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Train the Trainer: Dealing with ‘difficult’ participants – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we shared what trainers can do when dealing with difficult participants, to prevent the training running off track. Even if you take all these steps you may still find that you have some personalities in the training room who are capable of derailing the training for everyone else. In this post you will read some tips and advice for dealing with the most common ‘difficult’ behaviours. In my training career I’ve met all these types (fortunately not all in the same room!) and I’ve observed that they are often unaware of the impact of their behaviour and do not have bad intentions. Nevertheless, it’s useful to have a set of strategies to manage them in order to minimise their impact on the rest of the group.

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The Talker

There are a few variations of this first type. It could be someone who always has an answer and an opinion to share. Or the participant who talks at length and wanders off the subject. In either case, if you don’t deal with this there is a risk that the talker will dominate the session. In my experience other participants will just let this happen (they expect you to deal with it) and start to withdraw and lose interest. Here are some tips for managing ‘the talker’:

  • Use summarising as a strategy to interrupt, e.g. ‘Thanks, this sounds like an interesting point, so can I just summarise what you’re saying so we are all clear?”
  • Avoid open questions to the group; nominate people by name to answer questions or share thoughts and experiences
  • Break eye contact and turn your body slightly away to signal to the participant that it’s time to stop talking now
  • Give this person a role which encourages him or her to listen, e.g. taking notes on a flipchart of the main points in a discussion

The Quiet One

This could be someone who is innately shy or perhaps uncomfortable in a group setting. In my experience they often have something very relevant and interesting to say when they do eventually contribute, so you need to have a few strategies to make that happen. Here are some of the things I do:

  • Be gentle and encouraging, being aware that you are putting them on the spot, e.g. “I know you have some great experience in this area, we would really like to hear what you think.”
  • Make sure that language is not a barrier and moderate it if it is; all my training is in English with multi-national groups and I always find there is at least one participant who does not have equal ability in English to the others
  • Dividing the class into small groups really helps any quiet participants to come out of their shells and contribute something
  • Use the break time to take the participant to one side and have a private chat to find out why they have joined the training and if there are any specific reasons that you can address to help them participate more

The Challenger

This type wants to disagree or argue with everything you say. It may seem like she or he has something they need to prove to the group and maybe you. While we definitely want participants to critically argue and debate, we want them to do it in a constructive way. If you don’t manage the challenger early on you may find yourself becoming drawn into arguments that take you off what you want to focus on. Here are some tips to manage this type:

  • Acknowledge the participant’s right to have a point of view and remind them of why they are here, e.g. “I don’t need you to agree with everything I say. My intent is to share certain models and theories with you all and ask you to decide how they could be useful in your jobs”.
  • Throw the argument to the group by asking what others think; often a bit of peer pressure will calm the challenger down
  • Ask questions to encourage the challenger to self-reflect on what they are saying, e.g. “That’s an interesting perspective, tell me more” or “Can you tell me why you think that?”
  • As with ‘the talker’, give this participant roles which will encourage them to listen to others, e.g. note-taker, observer, summariser.

The Know-It-All

Similar to ‘the challenger’, this type claims to know much more than you do about the topic and gives the impression that he or she should be leading the training! Their constant attention seeking can take up time and energy. Some tips I have used to manage this type:

  • You can flatter their ego to an extent but be careful not to give them the floor for too long; once they have it you will find it difficult to take it back off them
  • Ask them to tell the group what they know about a topic and then follow up with some probing questions to reveal what they don’t know; this takes a bit of thought but if you can do it well you can succeed in humbling their ego a little
  • Get them to ‘teach’ the others in the group and encourage the group to ask difficult questions, which could show up gaps in their knowledge
  • Take them aside and directly ask why they are here; as with ‘the quiet one’ you may discover information that can help you manage them

The Clown

This type loves to tell jokes, make light of serious issues and distract other participants. ‘Clowns’ usually have some insecurity which they want to mask, but remember your job is not to psycho-analyse participants; it’s to get them working together productively. While this type can supply some needed humour and lighten the atmosphere at useful times, you need to contain their behaviour in order to maintain the focus of your training session. Here are some tips for doing this:

  • Use your body language and eye contact to signal to this person that enough is enough
  • You can also leverage the energy this person supplies at good moments, e.g. to energise people after a hard task or returning from a break
  • As with some of the other types, take them aside for a private chat just to check that they are taking things seriously deep down
  • Get them involved in roles that keep them busy and focused and away from disruptive behaviour

The Complainer

This type seems to have a negative opinion about everyone and everything. You will hear frequent comments like “I can’t do that” or “Person X should be here not me”. The problem with constant negativity is that it can be contagious and quickly spread to the whole group, eventually undermining any productive work. Here are my tips to deal with negative types:

  • Counter negative statements by focusing on reasons behind them and options, e.g. “Tell me why you think it can’t be done” or “So if this won’t work, what else could we try?”
  • You can be a little bit playful and make light of the negativity, which could lift the atmosphere, e.g. “Now I’m sure Participant X will have something to say about this!”
  • Take the person aside for a private chat; sometimes participants don’t realise they are being so negative and raising their awareness of this could help put a stop to it
  • Get group agreement on a limit to the number of negative phrases allowed in the training room and an appropriate punishment for infringement (e.g. the infringer buys cake for everyone at the break!)

The Sceptic

“This is fine in theory, but it will never work here”. As with ‘the challenger’ we want participants to use critical thinking in training, after all the whole point is that they use the training to make changes at work. However, like ‘the complainer’ some participants are overly negative and sceptical and this can impact the rest of the group. Try these tips to manage this type:

  • Acknowledge that scepticism in a necessary thing but only if it leads to new ideas and ways of thinking (a similar tactic to deal with ‘the challenger’)
  • Counter scepticism with positive statements, e.g. “So, you don’t think this would work here. What can we think of that would work?”
  • Use case studies from your own experience to demonstrate how other teams and organisations overcame obstacles using some of the methods you are showing during the training

Sometimes a sceptical participant dismisses ideas on a surface level, so you can introduce some methods of inquiry which are designed to get deeper into complex problems, e.g. root cause analysis or the question funnel

Remember that everyone is someone’s ‘difficult person’ and ‘difficult’ behaviour is not a reason to discount someone. It’s part of our job as trainers to manage personalities and in some ways that’s what makes the job interesting. As I said in Part 1, in over 20 years of training I only remember a handful of these types, but I have learned a few tips and tricks to manage them! We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you would like to know more about our experience of developing trainers, feel free to contact us.

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How to develop internal trainers for virtual training delivery – Part 2

In Part 1 of this post we described the three key skills areas needed to develop internal trainers to train virtually. To support them further, we also developed a session planning template that ensured they planned these principles into their sessions. In this post, we’ll answer the question: What are the elements of planning an effective virtual training session? At the end you will be able to download the template for your own use.

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Designing learning objectives

Just like the physical classroom, learning objectives should focus on the actual needs of the trainees and the outcome of the training, for example: By the end of this session, technicians will be able to communicate the 3 most important features of this new model washing machine to a customer

Unlike the physical classroom, you will have less time in a virtual session to meet this objective, and that includes setting aside time to measure it during the session itself. This means that you should limit yourself to only one or two objectives.

Thinking about your trainees

Thinking about what your trainees know already can save time in your session and help ensure what you plan meets their actual needs. For a virtual session it’s also useful to think about trainees’ previous experience of online learning and their comfort level with technology.

For example, repair technicians who have spend most of their time on the road visiting customers may need more time and practice with getting to grips with online training. You can allow for this with activities where they can have fun and play with the different tools to build their confidence.

Being prepared for problems

Due to technology, there can be more problems in a virtual classroom, and you need to have back-up plans and work-arounds for when people loose connection or can’t hear, etc. At the end of the day there is only so much you can actually do to assist people, but you can plan to address problems that might come up by explaining at the beginning what to do if connection is lost and who trainees should contact for assistance.

If trainees are new to virtual training they will need help and practice in using the tools and for this it is best to set aside time at the start of the session to let them play with the tools in a relaxed way before they use them for more serious activities.

Setting personal goals

Every virtual session is also an opportunity for the trainer to improve. Set yourself personal goals (e.g. speak slower, stick to timing, involve all participants) and then either ask someone to observe the session and give you feedback, or record the session and play it back to yourself.

Creating a detailed session plan

At least when you start virtual training, having a detailed session plan will help you stay on track. A lot is happening during a virtual session, so you don’t need the extra worry of trying to remember what comes next. Your plan will also show you that you are using a range of tools and mixing them up. Your plan will be more micro than normal as in a virtual training session it’s important to very activities in order to keep trainees’ attention; at least a new activity every 5 minutes. One tip we have seen for new trainers is to script what they want to say in the plan; this is a very good way to reduce talking time and be succinct.

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We hope you enjoyed reading this 2-part post about how to develop internal trainers. You can also find more tips and advice on virtual training in these blog posts:

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How to develop internal trainers for virtual training delivery – Part 1

In 2020, many companies have needed to move their internal trainers from classroom to virtual training delivery. Outside of the circumstances and impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, the advantages of virtual training delivery are obvious. With virtual training, you reach more people, training can be deployed faster, more regular training events can be set up, and it costs less. We’ve been delivering virtual training solutions for more than ten years, and we know that the transfer to virtual training delivery can be smooth when the trainer understands the differences between classic face-to-face training and virtual delivery, and is able to adapt and develop him/herself. 

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We were recently asked about this topic by an in-house training team for a global company who train the company’s technicians on customer service and product updates for their range of consumer household machines. They asked us:

  • What are the new skills that internal trainers need to master in order to train virtually?
  • How quickly can our existing trainers master these skills and how can we help them to do it?
  • How can we train trainers with no experience of virtual training to be confident with it?

Part 1 of this post is about the key facilitation skills for virtual training delivery, which we identified and worked on with our client’s new virtual trainers. In Part 2 you will learn how we designed a session planning template to support them. Part 2 includes a download of the template for your own use.

 

Essential facilitation skills for virtual training delivery

1. Using your voice effectively

Why this is important? –  You won’t be able to communicate using body language and eye contact in the virtual classroom. You (and your trainees) will rely entirely on your voice. The challenge with listening to someone’s voice is that it’s just more difficult to pay attention, due to lack of visual stimuli. This adaptation is a challenge for trainers new to the virtual training delivery environment because it takes a lot of practice and self-adjustment.

How to develop it – We worked with trainers on adapting 3 voice elements:

  • Clarity – pronounce words more carefully by stressing each syllable, avoid complicated terms, and repeat repeat repeat. After each segment, check in with trainees by asking, “Was that clear?”
  • Speed – you can reduce the strain on listeners by just slowing down. This takes a lot of conscious effort in practice; a technique we suggest is to imagine you are speaking 50% slower and you will probably speak 25% slower (which is an improvement!)
  • Pace – listening to a continuous stream of speech is a strain, so trainers need to practice pausing regularly. This gives listeners a chance to catch up and process what they heard. Try the 3 second rule – pause after each sentence and count to 3 in your head before continuing

2. Ensuring active participation

Why this is important – In a virtual classroom the trainer won’t have much idea who is paying attention, and trainees can easily become distracted by what’s going on around them and other things that pop up on their computer or phone. The only way to overcome this is to keep them engaged because  (unlike the physical classroom) they are not a captive audience.

