Emily Marsh July 23 2021

Eli Lilly - Leadership Development

In this blog we look at a proven case for experiential learning – delivered virtually by international pharmaceutical organisation Eli Lilly.

A proven case for experiential learning – delivered virtually. 

5 times a year for the last 15 years, international pharmaceutical organisation Eli Lilly has brought together 20 high potential leaders from far flung corners of the world to take part in a week long experiential learning event in the UK. 

With all of the restrictions around social distancing imposed by the covid-19 pandemic, never mind the difficulties when it comes to travel, it would not have been a surprise to anyone to put this event on hold indefinitely. However, Eli Lilly was keen to explore new ideas and to continue to find a way to develop their people, and together with t-three, they have sparked a truly extraordinary alternative. An experiential event, unlike anything we have done before, delivered virtually, across time zones and countries; and amazingly, the experience and results have exceeded all expectations. 

The Challenge 

Eli Lilly has a true commitment to identify and develop talent, articulated within their “Lilly expectations,” and it was important that the new, virtual intervention delivered on this. 

The challenge they faced was to take a long-established, highly regarded experiential event and transform it into one that ran entirely virtually. Understandably, there were lots of questions for everybody involved:

  • How could we replicate the high pressure and pace of experiential learning in this new format?
  • How could we replace the huge value of meeting, building relationships and working together around a table, live and in the moment? 
  • Would we really be able to provide an environment that would enable individuals and their behaviours to be played out and observed – in order to gain insight that accelerates their development? 
  • How design an event around a central task that creates a level playing field, yet feels real and relevant right now? 

The Delivery and Results 

As a result of these questions, we developed a programme that targeted significant progression in leadership, real leaps in awareness, and the realisation and adoption of new behaviours. With 3 events now completed, reaching 60 leaders from 14 countries we now have the results – and it’s safe to say the experience of these leaders has been unprecedented. 

Some of the initial stats: 

  • 100% - Great week for me 

  • 100% - Provided insight into my leadership and me 

  • 100% - Excited about further support and challenge 

  • 100% - Felt this event was a safe place to learn 

Some of the comments shared with us by the participants help to show the value that the learning provided for them: 

  • “Pushed me out of my comfort zone” 

  • “Fantastic atmosphere – fostered in a virtual setting” 

  • “Everything was unexpected, yet pulled together not apart” 

  • “To be able to interact and achieve together with Lilly people all over the world” 

What we have learnt 

With this being a brand new style of intervention for both Eli Lilly and t-three, there were always going to be valuable lessons to take away to help us to continue to refine and finesse the programme. However, there were some additional lessons that we – and the participants – were able to take away. 

  •   There seemed to be a sense of increased bravery, and more inclination to try out new things and to push further, simply because people were comfortable and confident when working from their homes in those far flung locations.

  • The incredible confidence and agility of working in a virtual space – something that had initially been seen as a challenge to overcome, and offered opportunity rather than reducing our options.

  • When a group of people are faced with a shared and very compelling purpose, a lot of pressure and shifting demands, relationships will develop, regardless of whether you are meeting in person or through a computer screen. These conditions will also really be tested in these conditions, and the virtual space doesn’t seem to have proved to be any detriment to this.

This new way of learning has been so well received that there are already plans to run more interventions in the future. By being willing to embrace the changes forced upon them by the events of 2020, Eli Lilly has managed to still deliver the valuable and inspiring sessions their people are used to, in a way that shows their penchant for innovation and people development.

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