Real Life Learning

Tag: Learning Technology; Facilitation;Training

Developing Team Leaders

When people move into their first management role it is big shift into a role where their expertise is no longer their technical skills but in their ability to work with others. Christine with Group final
I have observed that some team leaders just hope that the team will look after itself and get on with their technical work. This is often one of the causes of complaints from team members about their team leader not listening or caring.

Traditionally a short “Introduction to Team Leading” course might be offered but the difficulty was this was the although the course was enjoyable the learning was rarely reinforced. This is why it helps to create some blended learning options that will combine input of new skills and knowledge with practical work tasks.

Blended Learning OverviewThis simple diagram shows how three elements can sit together to provide a richness of learning. The final design is often a bit more complex than this because it can involve on-line elements, self assessment and peer assessment.

It is a real benefit to bring a group of team leaders together to work on a learning programme. By sharing their experiences with each other they discover that they are not alone in finding it a challenge to make the transition into management.

It is sad that so much more investment is provided for senior leadership development when the people who often have more day-to-day contact with employees get neglected!

 

 

When approaching team leader development these are some of the main areas you need to build into your development programmes:

  • opportunities to share the experiences of being a team leaders with peers
  • create honest and open feedback between the team leader, their manager and their peers
  • focus on the topics of current concern to your team leaders in your business – ask them what they want to cover, don’t just accept a standard menu of items.
  • different ways of learning will appeal to different people, create a richer mix of options including using your on-line resources
  • set expectations about implementing the learning by creating assessed work tasks
  • offer opportunities for reflections – both with peers and via a coach or mentor
  • make sure your senior management team are role modelling the behaviour they want from the team leaders!

You can follow-up this article by reading an outline proposal for a blended learning programme.

 

 

When do we know it is time to learn new tricks?

In some of the recent commentary about the sacking of Martin O’Neil from Sunderland Football Club a theme seemed to be that the methods he had always successfully used were no longer working and did not have the same impact.

This has made me reflect on how easy it is as we get older and more experienced in our careers to continue using the skills that worked before. Most professionals will find a method that works in most situations and we are employed for our experience in the past of successfully using that method.

But what happens when it no longer works as well? Do we notice the change? Do we blame circumstances in our context for the lack of result or do we take a big step back and review whether we need to completely overhaul our approach?

This weekend I was at the MOL CIPD tutor conference and another tutor asked me what I thought about Smart Boards. I was fairly negative about their usefulness but the real answer is that I don’t know much about them!  I have never needed to get to grips with them. My old and familiar methods work well, and most of my corporate clients do not have rooms equipped with anything smarter than a projector and a flip-chart. This is a classic example where we can deny that we might need to learn new tricks!

Tips for Refreshing Your Skills

  1.  Be honest about your own evaluation of your practice. Ask yourself if you are getting the same good results as you got a year/a decade ago and be open to exploring the answer.
  2. Do a review of other people in your profession and find out what they are doing and identify any tips from this.
  3. Watch out for all those things you automatically dismiss and revisit those reactions with an open mind. I did a course on Twitter two years ago after dismissing Twitter as unnecessary to my profession, it was a revelation to me. I can see I am going to need to do a similar U Turn on Whiteboards!
  4. Try to make small differences in your existing practices, they might not work but you will find the experience of designing, implementing and reflecting on these changes will make you more consciously competent.
  5. Spend time with children. My nephew is 9 and provides me with valuable insights on the future generation of learners.

What other tips can you add to the top five? How do you keep on top of your skills and keep learning new tricks to future proof your career?

Banish Boring Training

Banish Boring Training Sessions

One of the areas of my work that I love the most is when I meet a trainer who says that they have a programme to design that is on a really challenging topic which they are finding hard to bring to life. A recent example I am working on is Assessing Credit Risk in Professional Practice. I can tell that you are already looking excited about this topic! You probably want to sign up now for me to run the session for your team. But just in case this topic doesn’t fill you with heart felt joy then read on and see how you might approach a seemingly dull subject like this.

If you are already excited and want to book a place check out my clients website!

http://www.cmlawltd.com/contact-us.php

The main challenge that the trainer faces is resisting the feeling that face to face sessions must be used to explain the legislation and guidance. Face to face time is too precious to waste by verbalising what would work as a set of hand-outs or a self-explanatory slide show. We have to move away from the idea that we have to verbalise stuff for it to be learning. I can read a lot quicker than you can talk so just let me get on with the reading or give me an audio podcast to listen to. Please don’t just stand there talking at me!

There are ways you can use the time with people in a room so much more effectively than talking at them..