How to develop it

  • Make sure everyone participates by calling on trainees by name to answer questions or share their thoughts; we recommend making a note each time someone contributes so that you can call on those who haven’t yet contributed. Of course, this is easier in smaller groups; beyond 20 trainees it becomes a challenge, but you can still use the technique.
  • Make the session active by giving participants something to do; this can be a task (e.g. discuss this problem together for 5 minutes and present your solution) or using the tools in your virtual classroom (polls, icons, annotation, etc.) to ensure active participation.
  • Ask questions regularly (as often as every 90 seconds works well) but avoid closed questions (e.g. yes/no questions) and avoid asking questions to the whole group as you will probably be met with silence; instead use the nomination technique described in the first point above.

3. Managing time and attention spans

Why this is important – Technically it is possible to run an entire day of virtual training but in practice this doesn’t work because it’s much more tiring and harder to keep trainee’s attention compared to the physical classroom. GoToWebinar researched the most popular length of sessions in thousands of training sessions and found it is 60 minutes. So, aim to break up longer training into shorter segments. Within sessions there are tips that trainers can follow to manage both time and attention spans, which you can read below.

How to develop it

  • Plan less than you would for a physical training session; we see that trainers who are new to virtual training find that the time just runs away, partly due to technical issues but also because the tips and techniques you have read about in this post just take more time.
  • Break up your session into shorter segments; if you have a longer training segment you can still break it up into chunks. This gives everyone a ‘cognitive’ break, which addresses the increased strain of concentrating in a virtual classroom.
  • Don’t plan anything for the first 10 minutes; allow this time for participants to log on, test their connection and greet each other. We also recommend wrapping up 15 minutes before the finish, to allow for extra time you might have lost during the session, and also take questions. This will all impact the amount of content you can plan for a virtual session, which is the first point you read above.

Part 1 conclusion

We found that identifying and working on these three key skills areas can help internal trainers make the jump to become virtual trainers. In part 2 of this post, you’ll learn more about the elements of planning an effective virtual training session. If you want to continue reading, here are a few recommended posts on the topic of virtual training delivery.

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The Secret L&D Manager: Encouraging a learning culture when budgets are tight

This week’s Secret L&D manager is Hungarian and is a Learning & Development Specialist for a global chemical company. In this post, he talks about the journey and the challenges of building and encouraging a learning culture in a large organization.

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You were the first L&D manager in the organization. What sort of training budget were you expecting to have to work with when you joined?

Before I came here, I was working in a huge worldwide corporation where learning and development had a lot of money working –  close to about €400,000 per year. Looking back, we were definitely spoiled, and I was expecting something similar when I came here. That was my expectation. When I arrived, I was given a  budget of €10,000 and most of this was already allocated to translation work!

I wanted to be able to build a learning culture (see this post for more information). One of the things I have been doing (and haven’t yet finished) is to build a large library of free learning. This does take time but there are a lot of free, good quality things on the internet. You just need to be able to invest the time to find and assess them. I used our skills and competency models as the basis to build this and then I just matched these skills and competencies with an index of releavnt e-learnings, learning nuggets, MOOCS, e-books and podcasts.

I have also created internal webinars. My first step was to establish subject matter expert groups within our company and then we started to create something like internal TED Talks. People could learn about and from the different groups and different fields within the company. For example we would have one subject expert talking about dealing with difficult customers. It was a 1 ½  hour session and it was advertised, and people could join via Zoom.

How did you raise awareness of these learning opportunities and events?

Here I used 2 types of advertising; one is definitely the usual and very boring e-mail communication. I’m not sure it was very helpful but people did join as a result of this kind of communication channel. The other was creating and printing leaflets and brochures and placing them around the corridors and also in the canteen. This was definitely more helpful and effective. I based them on a silly cartoon that was going around on Facebook a couple of years ago.

These initiatives have helped to prove the worth of learning. Now I’ve got the management to actually spend and dedicate a real budget for learning this year, although with the coronavirus crisis who knows what will happen? But I’m pretty sure that this time I will be able to spend more and I’ve very concrete ideas of what I want to do. So for example I want to still further develop these internal webinars and I also want to continue with e-learning creation and creating the content internally.

The other thing that I’ve been planning on doing for a long time is implementing virtual learning and actually this is also a very timely thing. As you know  I have been in talks with you regarding implementing this.  When you think of the flu symptoms and all the sickness that are going around the world right now I think one of the best tools, let’s call it a tool not a method, is to use e-learning and virtual learning. Virtual learning, and it is not to be confused with e-learning, is when you go for an interactive training session but you don’t have to go anywhere. You can do it from your home or you can do it from your office.  It fits our company and the situation.

 


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Who is the secret L&D manager?

The “secret L&D manager” is actually a group of L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with their peers.

 


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The Secret L&D Manager: Building a learning culture in a global organization

This week’s Secret L&D manager is Hungarian and is a Learning & Development Specialist for a global chemical company . In this post, he talks about the  journey and the challenges of building a learning culture in a large organization.

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When you joined the company, what kind of learning culture did you find?

I think it’s really easy to answer this question, because when I joined my company, I can say that there was no learning culture. If I can take a step back, people have different understandings and definitions of the term “learning culture” . For me “learning culture” means there are people who like learning, there are learning resources and opportunities that people are encouraged to access whenever they need something or expect to need something going forward, and managers enable and encourage learning . Here, in all cases, there was nothing, so people were not, really empowered to learn. The second thing is that there were not a lot of resources available for learning. One of my priorities, and it’s also one of the reasons I was hired, is to create this kind of learning environment and then along with this also create a learning culture.

How were managers and the leaders in your organization seeing learning before you arrived?

I think, and this is only my perspective, that the management was saying, “Learning is very much needed” but when it came to the point where they had to invest they said, “We don’t have the budget for that”. On the one hand they definitely like the idea of learning. They talk a lot about learning and do want to enhance, improve and develop their employees. But actually, when an employee comes to them and says “OK we agreed that I need negotiations training” and they say, “OK go, have fun”, the employee has to find the seminar or resources. Employees would just Google something and then went come back with a course they had found that cost €20,000. For me this was the first problem because nobody knew if  it was a good course quality-wise, who the provider was and if they were a fit, whether the investment was reasonable or if the training was needed.  And then usually 99% of the managers said “sorry but we don’t have the budget for that”.

So how have you gone about building a learning culture?

What I did first was convincing management that learning and development really matters to our success as an organization. I used storytelling approaches to help them see why it is good to invest in learning, and how a company actually benefits from having a learning culture.  Then I showed them that, even if they don’t want to spend a lot of money, using informal or on-the-job learning is still going to create a lot of benefits for the company. For example, using job rotation or on-the-job development does work and can make a tangible difference.  Approaches like mentoring and internal coaching can and should be done. The managers in my company really bought into this idea. The first 2 or 3 things that I managed to do were ideas which didn’t cost a lot of money but were still very beneficial.

Another example where I actually created value and showed the management why learning helps an organization is when we set up the first e-learnings. We built these internally using a tool called EdApp https://www.edapp.com/. It’s a very good and  intuitive tool and easy to use. There were a lot of templates that we could instantly just choose and work with. I worked with our technical experts and together we created e-learning activities on areas such as regulation, process management and . tendering, and product management. We then rolled the e-learnings out to 200 people and the feedback from the participants has been really great.  Because of this tool we’ve been able to gamify the learning too.

What else have you done to continue building a culture since?

Communication is key. Whenever we have a new product or new system (e.g recruiting, performance management) we  connect it to the learning. For example, in our performance management you have an annual meeting about your performance with your manager, and you have to talk about your development.  Of course most people consider meeting a mandatory step and find it boring. I have worked with the managers to help them individually use this moment to create a better dialog with their employees, be more confident when giving feedback, setting goals etc etc. This combination of  building a catalogue of recommended training providers and training courses, building e-learning, leveraging managers and looking for single moments where we can connect learning to the business process shows why learning is important in a company and is the first steps of building a learning culture.

More secret L&D Managers

Who is the secret L&D manager?

The “secret L&D manager” is actually a group of L&D managers. They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with their peers.

 

Seven Exercises for Overcoming Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home

In the 2020 State of Remote Work survey, respondents identified loneliness as their top struggle with working from home. Even among experienced home-workers, loneliness and isolation are challenges. This year, millions of workers are suddenly sent home to work, indefinitely and with no preparation. Only a select few will be able to thrive in perpetual solitude; the rest will probably need a little help. This post offers seven exercises you can do to overcome loneliness and isolation when you are working from home. Think of these as your ‘daily to-do list’. In fact, this list is a good practice for looking after your mental health in normal circumstances; in present circumstances it has become a lot more relevant.

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#1 Talk to someone

Loneliness is a cycle. The more alone we feel the more we think that other people don’t want to talk to us, and so we don’t reach out. Break the cycle by having at least one conversation a day, with anyone. Talking about how we feel can help see that other people are feeling exactly the same and that we are not alone.

#2 Talk to yourself

We are all doing this most of the time, but we don’t realise it. Psychologists call this our ‘inner dialogue’ made up of recurring thoughts and emotions whirling inside our heads. If we don’t listen to this dialogue, we won’t be able to control it. Luckily, there are some proven techniques to help us listen more intently to ourselves; daily journal writing, labelling the emotions we are feeling, writing a letter to our third person self. These techniques allow us to view ourselves as an outside observer in order to tackle negative thoughts and emotions before they become actions and behaviours.

#3 Keep fit

‘Healthy body – healthy mind’ is not just an expression. Science has shown that physical exercise has a positive effect on our mental state. Intense physical activity releases mood-lifting chemicals called endorphins into our blood stream. Even just going for a walk can make us feel better, due to the fresh air, change of scenery and being around people (at an appropriate distance!). If you can’t, or don’t want to go outside, there are lots of free videos on the internet offering live fitness routines!

#4 Tune out

News channels and social media are full of one story at the moment and while it is good to be informed and in touch with what’s happening on the outside, the noise this makes can be over-whelming and reinforce negative feelings. Tuning-out from news and media can help us to tune-in to ourselves, find some peace and quiet from the noise and focus on doing something that makes us feel good. This is an example of a term that has become highly popularised in recent years – ‘mindfulness’.

#5 Take charge

Get a piece of paper and draw a circle. On the outside of the circle write the things that worry or bother you. This could be anything from becoming ill to a noisy neighbour. Now work in the inside of the circle and write all the things in your life that you can directly control. For example, you can’t control your neighbour, but you can ignore the noise. You can’t control events, but you can definitely control your reactions to them. The area inside the circle is your zone of control. This is the area you should work on and put your energy into because being in control of things gives us positive feelings, compared to worrying about things we can’t control or influence. When you start using any of the exercises in this post you have actually started to take control already!

