Category Archives: Training and Learning

Making the Shift – Mysterious Miracles

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I’m intrigued with that hard-to-describe, ever so powerful moment when we decide to act differently than we usually would.  That moment when we break out of our usual routines of thought or action; when we, in a sense, set aside nearly everything that has made us who we are up to that point.  Why do we sometimes choose or allow these shifts, what makes them happen?

For me, that isn’t just a peripheral, mind-games question, but one that has profound impact on my work.  If I’m working with a group on how they approach conflict, talking with a work team about collaborative processes, working with trainers developing workshops, facilitating a group meeting, or designing interactions related to social justice and -isms, all of that work is by necessity predicated on the idea that my intervention may have an impact … that some external stimulus may prompt a change for the people I’m working with.  And because I have the privilege of a fairly high degree of control of my own work and because I tailor each activity to the people I’m working with, I have to think about what may have the most impact for each particular intervention.

I’m no expert on the science of these shifts, but what I’ve noticed, and what seems to be backed up by research, is that lasting change usually comes from both cognitive (thinking) and emotional or subjective processes … being introduced to something new that logically “makes sense” is only part of it.  It seems we’re more likely to change our habitual patterns and behaviors …

  • If people we like or who have influence or power over us adopt the “new” attitude or behavior,
  • If we believe that the “new” attitude or behavior either is intrinsically rewarding (now or in the expected future) or that there would be heavy costs to not changing,
  • If we believe that the “new” attitude or behavior fits in in some way with our values and our image of ourselves.

(See more on motivation in What if … we were motivated to collaborate?.)

So part of what I’m doing when I work with groups is trying to create a setting that both encourages, challenges and supports participants to consider how new ideas fit for them.  How would what I offer change their perceived rewards or costs, how does it work with their existing beliefs and patterns, how does it fit with what others around them might say or do?

Figuring out whether what I do may have the impact I intend isn’t a mathematical equation whose answer I can predict.  What motivates one person or organization to change won’t be the same as what works for another, and I can’t be an expert on whether or how what I have to offer may fit for someone else.  There has to be a certain kind of humility in this work.  To try to force a shift to happen, to manipulate people into un-chosen change, or to insist that the miracle take the form and timing I think it should is hubris – and disrespectful.

Which is why I feel such awe when I’m able to witness a moment where one of these shifts takes place.  There is in that moment a mysterious miracle, a moment when the balance shifts – perhaps in part inspired by something I did (or didn’t do), but most certainly born from some internally created and nurtured seed that has burst into bloom.  A moment when all that had been stacked up against change suddenly tilts, an opening appears, and consciously realized or not, our motivational equations add up differently.  Marvelous, isn’t it?

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Filed under General collaboration, Social Change, Training and Learning

Collaboration: knowledge sharing

So there you are, five hours into work on that new project, only to find out that your colleague already did that same work or had information you spent a lot of time trying to collect.  Or maybe you were talking with someone about your organization’s or business’ less than satisfactory outcome to a tough problem, only to find out that this person had another piece of the picture or a different approach to the question that you’d never considered … and this person was none to pleased that you never asked them for their input in the first place!

Sound familiar?  It’s pretty common in our individualistic, competitive, put-out-the-most-recent-fire world that information critical to achieving our collective objectives isn’t shared … despite lengthy and unproductive meetings, or talk of more and better communication.  It’s ironic that as individuals we’re so thirsty to be heard, to have someone value the information or contribution we have to make.  And yet, in our organizations we seem to expect that individuals should already know what’s needed, and, if they have to ask (god forbid), they should ask targeted questions of the “expert” to get at the minimum they think they need to respond to the problem of the moment.  (And don’t you dare suggest another meeting!)

