It’s hard to believe it, but many of my colleagues are unaware of NTL — a pioneering organization created 70 years ago that should be considered a national treasure by anyone in the field of learning and development. NTL was the genesis for much of what we know of as experiential learning today — the idea that increased awareness of self and others could be accomplished through facilitated group dialogue in Training Groups (T-Groups) where participants learn by experience rather than lecture and reading to accelerate behavior change.

National treasure is not what the NT stands for, but it’s how it should be treated. NTL actually stands for National Training Lab Institute. Its bold vision is “people empowered to create just and compassionate organizations and societies in an interdependent world” and they’re walking the talk through their enduring values.

Technologies have revolutionized the way we live, work, and communicate — and the pace is only accelerating. This causes stress for individuals as well as societies. Research shows that employees and organizations are more overwhelmed than ever and business productivity has not kept pace with technological progress. What causes this gap? The problem comes down to human dynamics and how well organizational ecosystems and networks can accommodate both individual, group and organizational reinvention.

T-Groups, or maybe they should be called Treasure Groups, are where IQ meets EQ — the trove where social capital becomes the currency for increased productivity and effectiveness. This happens in a T-Group setting as participants learn skills to improve the quality of human interaction:

  • Understanding your own mental models and speaking from your own point of view
  • Learning how to quickly connect with others by listening with genuine curiosity
  • Understanding the impact you have on a group and cultivating a sense of belonging

To be able to do this, the group needs to focus on what is happening in the present and name “the elephant in the room” (a problem that is visible to everyone, yet no one wants to address it). Being present is increasingly challenging in a society overwhelmed by information and rapid technological shifts, but it’s essential to help networks come together to form, storm, norm, and perform so they can arrive quickly at transform.

Charlie Seashore, an early member of NTL once said, “What’s really needed is to create managerial agility to enable people throughout the organization to keep learning so they can adapt to an unpredictable environment. And the way to do that is in groups.”

After a 10 year romance with NTL, I jumped at the opportunity to get engaged when they recently invited new members to the organization. The values around social justice are strong attractors for me, especially in these troubled times. I’m currently going through the certification for T-Group facilitation so that I can carry the long grey line forward and live the legacy of this national treasure.

Like many organizations NTL has faced tremendous challenges as the game has changed and the old rules are shifting. What I’ve witnessed at NTL is a courageous act of reinvention that honors the legacy of its founders and is hopeful for the future as they evolve from a hierarchical governance to a platform of hubs that harness social capital of all members.

After all, driving change for an organization of change professionals is no easy undertaking, but if we can’t do it