Managing Director and Owner Sharon Fishburne Consultancy
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How to make team development part of your culture

5th Mar 2019
Managing Director and Owner Sharon Fishburne Consultancy
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Employees are increasingly demanding more from the companies that they work for. They want not only remuneration, but enjoyment, personal development and, ultimately, purpose from their job.

Many successful entrepreneurs and companies have discovered this, such as Tom Chapman at Matches, Jim Morris of Pixar, and Didier Elzinga of Culture Amp, all of whom have put employees first.

Companies that recognise this, and adapt their work processes accordingly, will be able to attract, and retain, the best talent. And given that the quality of talent is what distinguishes many top companies today, this can make a real significant difference.

In this article, we look at four companies who have embedded learning and personal development into their companies, and how they have done it.


Pixar is famous worldwide for the creativity and quality of its team. Their people have enabled the company to produce blockbuster movies time after time. Undoubtedly the company benefits from a strong brand that draws the cream of the crop through their front door.

But did you know that they have a fully developed personal development programme too? Pixar famously set up its own 'internal university' where employees are able to take free classes on a range of different subjects, including sculpting, painting, ballet, and live-action filmmaking.

Pixar also encourages its employees to learn skills outside the remit of their day-to-day jobs, so an animator might decide to pick up ballet. This is to foster a culture of learning and development in the organisation, and also give people the opportunity to reach beyond their conventional skill set.

As Pixar President Ed Catmull says, "Pixar University helps reinforce the mind-set that we're all learning and it's fun to learn together."


Tech unicorn Airbnb provides its employees with learning opportunities in another way. Rather than formalising their personal development activity as a 'university', they build in lots of extracurricular activities for team members to participate in as well as connect with their colleagues.

For example, Airbnb famously run their own 'Fireside Chats' where they invite senior businesspeople, politicians, academics, and other industry leaders to speak with their staff.

This creates a positive, supportive learning environment for staff, and encourages them to take time out of their day to learn new skills and hear a perspective they might not have heard in the past. As any HR executive will know, it is sometimes very difficult to persuade team members to remove themselves from day-to-day activity, and dive into something completely new and different. Airbnb's Fireside Chats offer just that opportunity.


But often creating a culture of personal development does not just stop with encouraging and developing your own employees and team members; it also extends to the positive impact you can have on the talent in your industry more generally. The idea is that the more you raise the standards across your industry, the more everyone, including yourselves, will benefit.

MatchesFashion has clearly taken that idea to heart. They have become world famous in the industry for taking young designers under their wing, and helping to develop them into global superstars. In fact, as a company, they were the first business to bring designers such as Versace, Bottega Venetta and Celine to the UK.

The founders, Tom and Ruth Chapman, have also taken prominent positions in the UK fashion industry. For example, in 2017, Ruth Chapman joined the jury of the ANDAM fashion award to recognise young fashion talent and also sits on the British Fashion Council NEWGEN selection panel.

Culture Amp

It's not only the big companies that can afford to have robust personal development programmes. Small companies and startups can do it too.

For example, employee feedback software business Culture Amp provides all its employees with access to a professional coach who they can work with to help them achieve personal and professional goals.

Interestingly, this coaching is not restricted only to professional skills. For example, an employee may want to work with a coach or counsellor to discuss how to communicate better at home with their spouse, something that Culture Amp says "will probably do more for your work performance than any amount of work-focused training."

In a world where securing and retaining talent is ever more important, it’s vital for companies to provide their employees with an immersive, interesting and unique learning experience. These companies are showing the rest of the industry just how to do it.

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