#6 Do something for someone

Human brains are reward-driven, which means our senses become heightened when we enjoy things. Recognition and gratitude from other people are among the most common types of reward which our brains seek. A good way of doing this is to offer a kind act to someone else. For example, giving a compliment, holding a door open, giving a nice smile. It makes no difference if these things are reciprocated or not; just the act of doing them makes us feel better about ourselves and more connected to others, lighting up those important reward centres in our brains.

#7 Do something for yourself

Acts of kindness also extend to yourself. Being isolated can be a struggle but it’s also a potential gift. Is there a book you’ve been meaning to read, a recipe you haven’t had time to try, a new hobby you’ve been interested in but not had the time? Doing something new can help take your mind away from feeling lonely and build purpose and self-esteem.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post. If you did, and it helped you, you could choose to ‘pay it forward’ by sharing it with someone else – a little act of kindness that could make a difference. You can also share your tips and advice for dealing with working at home, in the comments section below.If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.

Leading a team that is working from home

When workers are suddenly sent home to work they will face plenty of challenges, especially if they’ve never done it before. Team leaders will face an additional challenge: Leading a team that is working from home. In this post we offer a range of tips and advice for how you can do that. To keep it simple and easy to implement we’ve stuck to a 3-step approach:

  1. Start by understanding the challenges
  2. Keep the team working together
  3. Lead your team as they work from home

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What are the challenges?

Technical

An immediate priority for leading a team that is working from home is to ensure that team members have the tools to do their jobs remotely. This includes both productivity and communication tools. As a leader you can approach this with the whole team by checking they have what they need and discussing which kinds of communication technologies work well for them. Not everything will work as it did in the office and as a team you may need to decide to use ad-hoc technologies as a temporary solution.

Emotional

Some team members may feel isolated and this can have a serious impact on motivation. This is best discussed in a one-to-one setting. Individuals will all have different emotional and psychological challenges and you need to know what these are in order to help them. A simple question like, “How are you looking after yourself?” can open up a discussion and go a long way to making team members feel supported individually. Read more on this topic in our post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation when Working from Home.

Personal

Don’t forget to also look after your own needs and work through your own personal and logistical challenges. If you don’t address these, you won’t be as effective at helping other people with their issues. Get advice on how to do this in our post Three Steps to Adapt to Home Working.

How do I keep the team working together?

In the 1970s, MIT Professor Thomas Allen discovered that team cohesion is strongest when employees are physically closer. His ideas have been taken forward by some of the most successful companies who engineer ‘collisions’ between employees to strengthen bonding and group affiliation; simple things like coffee-machine conversations, team social events, sharing stories, etc. So, how can you do this with a team that works in physical isolation from each other? Here are some ideas we have seen that work:

  • Set up daily check-ins or ‘stand-up meetings’ at the start of each day where the team shares their priorities for the day and any impediments they face. This can give team members a reassuring routine which is both work and socially focused and help to overcome feelings of isolation. It also gives you a helicopter-view of what’s happening each day.
  • In team meetings always add an agenda item with a question like, “How is this arrangement working for us?” This helps to address emotional/psychological issues of individuals and build trust. Avoid closed questions (asking “Is everyone ok?” won’t give you much information) and use “us” and “we” to reinforce team togetherness.
  • Monitor team communication patterns to pick up on problems, side issues and tone that team members are using with each other. This doesn’t mean using spyware! You just need to go over conversations that are happening on Slack, Teams and other conversation channels.
  • Use video in team communications; humans bond much better to faces than to voices and non-verbal communication sends powerful signals of belonging and empathy. Seeing faces also puts more energy into calls, which helps to overcome feelings of isolation.
  • Create and manage social interaction to replicate what normally happens in the office; have a virtual lunch together, share internet memes, play games together, just get people laughing and having fun. Social interaction is the base of creating trust in a team; you just need to do it a bit differently in a virtual work setting.

Which skills do I need for leading a team that is working from home?

 You don’t need new skills to become an effective leader of a home-working team, but you will need to use some of them more. Here is a short list of where to focus your leadership skills:

Be available

You may have an open door policy in the office but that won’t work in a remote team. So, be explicit about when and how team members can contact you. If you haven’t heard from someone in a while, check in with them and ask how they are. At the same time be careful that you also ring-fence the time you need for yourself and your own tasks.

Solve problems

This is probably the biggest thing your team will need from you, at least at the start. You may need to be flexible and change processes if necessary, for example lifting constraints on how and where data is stored and shared. Focusing on outputs rather than processes will help push the team towards purposeful activity and away from missing their old physical environment.

Make rules and hold people accountable to them

It’s important to establish some ground rules with the team, for example on which communication tools to use for different tasks, how and when to contact each other. You then need to monitor that the team is sticking to those rules and jump in when they are not.

Continue to manage performance

Research shows that employees value their performance being managed and they rate managers highly when it’s done well. This is still true in a home-working environment, but it will take more communication and more regular, smaller steps to address the distance and isolation. A practical start is to set some short term performance goals on adjusting to home-working at the beginning.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home and leading people when they are working from home.

 

Three steps to adapt to working from home

In March 2020 it is estimated that a quarter of the world’s population is confined to their homes in some form or other. For millions of workers this means having to adapt to working from home. In this post you will read about the 3-step approach to make that change a bit smoother and a little less painful. Even after this current crisis has ended, there may be times in the future where we need to make a radical and sudden shift in the way we work due to external circumstances. This could be anything ranging from unemployment or re-location, to geo-political events. So, we have put together the advice and approach in this post to be helpful in any situation where we need to change the way we work.

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Step 1 – Acknowledge

The first step to dealing with any big change is to acknowledge what is happening. If we don’t do this, we may get stuck in a little bit of denial, which will prevent us from dealing with the present situation effectively. Here are examples of what you can acknowledge in the current situation:

  1. For a lot of people right now, being asked to work at home full time is not voluntary. This is a decision made for us, not by us.
  2. This situation may last a long time. At the moment, authorities and businesses are talking about isolation as ‘indefinite’.
  3. ‘Working from home’ is not the same as ‘being at home’. There will be obstacles you will need to overcome, from dealing with family members to the state of your home internet connection.
  4. You will need to adapt by making changes to both home and work life. Put another way; you will need a new set of rules for both.

There will be other things you need to acknowledge – everybody’s situation is different. Spending a little time considering what is different or missing from your new home working situation is a good way to prepare to make some changes, which is our next step.

Remember that difficult periods can also be
personally rewarding. As someone once said, “the worst that
can happen is that you might learn something about yourself”.

Step 2 – Make Changes

Now that you have acknowledged the situation, you’re ready to make the changes you need in order to adapt to it. A good way to approach this is to make a list of difficulties/things you miss and then come up with counter-measures to each one. We did this exercise recently in our own team, and we discovered that although our team is made up of experienced remote/home workers, they still have challenges that they need to work on. Here are some of the things from their lists:

Difficulties I Face/Things I Miss:

  • Making a mental and physical separation of work and home life
  • Knowing how to organise my day
  • Being able to stop and tune-out from work
  • Seeing and socialising with colleagues
  • Little routines e.g. morning coffee with a croissant in the canteen!
  • Interruptions and distractions from family members
  • Feeling like I’m at work rather than at home
  • Team huddles and bouncing ideas off each other

Counter-Measures:

  • Find a dedicated space to work (can be anywhere) and put on work clothes in the morning
  • Start the day with a ‘stand up’ team meeting on Skype – hearing others’ priorities can help us shape our own priorities and organise our days
  • Set up rules for family members e.g. knock on your home office door if they want something, put a sign up ‘Can talk/In a meeting/Busy until 11.’ etc.
  • Stick to your old routines where you can e.g. schedule a coffee break to go grab a coffee somewhere local
  • Use technology to connect to colleagues and agree how to use them, e.g. WhatApp group for idea bouncing, Zoom for team meetings
  • Make time for fun with colleagues to relieve boredom and lift your mood (e.g. sharing internet memes, funny videos, doing online challenges)
  • Talk often to colleagues about feelings on working at home
  • Fix a daily schedule and stick to it (share it with family members and colleague so that they can help you)

Step 3 – Look After Yourself

Sudden changes to our lives can be traumatic. In Step 1 we advised spending time acknowledging the change. Step 3 is all about managing your mental and physical health through a period of sudden change. Here are some practical ways you can do this:

Get some exercise

Even if you don’t wear a fitness gadget on your wrist, you will soon realise that working from home means moving much less compared to being in the office. So, plan some exercise into your daily routine, even just a 30 minute walk at lunchtime can help. Research shows that lack of exercise and fresh air has a real impact on our mental capabilities.

Ask for help

From colleagues and especially your manager. This could be asking for solutions to technical problems, or for a bit of slack if the home/work balance is getting overwhelming. We are all in the same boat and asking for and giving help and support is what we need to do now. You can read our tips and advice for managers in the post How to Lead a Team that is Working from Home.

Be kind to yourself

You are not going to make this change successfully in one day or even one month. It’s ok to be frustrated, angry, impatient and it’s healthy to consider the emotions you are feeling and where they come from. It’s also important to understand the emotions of those around us – whether family or colleagues – and be kind and understanding of those people too. You can find tips and advice on dealing with the emotional side of home-working in the post Dealing with Loneliness and Isolation When Working from Home.

We hope you enjoyed reading this post and please share what works for you in the comments. If you would like to know more about our experience of helping teams with remote working, feel free to contact us. We also offer training on managing your focus, energy and impact when working from home.

Train the Trainer: Dealing with ‘difficult’ participants – part 1

At Target Training we’ve been delivering “train-the-trainer” solutions for over 20 years to a broad range of clients across industries. Without fail, one of the most common personal training goals we see is “I want to learn to deal with difficult participants”.  No matter whether you are delivering on-boarding, technical, safety  or skills training, training starts and ends with your participants. As a trainer you want to deliver training which is engaging and useful … and as all experienced trainers know, a single difficult participant can impact this.  This blog post shares our advice and experience, so you are better prepared to deal with difficult participants in the training room.
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What do we mean by a “difficult participant” and how common are they really?

Training is about adding value to your participants and organization, by developing their knowledge, skills and behaviours.  You want your participants to have a rewarding learning experience – and you have designed your training to achieve this.  You’ve identified and considered the learning goals, you’ve considered the flow so it is smooth and ties together, and you’ve designed varied activities to keep the training engaging and rewarding. A “difficult participant, is a participant who hinders or prevents the above – intentionally or not. Difficult participants diminish the impact of the training for the other participants and reduce your organizations return on investment.

All participants have the potential of being difficult, and this depends upon a variety of factors – ranging from the context of the training to the training design, and from personalities to an individual’s situational circumstances.  We all have bad days. However, truly destructive participants are thankfully rare. I’ve been involved in delivering training for over 23 years, and looking back I can only think of a handful of “difficult” individuals.  Unfortunately, I remember them clearer than the rest. So, what can you do? Before the training starts, you can minimize the risk of participants becoming difficult before the training even starts, through some simple steps.