Call me an idealist, but imagine for a moment that the people you worked with recognized that you and they all had an important piece of a dynamic puzzle, and that continuous sharing of useful information with each other was fundamental to achieving your group’s objectives, improving products or services, and increasing employees’ or members’ sense of buy-in and empowerment.  Mmm …

Curiosity & play

So, what would it take?  I’m not an expert on action research, knowledge management or collaborative learning, but I think we have a lot to learn from all these fields to improve the knowledge sharing in our organizations.  And, just to get you started, here are a few of the ideas I’ve successfully worked with:

1) Bring in more voices – For example, at your next meeting include a supportive (open, not dismissive or “going through the motions”) go-round with input from every single person in the room about a challenging question.  Or ask stakeholders who haven’t previously been involved to come up with three criteria for what would successfully address the question, or at least ten possible (even if crazy) brainstorm ideas related to the issue.  Or try a mind map to identify related approaches or concepts that might inform the discussion.

2) Recognize and appreciate learning – Create specific times and spaces for sharing information (for example, include it in job descriptions, schedule specific time or resources available to support learning or knowledge sharing, do lessons-learned exercises, start a listserv, blog or lunchtime discussion group, etc.) and value the learning that is shared (express appreciation for learning and sharing efforts, identify the concrete effects of that knowledge and possible next steps, create rewards, etc.).

3) Be purposeful – Learning is great, no matter what, but with limited time and resources, you can collaborate more effectively by identifying the particular questions or issues that you want to learn more about, and the specific benefits you hope to achieve from that learning .. and then evaluate how you’re doing and consider what will give you a better chance of meeting your goals.

4) Recognize and leave space for resistance – Ours is a culture which values “experts”, and valuing everyone’s knowledge and input can feel like a threat to an “expert’s” status quo, a challenge to those unused to speaking up, and an inefficient way of doing business (“we already tried that”, “everyone knows that doesn’t work because …”, etc.).  So acknowledge the resistance, leave time and space for individual reactions, and patiently focus on creating environments where we learn from expertise, and still leave space for new ideas or approaches that may indeed better fit the current context than the old tried-and-true “truth.”

Collaboration requires this collective learning.  And in that spirit of collaboration, how would you add to this list of ways to strengthen knowledge sharing in your organization or business?

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Filed under Training and Learning, Working with Groups

Training for me or you?

So if you’re a trainer like me, occasionally you get carried away researching exciting new people or ideas, eagerly compile information on three different models or approaches, amass an armload of handouts and materials, and then trip into the training setting … only to be met by blank stares and a few looks of distress.

Might remind you of the need for that pesky old needs assessment.  You know, the one that would have told you that the goal of this group is not what you envisioned, that this group has a lot of participants whose preferred learning style is most definitely not abstract models, that this group doesn’t even recognize the issue your fancy models and ideas are addressing (awareness, attitudes – anyone?), or that this group really wanted some tools for a very particular type of situation which you aren’t prepared to address.

You, of course, are quick on your feet, and adjust your design on the fly … and sometimes we get away with it.  And sometimes we don’t.  And sometimes, at heart, we’re not sure we want to – because boy are those materials we pulled together awesome, these folks really need to get this.

Enter here, Paulo Freire and his critique of the banking model of education, where we trainers and teachers (or consultants, or managers, or …) fill the heads of our participants (or co-workers, or clients, or …) with what we care about, and implicitly, with our version of the current world.  There is implicit in the trainer or consultant role something which can suggest that we decide what others need to learn or develop.  And that doesn’t instill or nurture empowerment.

And so, fellow “experts,” let us put those handouts and models into our toolboxes, and close them up for a moment as we listen to those with whom we are working.  What do they want to come out of their interaction with us, and which of our many tools will best serve that purpose?

There is good info out there on needs assessments.  When I was co-teaching a course on Training Design, we used an excerpt of J. Barbazette’s Training Needs Assessment:  Methods, Tools and Techniques.  But there are some good resources on the internet, some of which look at needs assessments in a variety of non-training settings.  Check these out:

Any recommended needs assessment resources to add?  Welcome your comments and additions below.

And if you’d like support in doing a needs assessments in your organization or business, contact us – happy to see what we can contribute!

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Filed under Training and Learning, Working with Groups