Tip 1: Separate background knowledge from discussion and stimulation

  • Provide in advance a set of self- explanatory Powerpoint slides to work as a slide show. Avoid using lots of bullets, try using different visuals to bring this material to life.
  • Create an attractive detailed written guide to the legislation and guidance.
  • Create on line learning questionnaires to check knowledge before or after.

Tip 2: Engage people with the topic

  • Its about hearts and minds so find reasons for people to listen. I once used real press releases about breaches in data protection to get people to realise how serious it can be when it all goes wrong.
  • Run a face to face group session which encourages participants to discuss a range of different scenarios and to explore the consequences of breaches in the legislation.
  • Work with the group to generate some tips to create a check list to use when assessing risk
  • Create some fact cards using the information in your hand-out pack and get participants to use these cards to assess typical situations they may face. An example I created for the credit management course was selecting the best search to do when your organisation has no budget for credit checking.

Tip 3: Brief Everyone about the Training

  • Make sure everyone in the organisation knows about the training and what you are planning to cover. This will help to ensure that the right people attend and that they know why they are attending the training.
  • In your publicity talk about the benefits of attending the training, in the case of credit management it will save your organisation taking on a client who never pays their bill!

The most important thing is about the commitment of the leadership to the training, leaders can have a big influence on training being seen as more than just a “one hit, big tick” event. Effective leaders will make sure that the training becomes part of the way that things are done and provides a safe place for practice and follow up to happen. The trainer can do wonderful tricks to make most topics come alive but if the training is not taken seriously in the organisation then there is no return on the investment and this must be the most boring message for organisations to get!

If having read this you want to attend a programme on Credit Risk Assessment for Chambers and Law Firms then you can book a place at

http://www.cmlawltd.com/contact-us.php

www.bellthompson.co.uk

Steps in Facilitation 2 – Images and Metaphors

Preeti distributing image cardsFor the second of my mentoring sessions with Preeti I decided to keep with the subject of data collection and explore a more sophisticated technique to the standard Post It sort we had used in the previous session.

The brain dump onto Post It notes works really well when everyone can easily articulate their thoughts but sometimes you want something deeper to be explored and the conventional brain dump can end up being a mass of slightly meaningless unconnected words.

We explored using visual imagery as a trigger to an initial dialogue and looked at how you might use this in different settings. I used a set of visual cards from St Lukes Resources. http://tiny.cc/stlukescards

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Facilitation is More Than Having Fun with Post Its

Yesterday I worked with a group of facilitators. We are working on a project to create a high level accredited pathway in facilitation. The first activity we worked on as a team was to share all the different tools, techniques and models that we each use within our own facilitation practices. The photo below demonstrates the wealth of experience that we shared.

 

Tools Techniques and Models for Facilitation

Tools Techniques and Models for Facilitation

What was great about the experience was that we had created an atmosphere of trust between us so that we could ask each other to explain tools which we were not sure of. This is a significant step amongst professional groups; I have often observed a tendency for people to cover up their lack of knowledge because they don’t want to be seen as lacking by their peers. This creation of trust meant that we were willing to explore the ideas put onto the board and to test if they were models, tools or techniques or should we define it as a theoretical underpinning.

 The chart that emerged of the theory we were using as facilitators to inform our practice grew as the activity went on. We all shared stories of “bad facilitation” where an individual used a tool without the underpinning knowledge. This often happens when an inexperienced facilitator sees a tool in use or reads about it and quickly jumps to implementation stage without a deeper consideration of whether this is the right tool for the desired outcome and for the group they are working with.

 Sometimes it is easy to dismiss facilitation as “messing about with Post It notes” and “having fun with groups” and it is this approach to facilitation which we are setting out to challenge. This means facilitators having a deeper understanding of the different models but also being willing to spend time understanding more complex theoretical underpinnings to our work.

 One of the topics we talked about was Appreciative Inquiry. This is another example of a technique which can be used inappropriately and can lead to a frustration when it fails to deliver the promise. I came across a great blog:

http://aiconsult.wordpress.com/2009/07/14/appreciative-inquiry-better-ways-of-doing-the-design-stage/#comment-29

What I really liked about this blog is the attention that is given to what happens with all the data collected in the first stages of a facilitated event. This is one of the areas that I want to study as part of my quest for qualification. I can see lots of techniques for generating data and the way we do this is often creative, engaging and inspiring but then I watch people get lost as the data is reduced to something more manageable for an action plan. It is great to see some practical examples of how this stage is tackled for one specific method.