Know who the participants are

If you are delivering internally, then get a list of the participants in advance and make the time to speak with their line managers.  By doing this you can learn more about the “perceived” context for the training, and the participants knowledge, experience, needs and attitudes. If somebody is cynical, silent or a talker, then the line manager may flag this. Alternatively, just ask straight out “Are there any participants I should keep an eye on?”.  You can also encourage the manager to speak with her participants and reinforce that they value training and have expectations.  Line manager involvement is key to successful training (Clemmer 2008) and ensures your organization makes the most of its training investment.

If you have a chance to meet the participants before the session, you should take it. Give them an impression of who you are. Build rapport before they enter the training room. Introduce yourself, find out what they expect from the training and set their expectations (“yes, unfortunately, there will be some role-plays”), or just make small talk for a few minutes. For you, the trainer, it makes a huge difference to walk into a room with ten strangers (not knowing what they want), or to walk into a room with five strangers and five people you already know (whose expectations you’ve already set).

Design the training so it respects and engages everyone

Use what you’ve learned from speaking with the line managers to ensure your training content is appropriate, relevant and challenging. By doing this you can minimize the likelihood of a wide range of difficult or disruptive behaviours – from boredom to frustration to challenging. You also want to ensure that your training respects the range of personalities and learning styles. Give your participants the opportunity to reflect, consider and contribute both as individuals and in groups.  Plan “loud” and “quiet” times so both extroverts and introverts get what they need– not everyone enjoys brainstorming and discussions. Do consider the flow of energy within the training day and consciously design your training around this e.g. after lunch will you energize the group, or give them some reflection time to look back on the morning?

Anticipate tough questions, difficult learning points and likely areas of resistance

If this is a new training solution, then take the time to play “what if”.  Write down all the questions that you hope they will ask, know they will ask, don’t want them to ask, and dread they ask. Then think about your answers. Practice your responses out loud and ensure your answers are brief, to the point and authentic. As the trainer you have a lot of knowledge and experience – and synthesizing all this into a clear and brief response can be tough.

If you’ve delivered the training before than you’ve already spotted the areas which raise questions or provoke discussions.  Again, step back and consider what you want to say, how you want to say, and how much time you want to invest in which topics.

If there’s an elephant in your training room, then know how you want to tackle it

Keep your training human and keep it real. The circumstances surrounding the training can and will influence behaviours. If the organization is going through change, restructuring, laying off staff, or merging then you can expect this to impact attitudes and behaviours. You probably cannot influence these circumstances, but you can acknowledge them and prepare for possible resistance, push back or disassociation.

I remember delivering a 2-day leadership program to an automotive company where everyone knew that at the end of day 1 a major announcement would be made on the future of some plants.  The training content was fixed and “motivating and driving performance “was a major part of the first day. We spoke about the circumstances openly, acknowledged that the topic was awkwardly timed to say the least, and agreed to reframe the training as practical management skills for the future, wherever they may be. Keeping the pace fast, the energy high and the themes as “archetypical” helped the training make a personal impact.

Reframe how you see difficult participants

Embrace the challenge of difficult participants. At its heart, training is about people, and we learn more about working with people from difficult situations than from “everything going to plan”.  You want participants to be engaged and challenging you is actually a good thing.  You want your participants to let you know if something isn’t going right for them during the training and not afterwards. And you want your participants to be themselves.  I’ve only ever met one participant who I couldn’t work with at any level whatsoever, and even this was a learning moment – I learned that was ok, to accept the situation, and to focus on the other participants who clearly wanted to be there.

Always open the training in a way that sets out mutual expectations

Creating and agreeing on ground rules and shared expectations is essential. This then gives you and others the framework to hold each other accountable and have difficult conversations with difficult participants about difficult situations. Experienced trainers do this naturally and each trainer has their own style, but the core you need to agree on is

  • Timing (start, finish, breaks and length of breaks). Even the most experienced trainers can forget this, and participants want and need to know what to expect. You don’t need to lock yourself in to a schedule if you don’t want to but telling them you’ll break for lunch “around 12.30” helps.
  • Laptops open, closed, or even in bags. Phones are the bane of a trainer’s life, and when one person takes a call during the training everyone is impacted. Possible approaches could be
    • at the front on a desk
    • must be on silent
    • in bags and only check in breaks
    • take calls but leave the room before start speaking

Effective approaches to managing the pull of phone calls that I’ve seen/heard/ done have included:

  • make a joke of it e.g. “Is anybody expecting a child to be born they know about? No, well in that case do we really need our phones on?”
  • be direct e.g “Put your mobiles on silent and in your bags (not your pockets). You can check them during breaks, and if something is truly urgent your colleagues know where you are and how to find you.  And if they can’t be bothered to come to the training room it can’t be truly urgent!”
  • charity box “Everything you take your phone out you put X in the bowl up front”
  • choosing a venue with no phone reception

And if none of the above are acceptable, then at least get agreement that people respectfully leave the training room when on the phone.

  • Communication. If the training topic is likely to be contentious or difficult then it is worth taking time to agree on expected communication styles. e.g. try not to interrupt, ask question to learn and not to show what you know, ask if something isn’t clear, close the loop by asking clarifying questions back etc.

Agreeing on ground rules allows you as the trainer to refer back to the agreed expectations and have awkward conversations safely. And of course, all of the above approaches are much more powerful when the training participants build them themselves!  This allows the participants to hold each other accountable and take responsibility for ensuring the dynamics are healthy.  You can expect that colleagues can self-regulate behaviours to some extent!

Start the training by keeping it real and keeping things human

The final tip is that positioning yourself above your participants will create unnecessary resistance and provoke difficult behaviours as participants try to prove something wrong, reject messages because they reject your credibility, or fight to show they know more. You are the trainer and you are human. Use this to build authenticity, credibility and trust from the outset and reduce the risk of difficult behaviours derailing the training. Share your experience, build your credibility and also show that you know how it can be challenging at first to get to grips with the specifics (“ I remember when ..”).

If you are delivering soft skills, customer service or leadership training, then avoid presenting yourself as the example to be followed. Tap into meaningful stories, share experiences and connect with the participants on a human level. My own approach is to open our Practical toolbox for managers program with “ I strongly believe in the value of everything we’ll be covering in the next 2 days, and many of your colleagues have fed back that they found it practical. Saying that, as a manager, I do not do everything we’ll be covering myself. I’m human and I have my strengths and my weaknesses”.  I then see the participant’ physically relax and open up.

 

Which topics are most suited for the live virtual training format

This week’s Secret L&D manager is German and has been working for one of the big management consulting firms for 13 years. She is part of a virtual L&D team responsible for internal training solutions for a global group of analysts, specialists, and managers across multiple time zones. In our previous interviews she has shared how and why her organization got started with live virtual training solutions, and what they have learned along the way. In this post she shares more of her experience and looks forward to the future of virtual delivery.

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Which topics have you learned work well virtually and which haven’t taken off?

As I mentioned earlier, we first used the live virtual delivery format for what we could call hard skills. This included technical skills and software training. Training on Excel, PowerPoint etc. We then used virtual delivery formats for training where there were a lot of tips, dos and don’ts. For example, how to build effective slides and engage your audience. If the training is about showing something directly and then facilitating a conversation about this, then virtual training actually works very well.

We have also had really good experiences with softer topics too. Many of our leadership programs are now delivered virtually. For example one of our management development programs has a kick-off webinar, two one-one-one coaching sessions and a wrap-up webinar —all facilitated virtual—as standard elements, plus during this journey the participants meet for a two-day residential workshop. The feedback from our managers is that this is one of our most popular and successful programs.  We also have a lot of softer topics where working virtually is part of the training goals. For example, “Presenting in a virtual environment” or “Leading virtual teams”.

One big challenge or obstacle in a virtual space is how to build up trust. You have so many things which are lacking in a virtual space which are usually vital to building up trust with someone, right? This could be the immediate reaction to the other’s physical presence – smiles, body language, eye contact, even smell – anything. We’re all humans and we react to one another’s presence. But what happens when there isn’t a physical presence? Tackling this kind of virtual training topic in a virtual training environment makes absolute sense.

Are there some topics that you’d never wanted to go virtual with?

That’s actually a good question. Some training concepts are not at first glance suitable, but over the years I have learned that it is really a question of design. The technology does have limitations, but this is continually improving. I would say the obvious ones that don’t transfer as easily to a virtual deliver format easily are those programs where there are a lot of role-plays required. It’s difficult when the softer expressions, body language etc. are important training elements. But even these can be approached in different ways.

It depends on the situation, the participants’ situations and our training goals. When I want to adapt communication, soft skills, leadership training, etc. for a virtual context I think it’s possible to do that training or program also in a virtual setting. In fact, I will say that it makes a lot of sense to do it virtually as this is the manager’s reality! Yes, it can be difficult with topics like assertiveness, difficult conversations, giving feedback etc.  On a tiny little screen, their body language is not really visible. I don’t know what their legs are doing, but I can see what their shoulders are doing, and maybe their arms, hands and face – and this is reality. If it’s leadership in a virtual environment or difficult conversations in a virtual environment, the virtual training setting works perfectly.

If you’re trying to practice something you only ever do face-to-face with people, then it’s not as strong but it still can work. I can only think of a couple of our programs which maybe aren’t so suitable for virtual delivery, but it’s really only a few.

Do you see a change in the way you’ll be using live virtual training in the future?

Yes and no. I think there’ll be a shift in L&D generally, and also inside our firm. On the one hand, we don’t want to fully give up on the residential trainings because it’s still a very different experience and people really do like them. You are spending maybe three days with each other, rather than three hours online. It is completely different – you get to know people, you have a different level of peer exchange, you establish defined accountability partners etc. If you are meeting in person you also talk more broadly about things which are happening in the business and topics which are very sensitive things. Often this is outside of the training, too. In these longer residential trainings, you often build friendships with colleagues that are important for the rest of their working life. It’s a different experience.

On the other hand, the internationalization of our people and company means we are finding that the people who require a certain skill and want to develop it are not actually based in the same location. Bringing people together for classical face-to-face training is certainly a cost question – but also a time and environmental one, too! I think virtual training will expand because of these factors. There is of course an additional benefit – it is also good that people from different countries, with different work styles and different backgrounds have more chances and opportunities to exchange ideas and approaches.

So, from the human side we certainly still want that people meet each other in person – but really it’s a question of the topic and taking everything into account. I expect virtual training will increase because of the benefits it offers when done well. It makes a lot of sense when you have a topic which can be actually broken down into modules, and where it doesn’t matter if you have a week in between modules (or maybe a week in between really helps!).

Today, virtual delivery is being integrated into all of our approaches. All stand-alone residential training events will also have maybe a virtual kick-off call, some exercises in between, virtual coaching calls afterwards, and virtual wrap-up meetings afterwards etc. This leads to a blended learning journey so people can integrate training into their work life and transfer what they have learned. It is easier to incorporate virtual delivery into our everyday work life.  I believe it will become more and more usual.

