Do You Want a Good Training Course or a Training Course That Does Good?

I earn my crust by running training courses and facilitating development events, of course I want people to think that I am “good” at what I do. It’s important professionally and of course I want them to buy me back! I want them to see me as unflappable, focused and reliable in the way that I manage a bunch of their employees. In short, they need me to be “on it” when it comes to group management – keeping people focused and working hard, dealing effectively with any disruptive miscreants in the ranks!

I am less sure that the courses that look good always do good though. A polished performance and an attentive audience appears professional, however sometimes learning is simply messy and the process of hearing, internalising and discussing new things can appear really shambolic! If I am entirely honest, I am probably guilty of making this worse – stirring the soup to really get people going, albeit in safe, comfortable and constructive way. In this post I would like to look at five reasons a messy course can be a course that does good and how we as trainers can promote this.

1.     Learning is often unlearning. As adults we have extensive experience of the world, including our workplace. Being offered new information often presents us with a challenge to what we already know – things that may believe in, hold dear and are perhaps invested. To take on this new way of doing things, there will inevitably be a struggle as we test out unfamiliar approaches. I have seen participants look genuinely distressed by this as they consider if they need to “let go” of previous beliefs.

Trainers Tip: I often suggest that people shouldn’t be easily convinced by what I am talking about – in the hope that they can really test out the learning. I tell them that it’s ok to disagree. I also reassure people that we’ll have time to chew over these issues throughout the event.

2.     Learning is an emotional business. We know that, for many people, their kinaesthetic response to new material is as important as their intellectual process. They need to get a feel for what is going on, often in a physical manner as well as an emotional one. We may hear occasionally intemperate language, a delegate’s body language may change and their voice tone may indicate strong feelings – irritation and even anger being common.

Trainers Tip: Demonstrating listening to delegates, even when they are behaving in a way that we wish they wouldn’t! Acknowledging their feelings, asking what would help them, asking them to think about times in the past when they have successfully taken on something new. Remember that the purpose of questions in this context is to encourage thought rather than elicit information.

3.    Learning is “Bouncy”. I’m sure that we’ve all had similar experiences. We ask someone a probing question, one that really gets him or her thinking. Their eyes dart around the room, reflecting the brain activity in their heads. Their limbs jerk, their eyebrows twitch, their fingers drum on the nearest surface. This indicates an effective whole body response to the learning challenge. They’re really engaged and motivated in the pursuit of understanding. NOW introduce a group. If we take the example of the person above, with thoughts and ideas “bouncing” around their body and imagine this process repeated between people as well as within them. Now that is messy. People are talking across the room, several conversations at once, while the poor ignored trainer is trying to move them on to the next slide exercise!

Trainer Tip: Enjoy it! Easier said than done I know but if people are really into something relevant, why not let them even if it throws your programme out a bit. Bringing them back just say “thank you everyone” until they start noticing you again! Sometimes the best thing we can do when delegates are learning is to stay out of their way!

4.    Learners take over. Adults love to be in control of their own lives, including their work. In training events this may include a challenge to the trainer, to the content of the course, the skills on offer or even the trainers competence! This is a miserable situation for us, we pride ourselves in trying our best and standing in front of a room full of strangers or our peers or colleagues is a vulnerable position to be in. This position almost always goes unrecognised by delegates who think that you are either 1) an “expert” or 2) someone pretending to be one.

Trainers Tip. Remember that this is normal. We have to allow people control otherwise we will have a fight on our hands adn attempts to “wrestle” control back can be disastrous! Use the language of invitation and request. Remember that once goodwill has left the room, then all the delegates might as well too.

5.    Courses are social events first, learning events second. I don’t often tell my clients this, as they really don’t like it. Understandably they didn’t spend all that money on buying me in, hiring the venue, paying for the refreshments and the delegates’ attendance for you all to have a jolly good time! Of course not, but nevertheless delegates are often keen to link-up on courses, it may be a rare opportunity to connect with people they don’t often see.

Trainers Tip.  Factor it in. Get them chatting in the introduction in a way that’ll help them to check in with others. Don’t be too dictatorial in your management of exercises, allowing an element of chat, particularly in the early stages of the course. Deal with any over-focus on sociability with humour and invite delegates to re-focus on the subject under discussion.


Good luck everyone!

Balancing Purpose and Process

Like many training consultants I’m asked to deliver training to assist organisations implement and area of work that is important to them – often these initiatives begin with a drive to something new and improved and are implemented through guidance, policy and procedure to help ensure that everyone does what they are supposed to do. In other words we begin with a purpose and then design process to help implement our purpose. Nothing wrong with that and indeed it makes sense, however we all know how purposes somehow get lost as we degenerate into making sure that the right paperwork gets filled in.

There are loads of examples. I have lost count of the number of Performance Appraisal schemes I have helped implement. You know the story – low level of compliance in the old scheme so let’s have another! Usually there’s a dizzying swing from light touch scheme’s (not enough info) and detailed schemes (too paperwork heavy). After a while of working with this it began to dawn on me that some organisations had great working cultures where staff were listened to and their priorities were explained and feedback given but had no appraisal scheme, whilst other firms had a top flight scheme but no conversations between leaders and staff took place. We might have great process but if we’ve lost the purpose then we might as well not bother.

I am currently working with an agency which has updated its safeguarding policy and procedures. It’s very refreshing. Yes they have a built in compliance process which ensure that staff are asking about children, recording what they find out and passing the information to the child protection authorities if necessary. They are also ensuring that staff are reminded of the purpose of the process. They are doing this through refreshed supervision expectations, upgrading manager’s skills to encourage confident conversations about the dilemmas of this work. They have made a commitment to supporting staff when there are disagreements with other organisations. Their planned evaluation of the new initiative, includes asking other agencies about the success of the initiative as well forming part of their service user satisfaction survey.

Purpose is not just for the start – we have to relentlessly remind people of this if they are not just “tick boxes”. To paraphrase Mr Covey – not just to do the right thing, but to do the right thing, right.

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