How Design Challenges Can Develop Leader Capabilities

How Design Challenges Can Develop Leader Capabilities



By Sean Huang, Managing Consultant, Dr. James Eyring, Chief Operating Officer &
Jasmine Tan
, Senior Consultant, Organisation Solutions

In today’s digital world, technology can act as both an enabler and a blocker. Organisations that are agile enough to adopt, adapt, and exploit technology can disrupt existing business models. They can create competitive advantage that enables them to grow and fend off new competitors. However, implementing technology in a global environment is challenging. Stakeholders have competing demands, emerging markets lack resources and influence, and setting a transformative agenda often meets fierce resistance. To succeed, companies need leaders who can manage through these challenges and innovate in a complex and ambiguous world.


Developing Technology Leaders for Real-World Challenges
With this in mind, a Global 500 company approached Organisation Solutions to develop a group of their technology leaders. They specifically wanted to build capabilities to prepare these leaders for future jobs where they had to manage complexity and ambiguity, lead cutting-edge innovation, be fast executors, and even faster learners. They wanted them to change their mindsets and be able to scale faster to larger roles. However, they wanted to do this without distracting these busy leaders from their current priorities.


They realised that a traditional leadership development programme would not work. Traditional programmes are designed to provide a structured, predictable, safe-to-fail environment for leaders to learn. New skills may or may not transfer to on-the-job change, especially when skills learned in the classroom are tested in a complex, rapidly changing, and unpredictable work environment. Given the rapid pace of change in the financial services industry, our client wanted a closer match between the classroom environment and the real-world where leaders must adapt new knowledge and skills to their own unique operating environments.


Specifically, they wanted to:

  • Stretch leaders’ capabilities to the next level in order to increase their impact in the organisation
  • Transform participants’ mindsets to lead more strategically across the organisation
  • Help leaders develop agile solutions that could be adapted to changing circumstances


Design Challenge Development

Organisation Solutions used our Design Challenge methodology to give participants a unique learning experience that mirrored the challenges of an ambiguous, problem-focused, and fast-paced business environment. The Design Challenge incorporates elements of design thinking, positive psychology, and action learning to help leaders or teams create and test their own solutions to problems. The process encourages solutions that are stakeholder-centred, innovative, and impactful.


The end-product was a leadership development programme that combined learning modules, facilitated learning, and a Design Challenge. Organisation Solutions’ learning modules were designed to stimulate and challenge leader thinking by providing theory, research, best practice, and peer learning. Leaders drew upon this learning during the Design Challenge. They were asked to identify problems meaningful to them, create solutions, and then test these solutions after the kick-off workshop.      


Specifically, leaders identified a relevant, real-time challenge they had on the job.  During the workshop, they identified multiple possible solutions to the challenge and created prototypes to test. This process challenged them to get out of their comfort zones, required them to operate in an ambiguous environment, create innovative solutions, and work fast. The process ensured that leaders:

  1. Tackled real world challenges
  2. Developed capabilities that would help them get ready for next-level jobs
  3. Gathered input and feedback from peers and stakeholders
  4. Used design sprints to formulate competing solutions to solve the problem


Following the first workshop, leaders tested their solutions in the workplace. They were supported through group coaching and mentors and were encouraged to adapt their solutions to achieve their objectives. Ultimately, they presented their projects to senior leaders, and received feedback and advice on their development.


Real World Challenges, Real World Results
The leadership programme mirrored the real world and equipped leaders to identify innovative solutions, test these quickly on the job, and change strategies when needed to have their desired impact. Leaders had to act and learn fast.


Although the programme is on-going, leaders are getting meaningful results. In just the first few months, several leaders began to use their projects to align regional and global stakeholders to implement transformative technology changes. Some have used their projects to advance strategies or accelerate change projects. Others used their initial projects to accelerate transitions into new roles and are moving on to a second learning project now.


By experiencing the unique challenge offered by the Design Challenge, these leaders are implementing projects and have learned a process to continuously test ideas to have an impact. More importantly, they have had a mindset shift, are thinking more strategically, and are influencing leaders at all levels in the organisation. They are better equipped to navigate the challenges of an ambiguous and fast-paced business environment.


Sean Huang was Managing Consultant at Organisation Solutions based in Singapore. He provided Growth Services to our clients globally. Sean has extensive experience in conducting psychological measurement, leadership and organisational development as well as talent and performance management across a number of industries.

Dr. James Eyring is the Chief Operating Officer of Organisation Solutions and leads the global consulting practice. In addition, he specialises in leadership and talent management and works with companies and executives to build capabilities they need to fuel future growth. As part of his role, he provides coaching to global and top regional leaders. Contact James

Jasmine Tan was a Senior Consultant at Organisation Solutions based in Singapore. She managed our coaching, transformation, and change projects. Jasmine has experience working on multiple workplace transformation workshops, facilitating leadership team workshops, and talent acquisition across industries.



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