Lessons learned: making live virtual training work for our business

This week’s Secret L&D manager is German and has been working for one of the management consulting firms for 13 years. She is part of a virtual L&D team responsible for internal training solutions for a global group of analysts, specialists, and managers across multiple time zones. In our previous interview she shared how and why her organization got started with live virtual training solutions. In this post she shares more of her experience on how to deliver virtual training solutions well.

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Based on your experience over the last five years, what advice would you give a fellow L&D manager who hasn’t organized virtual delivery before and is planning on trying it?

If this is your very first move into live virtual training, I would suggest you start with a hard skill. Something which is more about skills than behaviours, for example software tools, processes etc. I would then search for a pilot group. For me a good pilot group is a group who will give you clear and balanced feedback. You should invest some time in preparing the pilot group. See it like setting the scene in terms of change management. People will probably be very sceptical and may even complain. You want to help them build an open mindset and help them understand why this move to virtual delivery is a good idea for them and the organization.

If this is the very first time you’re trying live virtual training then make the time to go and talk with people one-on-one and win them over. People don’t understand actually how “live”, interactive and fun, live virtual training can be. They might be thinking about e-learning or webinars where they just listen for half an hour. You want them to appreciate that this is live and that they will be expected to contribute in the same way as if they were in the same room as the facilitator. Tell them it’s not going to be a passive and boring experience, just pick up the phone and say “Hey John, you’re suggested for this training, we have this really cool format on WebEx, and it will be working like this and we’ll get you a really good headset and this will be really fun. You’ll meet people from Brazil and from Russia and ….”. Then see what you can do to help them be comfortable with the technology. Think about setting up a WebEx call with them beforehand and show them what WebEx looks like, how it works, how you’re going to use—and a few tips on making it a good experience, like finding a quiet place for the training session without people listening in, without background noise etc.

You want to light a fire in them. You want them to talk about the pilot session to other people and say at the very least, “Hey, actually that was not too bad!”

What advice can you share on designing and delivering live virtual training?

First of all, I would also invest in finding a fantastic and experienced virtual facilitator. You want the participants to connect with them and the training and leave with a positive experience. You can either look for an external vendor or learn-as-you go internally.

If you are going external you want to find an external partner who knows what they are doing and can guide you. If I use our example of working with you at Target Training, when we first spoke, and you asked me “Do you want a producer or not?” I knew that you knew what you were talking about.

Why do you feel a technical producer is so important in virtual training?

There are many people who don’t know what a producer is and what a producer’s role is. For me the technical producer is actually a key part of virtual facilitation and this is often forgotten.

The producer takes care of the technical part and if you use a producer, you can leverage all the functionality available in the virtual training tools, like breakout rooms, polls, whiteboards, combining whiteboards and summarizing them, letting people share output from the breakout rooms, managing technical glitches, etc. There are so many things that can be leveraged so easily. When this is covered by a producer then the facilitator can actually focus on facilitating – the human part of it!

Using a trainer and a producer works very well and everyone knows exactly know who is responsible for what when they have glitches. A producer means fewer distractions. It’s really a key thing for me to have a seamless experience and I wish that producers would be standard. I am a big fan of that.

What do you think makes an effective virtual trainer?

Being an effective trainer virtually requires different approaches. Let me share our first experiences. Prior to deciding to make this jump to virtual delivery, we had of course built up over the years a large pool of trainers and training companies who we worked with company-wide. This pool had a lot of experience with us and there were also a lot of alumni amongst them. We decided to invest in them and their development and help them learn to deliver live training virtually. They knew our company, they knew our people and they knew what our firm is all about. This key learning part was completely covered.

We decided to invest in them and their development in three ways – training them, learning by doing, and giving them constant feedback about really excelling in the virtual space. When we started with live virtual delivery, we said, “Just give it a try and let’s talk after 1 or 2 sessions about how they were delivered”. Our experience was that not every trainer can or wants to make the jump, and that is ok.

When I think about the better experiences I have had with facilitators, like your colleagues, what they all had in common was their ability to do a remarkable job in really building up trust quickly. They knew how to engage others and help people open up. I have also seen them play a lot with the pace which is so important. Generally, in the virtual training environment, people (myself included) tend to be talking much faster than they would in a classic residential training. Slowing the speed down really helps a lot, but if you are the facilitator it can at first feel kind of awkward and unnatural. The virtual facilitator can’t always see the other person and then there’s a delay and you feel as if you are talking into a black hole. But talking too fast is far worse as the participants feel they can’t contribute and are being pushed through the training as quickly as possible.  For me an effective virtual trainer can adapt their pace and play around with it. And the supreme discipline for me personally is when a facilitator can use humor in a virtual setting and makes participants laugh.

How much virtual training is delivered by your own trainers and how much by external partners?

I would today it is 60 – 70% by externals and the remainder by internal trainers. We have developed our own internal train-the-trainer programs for virtual delivery. This is delivered by those pioneers who were basically there at the beginning. We offer a “train the virtual trainer” program to our internal trainers. Our experts benefit from the experience, tips, tricks and advice the facilitators themselves learnt over time. They learn about designing and delivering virtual training.

Do you see a difference regarding training design in virtual training?

Yes, it’s absolutely different! Make sure you think carefully about the training set-up and format. For virtual training, the training design and the training materials need to be approached differently. In terms of training design, ask yourself what actually makes a face-to-face training successful and how can I apply this to the virtual training design? You certainly still want a lot of exercises, so the training is engaging. And, as the learners’ attention span is much shorter virtually, you might need to play more with timing and move fluidly between trainer inputting to discussions and then to exercises.

And a final question – how large would you recommend the groups should be for live virtual training?

It very much depends on the topic. For topics which require interchange of more sensitive things, for example soft skills or anything about teams or leadership, we say five to six people per group with seven being our absolute maximum. For what we call” technical trainings” I think we can accept a few more because the exchanges, discussions and conversations aren’t as important. For these kinds of topics our maximum is 15.

In the 3rd and final part of the interview the Secret L&D manager shares her views on which topics are best suited for virtual delivery and how she sees the future of virtual training.

 

 

 

How and why we got started with live virtual training in our global firm

This week’s Secret L&D manager is German and has been working for one of the big management consulting firms for 13 years. She is part of a virtual L&D team responsible for internal training solutions for a global group of analysts, specialists, and managers across multiple time zones.  In this post, she talks about the need for virtual delivery, the challenges, and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
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When did your organization start delivering training virtually?

When I joined our L&D team four years ago, our department had already been offering live virtual training for about a year. Not everyone in the company was actively using it yet so we were kind of pioneers. The background behind our decision to introduce virtual delivery was that we had, and have, a big group of people who are spread across the world in different countries on different continents. There are people in hub locations, and these hubs are also spread across the world, and there are people who may belong to the same department but are located in some very remote locations.

The training challenge here was that if we used the classical way of offering what we call “residential” face-to-face training to all these people, we would have exceeded our budgets by far. And still we wanted to offer everyone a fair chance of having the same training options as their colleagues. We were actively looking at which trainings could be held in a virtual space and this is clearly linked to which trainings are actually most suited, or most easily converted, to virtual delivery.

We started with so-called hard skills like slide writing, using PowerPoint, Excel etc. but we then also quickly moved into other soft areas too. We were keen to make this move as the virtual approach allowed us to make a continuous learning journey out of a “one-off training” and enabled implementing learning into every-day life – this is clearly the biggest advantage.

So how quickly did you move into delivering live virtual training solutions for soft skills training, leadership development, etc.?

I think fairly quickly actually. Until about six years ago there weren’t any soft skills or leadership training programs for my global group at all because the group was just being established. The first training initiatives were the classical format – residential trainings of one to three days. However, within a year, a live virtual delivery format had been established and then it moved forwards fairly quickly. Nowadays we have a 50/50 split – half is virtual, and half is residential.

What have you learned along the way about organizing live virtual training?

We should split this question into the organizational part and the delivery and facilitating part — but we have learned a lot in both areas! Starting with the organizational side, as with residential training, too, we learned we need to block time with people, and in virtual training these time slots need to be convenient for multiple time zones. Then we needed to find a suitable and reliable tool of course. WebEx was rolled out globally in our company around this time, and we were very happy – it works well with only a few exceptions when people have a poor internet connection. Everyone has the same technology; everyone has the same starting point. This is actually a really big help.

We also learned that there is a difference between delivering the classic virtual training session and what we call a blended virtual format. Let me explain; we had training where everybody was in a different place behind their desks. What we also successfully tried is, for example, having ten people in Boston who wanted to do the slide writing training, and we also had four people in Munich, and three people in Madrid. In some locations we have dedicated video rooms—this means people are sitting on one table and in one corner of the room there is a TV screen and camera. The group in Boston sees the other groups in Munich and Madrid and the other way, too. The facilitator is live in Boston, so one of the locations does have the advantage of having a live facilitator in the same room – but the participants in the other locations have colleagues with them, too – and everyone can see everyone. So when it comes to exercises this “being in a room with colleagues” does have a really big advantage. Colleagues are motivating and challenging each other, and of course we shouldn’t ignore the benefit of group pressure when it comes to participation and focus. People are not checking emails or multi-tasking because there are other people sitting in the room in the same training. And we could offer training to locations where there were too few people to have a face-to-face training.

We did something similar for a “writing proposals” project with a sales team in the Far East. The trainer was in one room and everybody else was in another room. It can work really well.

Absolutely! If the room is set up properly, this comes close to recreating a live residential training. Of course, logistics-wise there can be some difficulties because you first of all have to have a certain number of learners in each office and then people of course change plans last minute etc. But this is similar to the challenges of classical residential training. We also had to book all those video rooms, so they were free at the same time etc. Then an important client meeting comes, and the team is thrown out; so logistics-wise that’s a little bit hard, but we found solutions. In general, the approach worked very well, and the learners said they had a really positive group learning experience.

When you made your first moves into live virtual delivery was there any resistance from people? For example, did you have people wanting to stick with the classic face-to-face training approach?

Of course – and to be quite honest there still is! Often people still frankly ask “Hey I’ve been invited to this virtual training. Is there a live residential training instead?” This is natural because many people prefer to go somewhere else to be really focused, meet people, limit interruptions etc. It’s a much more intense experience, let’s be honest. There was a lot of resistance at the beginning and we still get it sometimes. However, I would say it quickly became accepted – mainly because people have had very positive experiences with virtual training, and they have then shared their experience with others.

