Today I am attending a course entitled “Influencing your team’s effectiveness”. Well, I say attending, but at the first break I made the decision to go back to work (after coffee, natch) as I felt I wasn’t learning anything new.
These are my main criticisms of the course:
- The title implied that it was a course for managers (“your team”) but most attendees were not managers, and this had a significant (lowering) effect on the level of discussion in the group.
- The presenter began with a long (nearly half an hour) preamble which included us sharing what we wanted to get out of the day. I have two problems with this – firstly, strike while the iron is hot and get going with the course content when everyone is alert and expectant and secondly, how am I supposed to know what to expect when you haven’t provided us with a course outline? This kind of activity can be valuable, but I think it’s best done as a preparatory exercise before the course begins.
- The pace was painfully slow.
- Level of assumed knowledge was very low.
I was nearly tearful with rage about how poor today’s session was. I’m now going to use that anger to some purpose and imagine how staff development could be done better – see my manifesto below!
If I build it, will they come?
I’m considering running some courses along these lines. But I fear that many people who attend these staff development events are just looking for a day away from their normal jobs and don’t want to be challenged. If that’s the case, and the feedback from my courses isn’t good (because I won’t let people just sit there and not participate), it will be a short-lived project.
It reminded me of a conversation I had yesterday with @davidclover about rebranding librarians/CILIP as militant, feisty, techy leaders in the field of information. It was pointed out that most librarians just aren’t like that. Many of them choose this career because they want to be the old-fashioned stereotypical librarian, rather than bringing the professional up-to-date for the information era.
I would be very pleased to be proven wrong this this though!
Manifesto for more effective staff development
- Pitch sessions to specific segments of people in the organisation e.g. level of responsibility for other staff
- Clearly define the aims and outcomes of the session, and circulate these in advance so people can decide if the course if appropriate for them, and know what to expect
- Require participants to do some kind of warm-up activity before the course begins, so they’re not arriving ‘cold’
- Dive into the content right away – don’t waste the first part of the day on long housekeeping announcements or talking us through the programme (you already sent it to us, remember?)
- Expect people to join in and contribute. Choose people to speak/do something, don’t ask “who wants to go next?” and listen to the echoes of your words around a silent room in which no-one volunteers
- Don’t humour people who won’t join in. Acknowledge that they are opting out, but don’t spend a lot of time focussing on it otherwise you will reinforce their behaviour and normalise it for the rest of the group
- A pet hate: don’t give everyone a pile of handouts and then tell them not to read them
- Make your supporting materials powerful and productive. Don’t just dump all your thoughts on the topic into a handout – make every word count. If you’re using slides, make ‘em good
- Have a punchy finish, which relates back to the learning outcomes. Everyone should be able to give an elevator pitch or three things they’ve learned from the day if you were to stop them on the way out and ask them.
- Have a follow-up activity (like homework) to keep the momentum going when participants go back to their workplaces. Something they can do the next day or week that will reinforce what they learned in the sessions. You could also encourage people who met at the course to use social media to continue getting to know each other after the event
None of this is rocket science. Any teacher training student could tell you that planning sessions in this way enhances students’ learning. Let’s put an end to the kind of sessions where you sit and are talked at for several hours, and let’s transform them into continuing professional development that really means something.