 Christine Bell – Bellthompson Ltd

Learning in Ukraine

Last week I was in Ukraine running a leadership programme for software engineers. The programme I ran was based on a programme I had run for the company in the UK and so one of the challenges was adapting this programme for a younger, less experienced group of leaders and where English would be the second language. The common challenge would be that they were a group of intelligent engineers who were now taking on a leadership role and would be leading teams of talented intelligent engineers so it was important that the materials I used were not too basic or designed for simple instruction giving styles of management.

 As I wrote and rewrote the materials I realised how often we use idioms when explaining concepts in English. I also realised that my standard handouts were not always clearly written in the best grammar! It took me many hours to get each handout to an acceptable standard and even them my client in the UK was able to identify further improvements to the grammar and sentence structure so that we could ensure clarity of understanding!

 Working with the group was a wonderful experience, from the beginning the group were willing to get involved and to communicate with each other. They valued the participative nature of the workshop. It would seem that their previous experience of training was based on listening to a talk given by an expert so my approach, which is much more facilitative, was totally unexpected. It was the first time I have returned to my room at lunchtime to find participants excitedly showing other colleagues their work on the walls of the room.

 One of the challenges for me when facilitating the groups was that when they worked on activities they would naturally communicate with each other in Russian. This meant that I missed overhearing some of the discussions which they were having. It did make me aware how much we pick up through non verbal communication, I could usually assess if a group needed help before I asked them. I also wished I had learnt more Russian, my basic phrases were helpful in navigating the city but more words would have increased my ability to pick up concerns early on in the process.

 At the end of each day I made sure that we reviewed the tools we had used during the day. This was an interesting experience as it gave me some insight into the tools that they felt they could apply, and not just what I thought I had “taught”. Using visual imagery was a tool which they felt that they could use to influence their teams and I was impressed about how they were able to use visual images to express a vision for team meetings.

 There was a real sense of sadness when we finished the training and a marked reluctance to leave the room; this was a contrast to some sessions in the UK where there is a speedy walk to the door as soon as you have completed the workshop closing statement!

 Lots of my friends and contacts have been very curious about the experience of actually working in Ukraine. I was based in the east of the country and I had very little knowledge of the country before going out there and had never worked or visited further East than Prague. I realised how many stereotypes I had absorbed without realising it and how I expected the people and the place to be very different to the UK. In fact what I observed on this limited visit was a lot of similarity and some differences.

 The emerging nature of the nation grappling with its infrastructural investment was clearly evident; the roads are in a bad condition in the city. The walking experience was much better than in some more “developed” cities. The walk back to my hotel was along a major duel carriageway, something I would avoid in the UK but it was really pleasant due to the wide nature of the pavement which was tree lined on both sides. The park was full of life and was a hub of activity with all different generations represented. Again the amount of trees was beyond my expectations; somehow I expected a more Soviet style grey uniform.

 

Another useful insight came one evening over dinner. I was talking with two of my Ukrainian colleagues about the need for courage in the business world. I often use the tale of “The Emperors New Clothes” to illustrate this point. My colleagues had not heard of the tale of the Emperor but when I explained it some more they knew it as “The King’s Clothes” and their story involved a rather stupid western King, I realised that our story involves a rather stupid Eastern Emperor, and this realisation that it was the same but different was a good insight into our joint understanding.

www.bellthompson.co.uk

Learning Technologies – Using Photographs to Enhance Learning

One of the requests I hate to get from events is “can you type up the flipcharts?” This request means that I have to carry lots of paper with me and then balance it on my desk as I try to type it into some kind of coherent order.  With the aid of Google’s excellent free on line photo album, Picasa (www.picasa.google.co.uk) I no longer need to do this.

 As I facilitate a group I take photographs as we go along of any “outputs” This could include activities involving sticky notes, it could be group activities where each group has written their own flipchart and it could be flipcharts I have written in response to suggestions from the group.

 When I get back to my office I upload the photographs into Picasa on my computer and I can crop the photographs to eliminate bits of door, window which are unlikely to enhance the learning. I then upload the photographs to the web albums and create a private album for that group. I can put captions and messages with the pictures so that they give more explanation if needed. I can put the photographs in an order which helps make sense of the learning.

 I can then send a link to the album in a follow up email to the participants. If individuals want to use the outputs in a report they can either insert the photographs or they can use the photographs to make their own transcript of the event. Only the recipients of the link can view the photographs and I do stressed this when checking at the beginning if they are ok if I take photographs.

 One of the additional benefits to keeping on line albums for each group is for my own professional development. I was reviewing some of my albums last week and I could see themes emerging in the way I was working with groups, over the last 2 years my outputs have become more visually orientated.