This is where we come to the absolute need for good virtual facilitation skills. When we started moving into live virtual delivery, we already had a strong pool of trusted facilitators. Many of them were external vendors who were brilliant in the residential live facilitation, but facilitating virtually is so different. I’m thinking back to a workshop I attended myself on “Virtual Facilitation” run by the American Talent Development Association. This trainer was a radio moderator and he gave tips and tricks on using your voice to make virtual training more engaging. One thing he said—that I have never forgotten—was that facilitating in a virtual environment feels completely awkward. It’s really like being a radio moderator. It feels like you are talking to yourself and you aren’t getting any feedback. He said you need to embrace this, and to accept the silence. You will feel super awkward at first. But people need you to act as a guide. When you ask a question, you have to wait until an answer comes, and you still have to smile into the camera—even if there is no one immediately responding. This is a big change and challenge for many facilitators. And just as with face-to-face training, space and time to think is important. It is just that the time feels longer and different in a virtual training world.

In the early days we invested in our internal facilitators. They got training on how to really adapt to this virtual training context because it requires very different tools and very different styles of facilitation. We also had to train long-term and trusted external vendors on what we needed.

Not every trainer can or wants to make that change – it’s a question of personal preferences. And of course, some trainers are much better delivering training face-to-face than virtually. It’s really a totally different skill.

 

 

In our next blog post this Secret L&D manager share more of her experience and advice on making virtual training a success

 

Book review: The happy mind

Before I read the book “The Happy Mind”, by Kevin Horsley and Louis Fourie, I already knew that happiness comes from the self and that the building blocks of happiness are things that have no physical form. Things like love, acceptance and beliefs are what give or take away happiness – ultimately. Subtitled “A simple guide to living a happier life starting today”, this book is not the type of book you would expect us to review. But, when trainers talk amongst each other at Target, about how the training went, we sometimes talk about the person(s) on the verge of a burnout – one of the clearest signs of unhappiness. The phrases “the doctor told me to take it easy” and “if only I could switch my head off on Friday” are often uttered during our stress- and self-management training sessions. A happy mind is a wonderful thing and we all deserve happiness. At home, at work and everywhere else. For that reason, this book is exactly the type of book that deserves our attention.

The first three chapters

With “The Happy Mind”, the authors want to “present you with valuable insights and create the private intellectual space for you to consider the subject of personal happiness, and of course to try and convince you that it is within your reach.” Throughout the book there are lots of questions for the reader to answer. Even if you read only half of it, you will have enough material to help you examine your personal happiness, to define what it looks / should look like and lots of things you can do to get your mind happy.

The search for happiness

The general perception is that most people view happiness as the result of something exceptional that should happen to them. They believe happiness is an external phenomenon that crosses your path and changes your life for the better, Kevin and Louis state in the first chapter. Some people rely on an if-then chain reaction (if this happens, I will be happy) to obtain happiness. This leaves them searching for secret doors to happiness, time travelling their way through the day to a happier time and place, and looking at others to give them the happiness they deserve.

Happiness is…

Genuine happiness is a ‘now and here’ skill, the authors write in chapter 2. Happiness exists in the present, not as an accumulation of highs, but as a by-product of how you live your life. According to the authors (they mention research several times in the book but leave it unsourced), happy people share nine common qualities:

  1. They think in a different way
  2. They assume full accountability for their circumstances
  3. They enjoy simple things more
  4. They own up to their future
  5. They are passionately engaged in what they do for a living
  6. They invest in their overall wellness
  7. They have constructive relationships
  8. They harness an optimistic world view
  9. They accept that happiness is a day-to-day effort

From asking “what can I do about this?”, instead of “why does this always happen to me?” to being constructive and decisive, to remaining positive, the chapter goes into more detail for each of the qualities.

The origin of unhappiness

On the other side of the scale, there are the unhappy people. Being unhappy is “not about having more downs than ups. It is about going through life forever desiring something else. It’s a state of lasting discontentment, for different reasons at different times.” Unhappy people have developed destructive thinking patterns, they place blame and are passive bystanders in their own lives. The list goes on – think the exact opposite of the above list to begin with.

‘Why are some of us unhappy?’ It’s our old brain, sociologists claim. We’re unable to control primitive instincts. When we are faced with rejection (not being enough) and scarcity (not having enough), we could be excluded – our old brain tells us. Our “present-day” brain is not in charge when we are faced with such fears. The primitive brain takes over, and it’s fight or flight.

Chapter 4

The next 60+ pages are “a bouquet of hints” for the reader. There are short, individual chapters with tips and advice and if you ask me, the old farmer (p.62) is a smart man. It’s thorough enough though sometimes repetitive. This part of the book is clearly intended for you to take what you want from it – whatever works for you. If you want to have a happy mind and you want to work on that, then here are some ingredients. It’s an important part of the book. However, I found that the pages are difficult to work with for a reader. Luckily, my mind is happy pretty much all the time.

In conclusion

As a passionate happiness practitioner, I was looking forward to reading this book. My ‘search’ for happiness took me along a completely different path, and I was interested to learn more about the thoughts and ideas of the authors. “This book was not meant to be a scientific masterpiece nor an empirical research document. It had a simple aim – to draw your attention to the dynamics of personal happiness”, are the opening words of the final chapter. Even so, for me, the book didn’t go deep enough into its own subject matter but I found there was interesting food for thought on a large number of pages. As I mentioned before, there is no list of sources to refer to when they mention research (pity).

Then again, I don’t really care about that when the book is clearly a very positive contribution to the creation of more happiness. We all deserve to have a happy mind. With a happy mind, we can achieve more. A happy mind is not stressed all the time. A happy mind is forgiving, a happy mind accepts. Sharing happiness creates happiness. Where there is happiness, there is love. Where there is love, there’s no hate. I like the sound of that. Don’t you?


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Implementing the 70-20-10 model- insights from a secret L&D manager

This month’s Secret L&D manager is German, based in Germany and works for a global automotive supply company. She has worked in training and development for over 7 years.

Why are you using 70-20-10?

We introduced the 70-20-10 model in 2016, mainly because too many people were thinking that “development” is just about training, and that if our company wasn’t providing “training” the company wasn’t developing people. The 70-20-10 model helped us show that learning and development is more than just training. Training is one tool, but you can develop yourself all the time. The 70-20-10 model is rolled out globally to our whole organisation. There are also individual initiatives that I have developed which are only rolled out in a specific business area in Europe and for specific development programs like our talent development program.

eBook: The definitive checklist for qualifying training providers

How did people react?

I would say the majority of the people in our company did not really understand at first. Only those people who joined the sessions where we explained and showed what 70-20-10 is really about – they understood the sense behind it. Learning and development is not such a big topic in our company and is not the highest priority, so many people read about it and ignored it.

So how have you brought 70-20-10 to life in the organization?

I created an individual development plan, built around 70-20-10, specifically for participants in our training programmes.

Which kind of programmes?

A development programme for our most talented young professionals. First of all, I introduced the 70-20-10 model a little bit to them, and I explained what 70-20-10 is about – and what it is not about too. Mainly that 70% of everything they learn is learning by doing, 20% is learning from others and only 10% is learning by “training”. I must say people were quite surprised about this when I started talking to them about it, but they quickly related to it.  They saw it reflected how they had learned their technical skills, and also their softer skills.

I then introduced a new individual development plan, which I have here in front of me.  I structured it in different levels. First of all, people were asked to define an overall individual development goal. Strictly speaking they weren’t all SMART goals – some were closer to a vision for where do I want to be and by when. As most of the goals were very general, I asked them to explain a little bit about what they meant with this goal. Where they are now, where they want to be and what they think would change when they achieve this goal. These were the key questions we asked them to think about.

Then they had to define three key development areas that they need to work on in order to achieve that very goal. These areas had to be really, really specific. They have to be SMART.

Once they had defined key development areas, they had to define development actions. On the tool I gave them, these actions are actually structured using 70-20-10.  They need to define mostly “learning by doing” actions, then partly “learning through others” actions and the smallest part is the “learning in training” actions.

And then, last but not least, for the individual development areas they were asked to define key performance indicators where they can measure the success of their development. Using KPIs is very characteristic for our automotive supply company because everything is measured in KPIs here. This is a step they understand easily, and I didn’t have to explain to them what a KPI is. Everything they do is measured.

How do you get a KPI from a soft skill?

Well, that’s tricky. Let’s take the simple example of improving presentation skills. So development actions can be “I will present my project four times in front of my boss or my team, and one of these will need to be delivered virtually”. The KPI could be the number of presentations you have done.

So you are just tracking that it’s happening?

Yes. Another example for management training is if you give or receive positive feedback – yes or no – it can be measured. It just helps a little bit, like you said, to track it, to know that they have to document their status. It really helps them to be motivated or to stay motivated.

Have you integrated the 70-20-10 into your senior management programs?

We have.  I think the 70 is really covered by the business simulations we use. In these simulations people lead their own company, competing against each other and most of it is really learning by doing. They have to work with the numbers, they have to work with the reports, they have to make their own decisions. They have the chance to contact their trainers for example, or their colleagues, and ask them for advice, so that’s learning by others maybe, but mostly it’s the learning by doing.

How do senior managers respond to being asked to build KPIs for their own development?

I must say I only really push the KPIs with the young professionals. They need the orientation to have this measured and their development areas are way simpler than the ones from the very experienced senior leaders that we’re training. I don’t push measuring of the senior managers and leaders. I think at their level they should be capable of measuring themselves and knowing how far they have come with their development.

What advice would you give to another training manager who wants to try and introduce this 70-20-10 approach to their organisation?

Firstly, I would say it’s a very rational approach to learning and development. You have to look a little bit at your target training audience and at your people. I mean in our automotive world there are a lot of engineers, and a lot of very structured thinking. They need tools that fit into their rational world and I think 70-20-10 does this for them. Learning is quite abstract and 70-20-10 gives them a framework to put it into numbers. So if you would like to apply this in your company you should really look at what is your target group.

And I see that structure is reflected in the way you have built your tools. I mean you’ve got boxes that need filling in which fits with your target audience, tick boxes, % etc.

Exactly, I’ve got KPIs. As I mentioned, everything is measured here and that’s their way of working. It is what people are used to and comfortable with. I think if you are trying to implement this in a more “creative” or “service”  company you might see much more pushback to the way my tools are designed and the use of KPIs

Thanks for your time and for sharing!

You’re welcome!


Who is the Secret L&D manager?

The Secret L&D manager is actually many L&D managers.  They are real people who would prefer not to mention their name or company – but do want to write anonymously so they can openly and directly share their ideas and experience with peers.

When trainers become participants: 17 tips for getting the most from your training

As a training company we invest in internal training with a passion. We can cover many of the soft skill and leadership topics internally, but when we are lacking the insider knowledge we carefully qualify and source external providers. One of the questions we ask a potential provider is their experience in training trainers. Training trainers can be daunting as you know that your participants are evaluating the training and you as the trainer with a insider’s eye (much like a chef cooking for another chef who is watching them work in their own kitchen!). When trainers become participants, they also go through an internal process which can be every bit as uncomfortable. We recently organized a seminar for a small group of our management team. Bringing in an external trainer changed the dynamics, and as experienced trainers we were now in the passenger seat. Over the 2 days we asked ourselves “what could we as participants do to get the very most from our training?”. Here are our tips for getting the very most from your training experience.

