Parallel Learning Structure, Hot Spots and Innovation

“Organizations are designed more to perform day-to-day activities and to produce well-defined products and services—not to solve complex and changing problems…what is needed is a different approach to organizational problem solving—and one that  is specifically designed for problem solving…like a parallel design which resolves ill-defined, long-term, system-wide type problems.”

-Ralph Kilmann, Human Systems Management

An organisation today faces problems which are either well defined or are ill defined. In fact current dynamic and changing environment poses more complex and ill-defined problems than before.

While formal organisational structure (also called operational design) can solve well defined problems, for ill-defined problems one need what is called as collateral design, it coexists with the formal, operational design but is structured as a flexible, open, loose system of problem-solving group. Collateral Design is also called as Parallel Learning Structure.


Parallel Learning Structure is an informal structure, where members of organisation come together to solve a problem. The group is informal and doesn’t have hierarchy. The group comes up with innovative solution to a problem. Parallel Learning Structure consists of group of people that cut across the formal departments in the operational design so that a wide array of expertise and information is available to collateral group i.e C group.  There is also a steering committee above it which removes bottlenecks that this group might face i.e. S group.

Parallel structure

“ Parallel Structure should be microcosm of larger organisation, that is, it should have representatives from all in the organisation”

-Cecil Bell – Organisational Development

Parallel Learning Structure encourages innovation, learning and change which are not possible in formal bureaucratic organisation. It encourages members and line managers from the operational design to develop creative yet feasible solutions in a more relaxed, fluid, informal collateral design—and then enables them to return to the operational design and implement their solution from a formal position of authority in the organization.

'Gentlemen, I want you each to come up with an idea whose time has come.'

Working on similar lines, management expert Lynda Gratton came with concept Hot Spots.

Hot Spot is a stage when members of group feel energized, vibrantly alive with brains buzzing with ideas. Ideas and insights of members miraculously combine in a process of synthesis from which spring novelty, new ideas, and innovation.


 When we took a lot at organizations, what we found was that quite often you just see business-as-usual – you can almost imagine that as being green; and then sometimes the place really freezes up – you can almost imagine it as blue icicles.  Then, as you watch, you see these incredible places of energy and innovation – you can imagine them as orange or red – and we call those hot spots.”

-Lynda Gratton, Hot Spots



Gratton has identified three factors that promote the development of Hot Spots.

The first is cooperative mindset. If there’s no trust or willingness to share ideas, you’ll never generate a creative atmosphere.

The second factor is boundary spanning. New ideas are often the product of two previously unassociated thoughts, so crossing boundaries within and beyond organisations can be very fruitful.

The third is igniting purpose. While getting a diverse bunch of cooperative people together creates the potential for a Hot Spot, it takes a fresh idea or challenge to really ignite their creativity.

One such challenge was thrown by Ratan Tata to Tata motors- How do we make Rs. 1 lakh car.

'We have to be more innovative but not in an out-of-the-box way.'


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