Centralized Training vs. Decentralized Training: What are the Advantages and Disadvantages?
Whether a training function is centralized or decentralized is generally not a strategic decision the training function gets to make or even influence much. Actually, whether a training function is centralized or decentralized is not critical to the success of the function. What is critical to success is to capitalize on the advantages and work at overcoming the disadvantages.
The two most common ways a training function reports to higher management are either as a centralized or decentralized function. A centralized function has all trainers in an organization working in one group with specific trainers acting as internal consultants to specific business units. The training staff report to a training manager or chief learning officer who often reports to a Vice President of Human Resources. A corporate university is an example of a centralized training function.
A decentralized training function assigns or designates specific trainers acting as internal consultants to work in a business unit and report to an operating manager. Sales trainers who report to the Vice President of Sales is an example of a decentralized training function. In a decentralized training function, additional training functions would exist in manufacturing department, corporate offices, and so forth.
There are advantages and disadvantages to both types of organizations, summarized below:
Advantages of a Centralized Training Function
- Trainers physically located together facilitates mentoring new trainers.
- Cross training staff is easier to accomplish.
- It is easier to develop training specialists who have different levels of expertise. Experts can be developed in course development or instruction.
- A career path in “training” can be developed more easily by performing in a variety of training roles.
- Training design and delivery are likely to be consistent.
Decentralized Training Function
- Trainers find it easier to identify skill deficiencies since they “live” in the operation they support. It is easier to develop subject matter expertise with this type of reporting.
- Trainers more easily develop relationships with the business unit they support since they are present all of the time.
- The supervisor who sees the results of your work in the business unit is the trainer’s manager.
- The training budget is a line item in the department’s budget and not as likely to be cut during tight financial times.
Disadvantages of a Centralized Training Function
- Trainers need to make a greater effort to develop relationships with the business unit they support since they are sometimes seen as an “outsider.”
- It may take longer to identify knowledge and skill deficiencies since the trainer must study the business unit from a distance and is not a subject matter expert.
- The training budget for the entire organization is an easy target during cost-cutting times.
Disadvantages of a Decentralized Training Function
- Finding another trainer as a mentor is more difficult when trainers work by themselves.
- Trainers tend to be generalists who must perform a variety of roles well. This can be difficult for a new trainer whose strength is in subject matter expertise.
- Finding a replacement or successor can be difficult if trainers are not cross trained to function in other business units.
- Training design and delivery varies in quality and consistency.
- Some organization have “dotted line” reporting to a central training manager, which can be confusing, disruptive or cause conflict.
 Reprinted with permission by Training Clinic founder Jean Barbazette from her book, A Trainer’s Journey to Competence, ©2005 published by Pfeiffer, an imprint of Wiley, San Francisco, CA.
To overcome disadvantages a centralized function might experience, consider the following suggestions:
- Build relationships with the business unit you support. Make scheduled and informal visits to the department in the business unit. Identify key people who make decisions and ask them how you can support their goals. Attend department meetings. Offer to help with projects where you can contribute your expertise.
- Provide performance analysis assessment skills for the managers, supervisors and lead people to distinguish between training and non-training issues. If the department personnel become adept at performance analysis, it is easier to provide the appropriate training. Learn as much as you can about the work of the business unit so subject matter experts begin to trust your suggestions and coaching.
- Consider the possibility of having the business unit maintain the training budget for their unit.
To overcome disadvantages a decentralized function might experience, consider the following suggestions:
- Work at finding a mentor who is senior to you, whether or not they are in your department. If no appropriate mentor exists in your organization, identify resources in professional associations that can help you with your development.
- Network with ‘like’ folks in other departments and share types of projects you’re working on along with processes used, barriers encountered and solutions discovered.
- No generalist is equally adept at the variety of roles required in training. Identify your strengths and weaknesses and develop a plan to grow your skills over time. Select the skills for development that make the greatest difference in supporting your business unit.
- Seek opportunities for cross training and attendance at training events and conferences outside your organization.
- If you report to a business unit manager AND have dotted line reporting to a corporate training manager, ask for clarification for which manager decides various issues. If you’re not sure who makes what type of decision, look at who completes your performance and salary reviews.
What will you do to capitalize on the advantages and work at overcoming the disadvantages of where your function reports?
Melissa Smith and Maria Chilcote
Managing Partners, Owners, The Training Clinic
We are the trusted partner of choice for learning and performance professionals worldwide.
With over 35 years of experience, we specialize in the design, implementation, evaluation, coordination and management of training. We provide the full range of train the trainer workshops and certifications along with facilitation, instructional design and performance consulting services.