Engage with the training and trainer before you start

  1. Make sure you know why the training has been organized. What is the context for the training? And what does your organization / your manager hope you’ll take from the training? Ideally your manager will have shared this with you, but if not then seek it out.  And if for some reason you can’t get an answer before the training stats then get it during or after the training!  If you want to make the most of your training investment, understanding the what’s and why before the training starts is a must [Making most of your TI ebook]
  2. Build clear goals. What would you like to leave with? What questions do you have? What would you like to learn? practice? reflect on? And discuss these with your colleagues too!
  3. Is there anything you as the participants can do before the training to help the trainer/training really go to plan? Is there any information that you’d like to share? Or want them to be aware of?

Choose your attitude

  1. Suspend judgement. You, your manager or your organization has qualified and selected this training (and maybe this particular trainer) so trust that they know what they are doing and let them do it.
  2. Connected to this, the trainer and training is already paid, so adopt a “what can I take from this?” mentality and not a “prove yourself to me” Be curious and be open to learn what you expect and what you may not expect too!
  3. Share your thoughts and feedback with the trainer before it is too late. Don’t wait until the end to tell the trainer you would like them to have done something differently. Don’t adopt a “I don’t want to rock the boat” or “why bother approach”. It could be that the trainer or training can’t give you what you want – but wouldn’t you rather want to know sooner than later rather than sitting there thinking “when will we ..?”
  4. Reinforce the positive – feedback forms have a place, but like anyone trainers like to hear positive feedback as they work. If you find something useful, interesting or enjoyable then openly share this.

Help yourself during the training so you can help yourself later

  1. Organize and write your notes from the outset in a way that will help you make sense of them when you refer back afterwards.
  2. Find and use tools that will help you during the training. If something interests you proactively ask for suggestions for books, websites etc so you can go deeper later
  3. Be honest and open about your problems. Don’t hesitate to ask you trainer to repeat something, explain something again or share more examples.  If you are struggling there’s a good chance one of your colleagues is too!
  4. Look to bring in examples from your day to day life during the training. This helps to make the training more relevant and transferable. It will also help the other participants and the trainer to connect learning to reality.
  5. Ask all your questions. I mean, why wouldn’t you?
  6. Use your breaks to reset and recharge. Don’t try and work for 10 minutes, but instead stretch, get some fresh air, talk to the others.  Network, reflect or recharge.

See the training as the start of something

  1. Review your notes at the end of each day and in a few weeks, to help with transfer and long-term memory. Consider setting up a calendar reminder a month later to revisit the training
  2. Take one concrete action immediately after the training.
  3. Catch up with your colleagues back at the office. Maybe you want t0 schedule lunch with a colleague who was also in the training and review both content and actions since the training.
  4. Commit to one or two transfer steps you will do after the training. Make these concrete and share them with others.

So whether you have an internal or external trainer, you also have a big role to play in getting the very most from your training day.  Let us know if you have any other tips too!

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Business English training: on-the-job training (for the job)

On-the-job (OTJ) training has been a cornerstone in our approach to in-house Business English training since our first InCorporate Trainers started their jobs (one of them was Scott Levey). When we explain the concept of on-the-job training to potential clients, they “understand” what we’re saying … BUT …they don’t really “get” how effective and beneficial on-the-job training is until they have seen it in action. This post aims to explain what it is, how it works, and how participants benefit, using some non-specific examples of on-the-job training.

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The benefits of on-the-job training

OTJ training is highly effective because the training takes place alongside and as part of your daily work. The trainer uses your work situations (your emails, your virtual meetings, your plant tours) as the basis for your learning. On-the-job training takes place at work, while you are working. This brings two huge benefits.

  1. You maximize your time because you are benefiting from training while you are working.
  2. You can directly transfer what you learn to your job. Your training is completely based on a real and concrete task. Everything you learn is relevant.

If you are familiar with the 70-20-10 model, you’ll know that 70% of learning comes through “doing” and from “experience”. Learning while you work is highly effective and this is the heart of on-the-job training.

“I helped Hans to de-escalate a situation in Supply Chain Management. Hans felt that the American party was wound-up and overly difficult. Hans brainstormed phrases with my help and he wrote a draft email. I helped him improve the structure and tone of the email and suggested he rewrote some of his sentences in plain English. A few hours later, the American party positively replied and the whole thing was solved by the time Hans went home.”

What exactly is on-the-job training and how does it work?

With on-the-job training, the trainer is there when you need assistance in preparing emails, specifications, manuals, reports, slides and other documentation. The trainer can support you in the planning, writing and reviewing stage. The trainer is also available to you for preparing meetings, phone calls, web meetings, teleconferences, presentations and negotiations.  They can then shadow you in action and provide personalized and situationally-based feedback.

On-the-job training focuses on your priorities at work and on you improving your business English in those areas. It can be

  • reactive where you ask the trainer for help “Can you help me improve these slides?”
  • proactive where the trainer encourages you to share work you have done/are doing in English “I heard you are involved in writing the R-Spec for the new project. How can I support you?”

“One of my participants, a product manager, had to deliver two presentations in English. It was basically the same presentation, but for two different audiences.  Observing her in our first practice session, I made a note of language points to work on. We worked on these, and a few other things (key messages, adapting messages to different audiences, Q&A session) over the next week. She delivered the presentations to me again, already with much more confidence and fluency – and then she practised with a few colleagues in a weekly group session and benefitted from both their positive feedback and the confidence boost.  Finally, I watched her deliver from the back and she did great.  After the presentations we debriefed and I shared my feedback (what went really well, what would she like to focus more on next time etc) . She was too critical of her performance and I helped her to be realistic about what she needs to focus on.”

What on-the-job training isn’t

What the trainer does not do is write the email/document for you (where’s the learning in that?). One common misconception is that on-the-job trainers are translators or proof readers. They’re not, in the same way that translators and proof readers aren’t trainers. Collaborative proof reading and translation can be an option, but the ownership needs to stay with the learner.

Another misconception is that on-the-job training is traditional “classroom training” during work time. The trainer will certainly use the “insider” view and what they have seen on-the-job to tailor traditional “off the job” training. This means your group training, coaching, 1-1 training, and seminars are closer to your workplace and that the transfer of learning is smoother.  But “on the job” training is learning while actually doing. There’s a good example of how this looks in action in an R&D department here.

“Three of my participants had written a 300-page instruction manual and they came to me with the request to help them improve it. Nobody in their department understood it enough to successfully use the system that it was meant to explain. I told them I would read it. Oh boy. We worked on writing with the reader in mind, structuring documents to make them scannable and writing in plain English. Visuals replaced paragraphs and we even created a few video tutorials too.  Four weeks later, they produced a second manual. Over one hundred pages lighter, it was clear, comprehensive, mistake free, and written in a style that everyone could understand, even me. As a result, the system that was supposed to make everyone’s job easier made everyone’s job easier.”

Bringing on-the-job training to life

We sign confidentiality agreements with our clients. Even when we don’t, we wouldn’t use their actual documentation online, so these examples are non-specific and Hans is not really called Hans … she’s called XXXX.

If you would like to know more about the benefits of this approach, don’t hesitate to contact us.

Meet the “Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse” – and why they matter in your workplace

Since 2015 we’ve been heavily involved in a Management Development program for one of the big 4 accounting firms in Luxembourg. One of the many rewarding aspects of being involved in such large flagship projects, is the chance to co-train with other management trainers and learn from each other. In 2017, thanks to Alexandra D, I discovered John Gottman’s work and since then I’ve seen it help people in and out of work with the relationships that most matter to them. If (like me) you haven’t heard of him, John Gottman is a highly respected psychologist and relationship expert, who with his wife, Julie, leads The Gottman Institute [ https://www.gottman.com/]. Gottman studied relationships between spouses and couples for over two decades and discovered patterns of behaviour that he could use to predict which relationships would not survive with over 90% accuracy.  Although his research and calling focuses exclusively on couples, his thoughts and methods easily transfer to our professional lives and our workplace relationships too!

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Meet the 4 Horsemen (or the 4 team toxins)

Gottman believes that there are 4 negative kinds of behaviour that can destroy relationships. This 2-minute video introduces them nicely.

The four destructive behaviours are:

  • blaming and criticism – attacking your partner’s character, behaviour or personality.
  • defensiveness – seeing yourself as the victim to pre-empt or ward off attacks and blaming others for your failures.
  • contempt – attacking your partner’s sense of self with sarcasm or cynicism to insult or abuse them.
  • stonewalling – withdrawing from the relationship and any meaningful connection.

Gottman calls these 4 destructive behaviours “the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse”. I’ve also heard coaches and trainers rename them “The Four Team Toxins” in an effort to make them sound more business-relevant.

Why the 4 horsemen of the apocalypse matter in the workplace

And let us be honest – we have all probably displayed these 4 toxic behaviours and acted in a toxic way at one time or another. We are human. And whether you want to call them “the 4 horsemen” or “the 4 team toxins”, these behaviours matter in the workplace – and in a very tangible way.

These behaviours are toxic to an effective, respectful and rewarding workplace. If interpersonal relationships are breaking down, you can expect to see the quality of communication deteriorating.  Tasks and projects will take longer, work will be incomplete or below expected standards and, as the behaviours impact productivity, you can expect to see poor results.  Motivation, commitment and team spirit will all suffer, and destructive conflicts will increase. And at its worst you’ll see stress, illness and good people leaving because “They’ve just had enough”. If you want to drive performance, you need to tackle them head on.

So, what can managers do about the 4 Horsemen of the Apocalypse?

“Ok, some people aren’t as nice as others, that’s life … but as an Audit manager what should I do? I’m a manager not a counsellor.”

 – Marcel, Manager in Audit & Assurance

Every professional who cares about their relationships with others will benefit from exploring the 4 Horsemen by …

  • being able to recognize when you are behaving negatively.
  • learning to consciously shift your mindset when necessary.

Whether toxic behaviour is a common occurrence or a thankfully rare phenomenon, great managers need to …

  • be able to recognize when others are behaving negatively.
  • learn to help others understand their behaviours and the impact it may have.
  • be able to tackle difficult conversations with both individuals and teams.
  • learn to help others stop negative spirals and have a fighting chance of turning toxic relationships around.

In parts 2 and 3 of this blog we will explore how this can be achieved but to close, here are 5 practical tips to get you started…

  1. Take responsibility for your own feelings. This starts with you consistently building self-awareness and reflection into your actions. Focus on who you want to be and how you want to be … regardless of what the other person does or says. This is tough but immensely powerful.
  2. Practice curiosity – ask yourself “What is actually happening here?”, “What am I missing?”, “How have I contributed to this situation?” and “What will help us through this?”
  3. Do not make assumptions and openly check your findings. This will help increase others’ willingness to listen and engage in healthy conflict.
  4. Deposit into other people’s emotional bank accounts and feed positivity into your relationships: regularly have appreciative conversations and look to show recognition.
  5. And when you do see toxic behaviours between team members, tackle them.