 I presented a conference last year and it was sponsored by 3M. This introduced me to the world of the Large Post It note, some of the ones I was given were A6 size. http://solutions.3m.co.uk/wps/portal/3M/en_GB/Post-Its/Post-It/Products/LargePostIt/

They are in amazing vibrant colours and really do stick to the walls. I think having these in my tool kit has opened up some different approaches to team facilitation than the old style “brain dump” onto Post It Notes.

 I have also been using image cards from St.Lukes Resources http://www.innovativeresources.org/ which are beautiful and enable groups to explore visual metaphors. It is fascinating to see this change in my portfolio so I recognise that the Picasa albums are part of my Continuing Professional Development log as well as being a great way of helping groups to keep a visual record and from enabling me to politely say “no I don’t type up flipcharts but I do provide a visual record”.

  www.bellthompson.co.uk to see some of my albums

Learning Technology – Google Groups and Learning Groups

In the past if I was working with a group and they wanted to stay in touch after the programme we would exchange email addresses but beyond this is was  little random. It was the same with longer programmes where there was often no real contact between participants in between the sessions. I have found Google Groups to be an easy way to help create a community of learners.

With Google Groups you can set the group up so that it is a private group and invite the participants to join. Your role is of a moderator for the group which often means encouraging contributions. Individuals will often want to stay in touch or communicate between sessions but forget to do so, reminders from the moderator can help with this.

 The Group format enables participants to share files and to post updates on their progress. This works really well for action learning groups. As a moderator you can watch the progress of the group and see what materials they engage with after the programme. You can also post up new material to share with the group.

 If the group has been set up to support a longer running programme it is a way of checking on progress before the session and it prompts individuals to prepare for the session.

 To set up a Google Group you will need to have a Google “sign in”. This doesn’t mean that you have to sign up to Google mail, you can just use a normal email address and a password. You can opt to be emailed every time someone adds to the group which is helpful if you are moderating a group so that you can respond quickly if there is a problem.

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Learning Technologist – Finding TED

I discovered TED about 2 years ago and it is an amazing source for people who want to learn about leadership. TED stands for Technology, Entertainment and Design and is an invite only event where some of the world’s most influential people give talks on a variety of themes.

The first level I use TED for is to recommend particular topics to individuals who are exploring different leadership skills. A current example is the talk by John Wooden talking about coaching. He is reflecting on a life time of coaching in the sports environment and there are some great insights which could be relevant to a manager wanting to be a more effective coach.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/498

The second level is to look at a variety of speakers on TED and identify what they do to make their presentations effective and how they influence the audience. What techniques do they use? How do they seek to influence their peers to their viewpoint at the conference. An example is the talk by Captain Charles Moore about the impact of waste on the oceans. He is not the most entertaining of speakers but he has some great examples of how he has influenced people to think about the impact of waste on oceans.

http://www.ted.com/talks/view/id/470

The talks on TED are about 20 minutes so it is realistic for individuals to make the time to watch one, reflect on it and then report back in the next learning session about their insights.

The third way to use the TED site is to browse through the site and see the themes which are emerging as core issues for our times, this can be a helpful way of identifying current and maybe future trends. I use this when working with leadership teams on innovation and creativity, just asking them to click and browse and report back findings can be the basis of a really interesting session.

Being a Learning Technologist

As increasing amounts of content are available on line the role of the traditional chalk and talk trainer needs to be questioned. Is the new role more about facilitating learning through the use of technology?
I have always been uncomfortable with the idea of the traditional trainer who stands with a set of prepared materials and “trains” people. During my career I have had to do this type of work and often I was conscious that I knew only a tiny bit more about the topic than the slides and handouts contained but could be safe in the knowledge at the participants in the group would know little more than me. I heard a story yesterday about a trainer who was given some materials to deliver the night before the training session and was about 3 slides ahead of the group. This seems to reduce the role of the trainer to someone who can read slides in an animated way and ask a few open ended questions to stimulate debate. In hotels and training centres around the country this type of training is still going on.

When I am working with a group of people I like to focus on using the time to discuss and debate the issues. This may be around some core content materials but I think we can do more than just provide a package of set reading materials. I am starting to establish a new role for myself as a learning technologist. I facilitate people to find the information that they need by introducing them to useful sites, exploring podcasts, setting up groups and using forum boards to explore challenges that they are facing. The group of people I am working with suddenly expands to incorporate input not just from me and the people in the group but from people all over the world.

I am going to focus over the next few weeks on sharing some of these sites which I think offer valuable content for learning about a variety of topics and would welcome suggestions from others about sites which I could feature in the future.

 

 

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