Real Life Learning

Tag: Learning

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.

 

 

Adult Learners and Choice – the Snow Question

Any trainer will tell you that when snow starts to fall in the UK your training plans are likely to get put under strain.
Initially there are the messages checking that the course is still running or telling you about delays expected to journeys. Once having got people to the session the next challenge is to keep people focused on the content and not on the snow outside.
One of the things that constantly amuses my European colleagues, particularly in places like Austria and Ukraine, is how a few centimetres of snow can put the entire country into a severe state of emergency. Holding a training session in this context can be a real challenge.
I was faced with this situation in two sessions recently during the January Big Snow event. My client had left it up to me to decide on whether to continue or not as the snow continued to fall outside. I decided to give my groups choices. I explained that I was able to stay until the scheduled close time and was happy to do so but that I knew some of the group would be worried about getting home. I explained what we were going to cover in the course and how they might catch up on this content in other ways. I then simply handed them the choice. They could check in on the transport advice on their phones at breaks and make their own decisions about when they wanted to leave.
I was really conscious that if you are stressing about your journey home you are unlikely to be learning so I explained to the group that I did not want them to feel stressed but equally I did not want them to miss out on the learning from this session. I made it clear that it would be ok if they needed to leave and that this was a choice that they could make for themselves at any point during the day.
On both days the sessions finished at the normal time with the whole group present. Our groups left the building in eerie silence as it seems we were the only groups who took this choice to stay. In other sessions in this period the various organisers made the decision for the group and announced an early finish. This could have been of course because the organisers needed to get home but I wondered how much of it is because we feel we need to “look after” our learners and forget that the principles of adult learning is about giving the learner responsibility for their decisions. Our role is to support, encourage but not to take over. The snow example showed me that learners can often surprise you when you pass over responsibility to them. I really didn’t expect that all the learners would choose to stay. That they choose to stay reinforced how valuable these group sessions are to the learners.

Can we learn leadership lessons from the Tour de France

Four  Leadership Lessons from the Tour

When the Tour de France came to London I caught the pro-cycling bug and started to grasp the fundamentals of pro-cycling which until that point I had not fully understood. Like all trainers I use stories and anecdotes to explain my learning points. These stories have to be real and have to come from your own passion so it is only natural that the Tour starts to seep into my leadership and trainer development programmes.

Lesson One: It’s All About the Team

Road racing is a great example of team work. Way better than the examples of football we used to wheel out when I worked in the law sector. In a cycling team you have clearly defined roles both on and off the road. One of the fascinating aspects is each team has a team leader and the job of the rest of the team is to protect and support that person so that they can get a win for the rest of the team. This means a real sacrifice of personal ego and also means “burying yourself” in pure physical effort to get your team leader to the front. Listen to Mark Renshaw talking about his role in supporting Mark Cavendish to get to the front. Mark Renshaw could win a sprint but he clearly defines his job is to support Cavendish and Mark Cavendish will always talk about how the team made it possible for him to achieve his win. This article from the sports Guardian outlines these roles

Tour de France 2011: Inside the Team HTC-Highroad engine room  http://bit.ly/q8QarF

Lesson Two: Support Staff are Essential

The domestiques are a bit like our admin teams in business. They do the jobs which are essential for the smooth running of the operation. They work incredibly hard to provide water and supplies at the right time and place. The difference is that in Pro-Cycling there are no plans to cut the domestiques! The admin team in cycling is not seen as a soft cut option as it is in business. They recognise that without the support of the domestiques the team leaders would not be able to achieve their race wins because they rely on this backroom support to do their job effectively.

Lesson Three: Observational Coaching and Feedback is Key

During the race the riders are given constant observation about performance of their team members and other teams. They agree a strategy at the beginning of the day and then update the strategy as the race develops. The coaching and management team see what is happening and adjust the strategy minute by minute. There is constant follow-up on the plans and how these were implemented by  the riders.

Lesson Four: Set and Monitor your Ethical Standards

Pro-cycling has had a dubious ethical background with high levels of cheating by doping and other methods. This caused challenges for teams finding sponsorship. Now many of the teams such as Garmin, HTC High Road and Sky have established a clear team ethical code which defines expectations of the team members and creates a culture where a cyclist knows that any attempts to use any drugs is just not acceptable. The equivalent of a phone hacking scandal is unlikely to happen in contemporary cycling because the team managers have set a clear code, monitor the team against the code and make the consequences of code violation really clear. Team managers do not write an ethical code and then ignore it.

So 4 lessons, can we learn something from the model? Is sport ever relevant to the organisational world?

Facts, Myths and Misunderstandings in Facilitation and Training

One of the most depressing elements of being involved in the facilitation and training profession is the tendency to over focus on great design skills, making things fun and interactive and a lack of really disciplined critical thinking.