When bulls collide – why senior managers need to master using influence instead of power

Over the past year we’ve been working on 3 leadership projects with plant managers across Europe and the US. These projects have involved coaching talented operational managers on the verge of promotion to a more strategic level. For many of these managers this is a surprisingly tough jump. They are now no longer the sole “go-to “decision maker for their teams. Now they need to get the buy-in of their superiors and peers as part of getting their job done. … they need to influence others.
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Moving from a telling to an asking approach when influencing

For managers with a telling or “push” influencing style, this transition creates a particular challenge as they need to move from a “telling” to an “asking” approach when influencing others. Those used to telling others what to do are generally used to quick decisions and immediate actions. Until now they have relied on their “power”… and have been relatively successful so far in their careers!  Their power can come from:

  • organizational authority (“I’m the plant manager” )
  • expert status (“I’ve got 15 years of experience in this area”)
  • information power (“I was involved in this from the very beginning “)
  • or just sheer charisma (“I know you’ll follow me”)

Indeed, quite often the manager is so used to exercising power that they don’t know the difference between power and influencing. Part of our role in the training is to help them see the tangible differences between “I want you to do X and you do it. How you feel about it is secondary.” (power) and  “ I know you’ll do what needs to be done because you want to do it and believe it is the right thing to do.”  (influencing).

When bulls collide and why influencing by power stops being effective

Imagine two bulls colliding and locking horns. When two push-style leaders try to share the same operational space, problems can come up. During training and coaching we’ve heard this expressed as “He doesn’t listen to me”, “She discounts my expertise” and “It’s his way or no way”.  When we’ve dug deeper and asked them how they have tried to influence the others, we often find they are solely relying on a directive or persuasive style of influencing (push styles) – as opposed to a collaborative or visionary style (pull styles).

Why different influencing styles matter

As part of our influencing training we work with clients to help them understand and use different influencing styles. No style is better or worse than another – each has its strengths and weaknesses, and each has its place.  However, as Dale Carnegie so visually described in How to win friends and influence people applying one style to every situation is like “fishing with strawberries” … in other words ineffective and ultimately pointless.  As the managers move to a more strategic role and need to deliver results in cooperation with other senior managers they need to develop different influencing styles. They need to sometimes “ask” and not just “tell” – to “pull” and not just “push”, and to let go of getting things done through their “power” alone. So what to do?

Stop “telling” and start “asking” – 5 practical steps to influence other senior managers

As Marshall Goldsmith coined “What got you here, won’t get you there”. Relying on power alone won’t deliver the commitment needed for individual and organizational success. Senior managers need to master influencing as they climb.

  • Acknowledging that the style and methods you are used to using aren’t working is a first big step. This may feel uncomfortable and sometime this can take far longer than you might expect!
  • Being willing to try something different is the second. A simple tip is to always present more than one good option. If you are trying to influence somebody who is also a directive “push” influencer, keep in mind that (like you) they really dislike being boxed in with only one alternative. One alternative feels like an order. If you hear yourself saying “We have to…” or “Our only real option is…” it means you are probably still relying on your power.
  • Put yourself in their shoes and try to find out what is important to your counterpart and include it in your reasoning. Let the other person know that you are trying to use their frame of reference. If you don’t know their interests and what they value, it is important to find out. Let him know that his success matters to you too. This blog post offers questions to consider as you try to understand your counterpart.
  • Know what you can control, can influence and need to accept [https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/control-influence-accept.htm]. Expand your influencing zone by developing more influencing tools.
  • And then consider what you are going to say and how you will say it. This blog post on Linking and building to successfully influence others is worth your time.

If you would like to know more about how we have successfully provided influencing training in face-to-face and virtual delivery formats across Europe and beyond then don’t hesitate to contact us.

Virtual training v. face-to-face training: How does it compare?

James Culver is a partner at Target Training Gmbh and has 25 years of experience in delivering customized training solutions. His career has encompassed being a HR Training Manager, a Major in the US Army National Guard and a lecturer at the International School of Management. He’s also a talented percussionist and storyteller. In the final part of this series of blog posts on Virtual Training delivery, he answered the following questions…

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You have 25 years’ experience in training delivery. When did you start delivering virtual training?

James Since the 90s. In the United States we started very early with virtual delivery in the community college system. We often had remote sites of small groups of students who still wanted to take advantage of the kinds of courses that we would offer on the main campus, so we started delivering virtual training . When I started working with virtual training it was extremely expensive to do some of this work. Our system was basically a camera set-up and the professor or the trainer was just speaking to the camera. There was very little interaction available with the other sites and it was like TV school.

How would you say that virtual delivery compares with face-to-face delivery?

James There are probably two things to think about. One is the content that one delivers and the other is the context. By context I mean everything that surrounds the content. How things are being done, who is interacting with whom and how they are interacting – the richness of the communication. As far as content is concerned, the topic that’s covered, the information that’s shared, I’d say virtual delivery and face-to-face delivery compare quite favourably. In fact, the virtual platforms that we use at Target Training are tailor made for delivering lots of content in interesting ways. It’s very easy to add videos, recordings, to have whiteboards etc. For example, if we have content that is pre-prepared on a slide and made available to people, they can annotate it, they can put questions there etc. That’s really, really easy on a virtual platform.

What is harder most of the time is everything that we get from being in the same room as someone. Facial expression change, body language changes. We often don’t see or get that in a virtual environment, even with the market-leading systems. The challenge as a trainer is that we risk missing  a large chunk of the information that we would get from participants in a classic face-to-face training session. That is a major challenge. As a trainer in face-to-face training I have a feel for how things are going because I’m in the room. It’s much more difficult to have a feel for how things are going, when you’re in a virtual environment. And you need that “feel” so you can adjust and give the participants the best possible learning experience.

What are your workaround strategies for that?

James There are workaround strategies and through external and internal training and on-the-job experience our  trainers use them. One strategy is that you have to ask a lot of open and closed ‘check questions.’ Questions like “Are you with me?”, “Is that clear?”, “So what are the key points you’re taking from this?”, “What are your questions so far?” Experienced virtual trainers will ask those kinds of questions every 2 to 3 minutes.  Essentially, as a trainer you have a 2 to 3 minute time limit for your input before you ask a check question, and the check questions should be both open to the group and targeted at an individual too.

Which training themes lend themselves best to virtual delivery and which don’t?

James The themes that lend themselves best to virtual delivery are those that are more content focused – for example classic presentation skills training or presentations delivered virtually.  These types of training solutions focus on input, tips, do’s and don’ts, best practice sharing and then practice-feedback -practice – feedback etc.

Another theme that works very well for us when delivered virtually is virtual team training, whether it be working in virtual teams or leading virtual teams. By their very nature, virtual teams are dispersed so the virtual delivery format fits naturally. Plus, you are training them using the tools they need to master themselves. And of course, another benefit is if the training is for a specific virtual team the shared training experience strengthens the team itself.

The types of training solutions that are more challenging when delivered virtually are those where we are trying to change ourselves or others. Topics such as assertiveness or self-efficiency need to be thought through and developed carefully if they are going to be more than an information dump. Here the coaching aspect is far more important.

Finally, and perhaps surprisingly, management and leadership training can work really well when done virtually. Our Driving Performance solution is a good example of this. The secret here is to emphasize the bite-sized learning, provide additional resources outside the session e.g. flipped classrooms with relevant videos and articles, and provide opportunities for one-on-one conversations too.

More on virtual delivery

Please see the posts below, or start here.

 

5 things you can do to make virtual training a success

E-learning has been around since 1960 and the “virtual meeting room” is not a new idea either. Many companies already have experience with learning via online platforms or mobile learning, and already have some type of tool to meet and collaborate virtually.  The jump from meeting virtually to training virtually seems simple – and it is, if you carefully consider what it will take to make the virtual training successful. Here are a few things we have learned during 7 years of virtual delivery. The posts 5 questions you definitely need to ask when you are setting up a virtual training program and getting started with virtual delivery have more information on this topic.

Work with a trainer who can design, deliver and debrief with confidence in a virtual environment

Clients come to us with the experience they have with face-to-face training. They know what they can achieve in a one-day seminar and they are looking to transfer this experience to a virtual training environment. However, not everything is directly transferable. In a face-to-face session a trainer observes, reacts and adapts on the fly. They constantly monitor what’s working, and what isn’t, what people are getting and what not etc. In a way, the trainer “feels” how the training is going. With virtual delivery, trainers have less opportunity to do that.  A common response for the trainer is to focus a lot more on the content rather than the training dynamics … which can turn the training into a lecture.

Virtual training demands trainers with new skills, qualifications and experience. You need an experienced trainer who can design, deliver and debrief with confidence in a virtual environment.

Create time for interactions

As touched upon above, in a face-to-face seminar it’s easy and natural for interactions to occur – either with the trainer or between participants.  When you deliver training virtually this becomes much harder. Don’t assume that interaction will occur easily. It’s much more challenging for groups to actually get together and get a feel for each other in a virtual environment. An experienced and qualified trainer finds workarounds: Interactions are planned, activities are scripted carefully and more time is allocated for group and pair activities.

Keep the training groups small

The difficulty level of enabling and encouraging interaction means that smaller groups (not larger groups) are a must in a virtual environment. Our experience is if you want to go beyond knowledge transfer to building skills and changing behaviours, a group of 6 is ideal. The more participants you have beyond 6, the harder the interaction becomes, and the more likely it is that somebody tunes out and/or starts multi-tasking – and the more time the trainer needs to spend on monitoring and controlling the technical environment and not focusing on the individuals themselves.

For groups above 8 you should use a skilled and experienced “producer”. A producer supports the trainer in managing the virtual environment, monitoring interactions, setting up breakout rooms and maintaining speed, flow and interaction etc.  An experienced technical producer can easily enable the trainer to work with 12+ participants.

Deliver several sessions of max. 2.5 hours instead of one long session

A full day face-to-face seminar won’t translate into a full-day virtual seminar. People can’t concentrate for that long in a virtual environment. Our experience is that 2 – 2 ½ hours is the maximum length for a single session. This means that you should be thinking about three 2-hour virtual sessions to equal one day of face-to-face training.  You can cover a similar amount of training in the same time BUT if you are delivering the training virtually you have to redesign the approach and split it up and break it down.

Plan carefully, when working with multiple time zones

One benefit of virtual training is that anyone anywhere can join. We encourage you not to get carried away with that. It may save you money but you will lose the full effectiveness of the training. In our experience, it’s a huge challenge for the participants and the trainer when some are joining at six in the morning, some during the post-lunch lull, and some at six in the evening. Respecting people’s concentration spans and environments will pay off in the end.

 


For more information

If you are new to virtual delivery, looking to ramp up your virtual delivery or interested in making your virtual training more interactive and valuable then find an experienced partner or a consultant. We could be the one for you, who knows. If you’re thinking of starting with virtual training put out an RFP, be clear about what you want to achieve and ask for suppliers to tell you what you need in order to make it work.