Sunday, 5 February 2012

Training team members - what works, what doesn't?

One thing that I am always trying to learn more about is the best ways of training a fellow colleague. This is a part of my job that has become pretty significant and looks set to only continue in this way, as one of the aims of 2012 is for me to take on a bit more of this side of things in order to free up my managers a bit.

In the last couple of years, I have attended more than one seminar and training course focusing on the best ways to train, training methods, how to be engaging....and so on. One thing that always concerns me is: can you really be taught how to train? Or is a big part of being able to 'train' successfully down to an inherent skill that you either have or you haven't?

I would say that while you can definitely improve your training methods and techniques, there is a certain something that you've either got or not got...that quality that makes you engage with the person or people you're training and that makes you explain things in a logical and easy to follow fashion, and that makes you approachable and easy to ask questions of. 

I'm still trying to discover if I have that certain something, but in the meantime, let's have a look at what's important when, say, you are training a fellow team member on something.

Having been party to many training sessions over the years, I am certainly well enough equipped to know what makes a one-to-one training session a successful one from the point of the 'trainee'. At times like this I always use my 'unofficial' mentor as my role model (regular readers will remember me waxing lyrical about this lady from a post in 2011) - now if anyone could make a training session engaging, it is this lady. I had many one-to-one sessions with her over the years we worked together, and the things I remember being most helpful were a) she never patronised me or made me feel stupid. b) she was patient to a fault and made herself available for endless questions during and after the session and c) no matter what the topic was, she always managed to make me laugh, even when I was very stressed out or upset because I didn't understand something. 

Believe me, having now been in the shoes of the trainer, as opposed to the trainee, to be able to do all of the above is no mean feat! Let's look at each point in turn:

1) Don't patronise

Unless you've made a real error in the recruitment process, chances are that you are not dealing with an idiot - you're just dealing with someone who is new to a role, or a particular procedure. So while you want to make every step abundantly clear, don't talk down to them as if they are a child. I have had that done to me and believe me, it's inufriating, even if well-meant!

 2) Don't tell - show

This is one of the key pointers given by The Harvard Business Review Management blog

and it's definitely one of the most important. It is much easier to teach people something with a real life example, rather than just explaining in the abstract. Find an example of how what you're showing can be applied to their daily job. Talk them through each step and explain why you are doing something.

3) Allow your colleague to ask questions

Asking questions is often how we learn the most, because only after we have been shown something, and we have tried to replicate the task ourselves, do we realise what makes sense and what didn't. It is impossible to know if you will be able to carry out a task you have just been shown, on your own, until you physically sit down and try. It is only then that you sometimes realise your three pages of scrawled notes are not quite as helpful as you thought! So make sure as a trainer you make yourself available for questions, not just in the hour following the session, but days and weeks after it too. It may be that they don't need to carry out the task until some time in the future, by which time the notes they took will be virtually meaningless. It's important to ensure that you foster an environment in which they feel they can approach you at any time, even if it means you need to go through the same thing all over again. 

4) Don't be too serious

As I mentioned earlier, some of the best training sessions I have had are ones in which the trainer has been laid back and displayed a sense of humour! There is nothing more off-putting or guaranteed to make you make mistakes out of sheer nervousness, than being in the company of a po-faced trainer. If you are relaxed, your colleague will relax too and consequently take in more as a result. You don't have to be a stand-up comedian - just try and put them at ease, and then if they are doing something while you watch, they're less likely to make silly mistakes out of nervousness.

Image courtesy of: Stuart Miles /



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