My manifesto for more effective staff development!

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. The pace was painfully slow.
  4. 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

  1. Pitch sessions to specific segments of people in the organisation e.g. level of responsibility for other staff
  2. 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
  3. Require participants to do some kind of warm-up activity before the course begins, so they’re not arriving ‘cold’
  4. 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?)
  5. 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
  6. 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
  7. A pet hate: don’t give everyone a pile of handouts and then tell them not to read them
  8. 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
  9. 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.
  10. 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.

Rant over 🙂



  1. I’d certainly sign up (should a course be relevant and aimed at my responsibility level).
    It can be equally frustrating if you find that a course is pitched at a higher than expected (and appropriate) responsibility level – it should surely not be difficulty to give out enough information at the booking stage for people to assess a course’s suitability before investing their time in attending.
    As someone who doesn’t manage other staff, I’m disappointed that staff development here is no longer running their ‘moving into management’ stream of training. I think I might brainstorm some relevant sessions along the lines of your manifesto and pitch them to staff development – with plentiful acknowledgement…

  2. Well said. I think you’re right about a lot of people attend training to just have a day out — I’ve heard it said often.

    It would be interesting to know if anyone else ditched that training or what the overall feedback was. I went to some the other week about marketing, travelled all the way to London for it, and it was terrible. I could’ve done as well as this marketing and training expert. I had The Rage the whole day and couldn’t just leave. I felt sure that others must feel the same since many of the come from a marketing background and a good portion of their job is about marketing (mine is a sliver), but no, about half the people felt it was really good! The other were more mixed — some was good, some was bad. Maybe we’re just too clever 😉

  3. Shannon – interesting to hear that ‘marketing people’ thought the course you went on was useful while you felt it was poor / too low level – I sometimes think that people like going on training like this because it validates/reinforces what they already know and so they can go through the day nodding and thinking ‘yes I thought so’ to themselves and feeling clever. Maybe a better way to do this might be to ask each delegate to tell the group one or two things they know about the topic as an opening activity – then the trainer can pick up from that level and go onto train the group about new things?

  4. I think point 10 of your manifesto is a good one. The best training I’ve ever been on was a time management workshop where at the end of the day we had to draw up an action plan that we were going to follow. We were put into pairs and had to arrange to meet up in a month’s time to discuss how we were getting on with our plans. Then another month later the whole group met at a follow-up session to discuss our progress. I found that having to follow up in this way made me actually *do* the things I’d promised (where otherwise I might have just ignored my action plan) to the point where several of the activities are now ingrained in my weekly routine.

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