join me as I explore these challenges and more with Meera Chary, Principal at The Bridgespan Group.  Bridgespan is one of the world’s premier nonprofit management consulting firms that empowers mission-driven organizations and philanthropists to accelerate social change.

Since 2010, Meera has been responsible for helping Bridgespan build and deliver its highly successful nonprofit leadership development offerings – including its groundbreaking new team-based learning program.



Innovative learning technology is helping consulting firms provide high-value advisory services to a much broader audience.

Facilitated team leadership development is neither live consulting nor online learning, but combines key elements of both.

Compelling collaborative learning experiences demand high-quality content, a robust learning platform – and more.



For those who aren’t familiar with Bridgespan, could you tell us about it?

Sure.  In 2000, Bridgespan was founded by a group of for-profit management consultants who believed that their strategy tools could help nonprofit organizations accelerate their impact. For years, that was our core business, and we still provide strategy advice to both nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

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But about 6-7 years ago we began looking at how different methodologies could extend our reach to many more organizations.  That’s when we launched Leading for Impact, a two-year leadership development program where we help nonprofit executives in specific locations build critical strategy and management capacity as cohort-based teams.

What kind of progress are you seeing with this program?

Over the past 6 years, we’ve scaled to 6 U.S. cities.  We’ve worked in this way with executive teams from over 250 organizations, and we’ve learned a tremendous amount through those experiences.

But several years ago, we realized that this location-based model still limited our ability to reach many nonprofits.  We wanted to make this type of leadership development opportunity more broadly accessible to organizations around the world.

That’s when we thought about technology as the lever to reach a much broader audience.  So we combined what we’ve learned from our consulting services with elements of our Leading for Impact program to create our first Leadership Accelerator program, which is an online, team-based program that helps nonprofit executive teams build strategic management skills, and apply them real-time in their own organizational settings.

So you’re applying your know-how and experience as a nonprofit management consultancy to develop and deliver nonprofit leadership development through online learning?

Yes.  Lots of terrific online learning content is already available to everyone – including nonprofit professionals.  CEOs or development directors can easily find excellent online learning to develop their individual professional skills.  But we’ve created a learning experience for nonprofit executives to use together, as a team.

That’s fascinating…

It really goes beyond individual elearning.  It’s actually a team-based process that involves more than pedagogy and knowledge sharing.  It’s about collaborative learning, behavior change and practical implementation of skills to help these teams move their organizations forward.

How is this working – getting teams to learn in collaborative cohorts over several years?

It works in several ways:

1 ) First, we offer a classic elearning protocol for individuals.  Executive team members can interact with an online platform to learn key concepts, watch videos and engage in interactive reflection.  We try to apply best practices in instructional design to create an engaging, effective content experience.

2 ) But the real magic happens during what we call “guided team summits”. That’s when the entire executive team gets together physically in a room – although it could also be a remote meeting.  In those live sessions, team members interact together with the online learning platform.  All of our online accelerator programs have milestones, and each milestone has a corresponding guided team summit.

What does a guided team summit look like?

The team literally sits around a computer and ideally a projector, while the learning platform plays a series of prompts and videos for 90-120 minutes, along with instructions that guide interactions during that time.  In other words, the learning platform sparks a series of discussions, exercises, activities and debates that lead the team to achieve alignment on specific predefined topics.

Can you share an example?

Sure.  The first program in the accelerator is called “Investing in Future Leaders.”  It leads executive teams through the vital talent development planning process.  In this case, the guided team summit brings executives together after they’ve completed pre-work on this topic, and helps them discuss, debate and agree on things like what it means to be a leader in their organization.  So this forum helps them define the specific skills, capabilities and knowledge their leaders must have.

And what role does the online learning platform play in this?

We’ve integrated a set of survey and polling tools into the learning platform.  So in this case, as pre-work, all participants individually enter key leadership competencies that they believe are necessary.

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When they come together, the platform presents input from the entire team.  Then they discuss and debate to reach agreement on the most important skills and capabilities.

Ah, I see…

It’s meant to mimic the experience of having a live consultant in the room, guiding the discussion.  It replaces the need for Bridgespan to be onsite, facilitating this executive team meeting.

Because this works without a live consultant, it is much more flexible.  Plus, it is much more affordable and accessible.  For example, we have a team in Nairobi doing this work.  We have a team in Melbourne doing this work.  Participants don’t have to be where our consultants are.  They can be anywhere in the world at any time that’s convenient for them.

That’s a great model for any type of consultancy to think about.  So I’m curious, in the team meeting, is everyone logged-in individually?  How does that work?

Every team has a designated project lead who plans and facilitates meetings and manages ongoing communication.  We provide a separate set of modules on the online learning platform, with tools and templates to help the lead coordinate logistics, capture the team’s decisions and document next steps to move the process forward.

So during a team session, the project lead actually tees-up the corresponding summit on his or her system to guide the discussion.

Excellent. What happens at the end of the 12-16 week program when the team reaches the other side?

Well, as you know, online learning can be tricky because you have an experience and then it’s over.  But what but what comes next?  We want to make sure that something really durable comes out of this process, and a key piece of that is an accountability tool for the team.

That’s wise.  Many organizations put their efforts into the content modules, alone.  But the project coordinator as an adjunct advisor, plus the tools and templates, the follow-up and the extended experience – all are value-adds that aren’t part of commercial elearning programs.

Yes.  This is something that doesn’t exist elsewhere.  It isn’t online learning.  And it isn’t consulting, either.  It’s something in between.

So how do you sell this kind of nonprofit leadership development experience?

Our goal is to make sure any organization that can benefit from this program has access to it.  It can be tremendously powerful for organizations with a limited budget or location constraints that otherwise make it impossible to work with Bridgespan.

On the other hand, because it requires a significant time commitment, we want to be sure the program is a good fit for those who invest in it.  That requires a conversation with every interested organization.  So we do cast a broader net, but we also take extra steps to be sure that organizations make the right choice.




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How to Build Successful Learning Experiences: Lessons From Non-Profits and Associations

Free on-demand webinar: How to Build Successful Online Learning Experiences - Lessons From Non-Profits and Associations - with independent learning tech analyst John Leh


Every association and non-profit organization is unique. Yet all share common goals – to engage, retain, inform and influence constituents. What exactly does it take to engage learners, support your brand and advance your mission?

Join John Leh, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning as he hosts a panel discussion with experts who have developed successful online education programs based on highly customized learning platforms:

  • Stephen Flatman, VP Examinations, AICPA
  • Seewan Eng, Sr. Director of Technology, New Teacher Center
  • Edward Daciuk, Principal Learning Strategist, ExtensionEngine

You’ll learn:

  • How to build a business case for moving in-person education online
  • What it takes to engage learners in an online environment
  • How to differentiate your organization through online learning
  • When to consider a custom platform that supports high-end learning experiences
  • Lessons learned in achieving internal buy-in, project momentum and organizational alignment.


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About the Author: John Leh

John Leh is Founder, CEO and Lead Analyst at Talented Learning and the Talented Learning Center. John is a fiercely independent consultant, blogger, podcaster, speaker and educator who helps organizations select and implement learning technology strategies, primarily for extended enterprise applications. His advice is based upon more than 25+years of learning-tech industry experience, serving as a trusted LMS selection and sales adviser to hundreds of learning organizations with a total technology spend of more than $100+ million and growing. John would love to connect with you on Twitter or on LinkedIn.
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