 There is a heavy reliance on “pop” research and this is used without thinking by trainers and facilitators when they are working with groups and when they are training others in their professional area. I have come across a number of facilitators who based their designs on accommodating the four different learning styles identified by Honey and Mumford. Their designs include activities which will appeal to the four different styles. What is concerning about this is that this was not the intention of the learning styles approach in the first place and secondly there is very little researched evidence into the validity of this tool or others that are similar. To read more check out the Learning Skills Network site and download their document:

https://crm.lsnlearning.org.uk/user/order.aspx?code=041540

 Another good site I have come across is Roger Greenaway’s site which is packed with research on facilitation and learning topics. I came across this page when I was preparing some materials for a workshop where we are going to critique the issues of learning styles. This page gives a summary of Kolb Experiential Learning Cycle and then explores critiques of Kolb.

http://reviewing.co.uk/research/experiential.learning.htm

 One of the really exciting elements of my new project to develop an academic pathway in facilitation is the need to do a literature review in the field of facilitation and start to separate out some of the myths from the well researched and documented data. I know this is going to make my practice stronger and I hope will influence others.

Learning from Observations

This week I have been preparing for my new role as a tutor on the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s programmes. It has got me really thinking about how people learn to do particular jobs and how formal programmes like this combine with less structured learning experiences that you have on the job. An example of this is how as a trainer you learn how to move from the expert deliverer of set materials to become more of a facilitative trainer who can handle uncertainty in the learning activities like discussions where there is no clear outcome or correct answer. I was exploring this in more depth with a friend of mine who is also working in the field and we were sharing the different elements that had encouraged us to move away from the scripted form of training. For me one important element was having the opportunity very early in my career to watch and to work alongside others.

 

It was the value of observational learning that linked with another conversation I had earlier in the month. A friend of mine works for a health authority and had done some observation and facilitation work with the team who were setting up the incident room for Swine Flu for the authority. They were facing a tough job in challenging circumstances and were in many cases following a set of emergency procedures already laid down. One observation struck me, when they were setting up the incident room they installed a large plasma screen TV. When asked what this was for the managers replied that it was so that they could play BBC News 24 continuously so that the team would be updated about what was happening with swine flu. The fact that they would be supplying the news to the BBC did not seem to strike them as negated the need for a massive TV. Further probing discovered that the managers believed that all incident centres need massive TVs.

 

This learning was not from any real incident centres in the health authority (this was their first one), probing questions established that the team were unconsciously using as their models incident rooms they had seen on TV and in films, all of which featured large scale screens. What is scary about this story is how believable it is, how much of our learning is from watching fictional examples and taking this in without any further critical analysis and then implementing strategies and approaches based on our observations of a ficitionalised situation.

 

It made me realise that valuable as observations are of both real situation and from other sources they are only part of the picture. The discussions that I had with my colleagues after the event, the reading that I did for my professional qualification and my own reflections on the observations all of these lead to the development of what I consider to be my good practice in facilitative training.

 

www.bellthompson.co.uk

The Power of Learning in On Line Communities.

 In a traditional training situation there is a knowledge exchange between the participants and the trainer. It is often expected that the trainer will give their expert input and this will be discussed by the participants. This approach can create a spoon feeding type of dependency from the learners who expect the trainer to have the answers. It also puts the trainer in a dangerous position of being an expert in subjects which they may not have sufficiently researched. I have seen a number of trainers use the same old material which they reshape into the different topics they are training. A typical example is the “fact” about the proportion of communication that is due to body language, tone and words. This is a distorted modern myth based on some context specific research done in the 1960s and yet in the past year I have seen it used by 5 different trainers without referencing the research but just giving out the information as a fact. http://tinyurl.com/Myths-in-training

 I think we need to be more honest about the extent of our knowledge in the training and learning field. We are not usually in-depth subject specialists; our skills are about taking some concepts and making them meaningful so that individuals can apply the learning into their work. We are experts in the process of getting groups to communicate with each other and in facilitating problem solving activities. We cannot keep up to date with everything we need to so this is where the on line communities can help us and help our groups.

I was facilitating a group who wanted to look at how to reduce the number of complaints they were getting from their customers. We had a half day session and then a follow up session three weeks later. One of the questions they ask was about how to handle calls where English wasn’t the first language of the caller. The suggestions I had on this topic felt insufficient and so I used the time between the two sessions to pose this question on the Linked In Answers Forum. http://www.linkedin.com/

The answers I got were fascinating. I shared my findings with the group who were amazed that people from Canada, America, Brazil and Netherlands had listened to their concern and given feedback. For a group of workers in a city council this made them feel really important and valued. We reviewed the answers provided, along with my input and the group were able to identify some possible options to take their service forward.

The second way of using the communities is to ask the group to generate a question they might ask about the topic we are focusing on. This activity can not only highlight their knowledge needs but can also highlights interesting issues about how to ask a good question! I then set participants the challenge of finding a suitable forum to place their question and to come to the next session with an analysis of their results. By doing this the group are developing some life long learning skills about the value of on line communities. It is also a way of assessing the advice given.

Another approach I used was with a group of law lecturers.  We were exploring some employment law questions on a forum and designed an activity for students which would require them to analyse the advice given and compare this with the advice they might give based on their understanding of employment law.

 The forums I like to use are the CIPD, Linked In, TrainingZone and Training Journal.

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