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University of Sunderland

Understanding the link between individual development and wider team growth

Posted on: March 15, 2023
A start-up team working together

Professional development is often viewed as a solitary endeavour, something completed by an individual person to enhance their personal skills and advance their own career. However, it’s important that leaders and managers understand the connection between individual development and growth within their wider teams – and even their organisations as a whole.

Businesses that encourage and enable personal development benefit in a number of ways. For example, a recent LinkedIn article reported that:

  • Employees who see good opportunities to learn and grow are 2.9 times more likely to be engaged than those who don’t.
  • 84% of managers feel that learning and development can close skills gaps within their teams.
  • 91% of employees want their managers to encourage learning.

These figures suggest that a company culture that supports learning and development is likely to see improvements in the recruitment and retention of staff, and to grow the skills and knowledge they need to succeed within their existing teams. Meanwhile, the increases in engagement means organisations can also:

  • benefit from greater creativity and innovation
  • reduce burnout among employees
  • safeguard employee resilience during change processes.

A recent Harvard Business Review article drew on this knowledge when it warned companies to start weaving learning into their company cultures.

“Organisations slow on the uptake will be left behind and forced to deal with unsatisfied and unmotivated employees and significantly less innovation overall,” the article states. “At a time when talent is the number-one commodity in business, companies can’t afford to remain stuck in old mindsets.”

Meanwhile, the financial benefits of employer-supported personal development can be significant, from reduced operating costs to increased revenues.

Encouraging development and a growth mindset among staff is also a good way to future-proof an organisation, helping both individuals and whole teams to better adapt during times of turmoil, change, or disruption. A 2020 Forbes article, To Future-Proof Your Business, Future-Proof Your Employees, argues that companies that redefine career growth and modernise their career development solutions “will not only attract and retain the best talent but will also be better positioned to win in the world of work, where 85% of the roles that will exist in 2030 may not exist today.”

How to enable and support professional development

It’s clear that personal growth and self-development are crucial for wider organisational success, and most experts agree that the focus on self-improvement needs to start with managers and leaders.

Gallup, the global management consultancy, argues that: “To engage and coach employees, managers need development. Not just training. And managers who are developed the right way are then able to develop employees the right way.”

There are a number of different strategies and techniques that managers and leaders can employ to foster a culture of self-development in the work environment.

Lead by example

The first step towards creating a learning culture is putting the hard work in and modelling growth-focused behaviour for other team members. Leaders should demonstrate their willingness to learn new skills, participate in workshops to increase their knowledge, and complete courses to build new competencies. The outcomes of these sessions should also be shared within teams, and can help form discussion points or conversation topics during team meetings.


It is essential that leaders communicate regularly with their teams and individual direct reports about their personal development. Messaging should be clear, and permissions and validation for development programmes or initiatives should be granted as often as reasonably possible. Managers should also follow-up with the people they lead to check in about how training or development is progressing, and make sure they have sufficient time to complete it. 

Help set goals

Personal goals are important no matter a person’s role or sector. From entrepreneurs and executives to human resource and project management professionals, setting goals is a key step towards maximising growth. Ideally, these goals should be SMART:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Achievable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound.

Goals are also more likely to be achieved if they have support from management, which is one of the reasons why it’s so important for leaders to advocate for their staff and grant them the space and resources they need to focus on growth opportunities.

Facilitate mentoring

Mentors and mentoring programmes are a fantastic way to connect experienced staff with newer or less experienced employees. Typically conducted through one-to-one sessions, mentors and mentees meet to share knowledge, ask questions, and learn more about one another’s varied experiences.

The benefits of mentoring can include:

  • the development of new and valuable skills within teams
  • retaining knowledge within organisations, even after mentors have left
  • increased confidence in mentees
  • increased leadership and communications skills in mentors
  • enhanced networks for both parties
  • the sharing of new ideas and new approaches to common or shared challenges
  • a more inclusive culture within the wider organisation.

Mentoring programmes are also beneficial because of their minimal cost. While time is spent in meetings between mentors and mentees, these arrangements can also be flexible, happening virtually, in groups, or during shorter windows of time.

Enhance your leadership skills with a focus on development

Learn how to facilitate organisational, team, and individual change and growth with the University of Sunderland’s 100% online International MBA. This flexible Master of Business Administration programme has been created for leaders and aspiring leaders from a wide range of industries, sectors, and backgrounds who want to step up into more senior positions – or who wish to take their career in a new direction entirely. 

Through this MBA, you will develop your ability to create cultures that encourage and maximise the well-being and productivity of teams and individuals. Learning in this area includes a module which aims to develop a critical understanding of the complex and much-debated nature of leadership and management development in a volatile, uncertain, and ambiguous global environment. It covers the development of leadership and management at all levels, and explores approaches to assessing leadership and management development needs, as well as the design of strategies and programmes within a range of organisations and contexts.

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