Being flexible in content

I was working to take up a senior leadership class in Hong Kong last week.   My biggest learning is on how rigid the workshop content should be.   I have shared before my effort in making myself more flexible.   See the post in March 2010.   But this is on process / set up.  The experience last week pushed me further – in being flexible on content as well.    I cannot say that I have converted totally i.e. flexible on content.  But I believe I should examine more on this mindset / approach.

Let me elaborate…..

In this workshop, the facilitators are supposed to decide only on spot what content to bring out.   The facilitators should take in account the learners’ expectation, flow of discussion, etc.   The workshop is supposed to be about ‘conversation’ (i.e. peer support, self-reflection, content tailored on spot) instead of ‘presentation’ (i.e. pre-arranged content).   Let me call it the ‘flexible approach’.

On the contrary, what I used to believe is that a learning intervention should be designed according to the training need analysis.  There should be set content.   Let me call it the ‘rigid approach’.   This is important since the designer / intervention owner needs to be accountable to the sponsor who pays for the intervention.   If each workshop of the intervention yields different learning outcome, what can the sponsor expect to get from the workshops collectively?   Imagine if the sponsor asks after 10 workshops ‘what have the learners on XXX course learnt?’, it is difficult to give a definitive answer.

With these 2 different approaches, I do not have a conclusion (e.g. which one is better) but just some scattered thoughts:

Conversation – I do like the approach of ‘conversation’.   I think I will enjoy it a lot in being the learner.   For experienced or senior learners, I think they learn well by reflecting, sharing and working on the knowledge that they already have.

Group coaching session – The ‘flexible approach’ seems to me more like running a group coaching session.  In coaching, there is not pre-set content.   The coach work out the objectives with the coachee, and then focus his / her work based on such objectives.   Making such analogy, the ‘flexible approach’ makes a lot of sense to me.

Curriculum – If the intervention is part of a curriculum, it will need a consistent learning outcome in order to fit in relative to the other interventions in the curriculum.  Or not…. so long as a particular intervention can help out the target group of learners in that part of curriculum?

Facilitator Quality – In order to make the ‘flexible approach’ work, the quality of facilitators matters a lot.   We need something on top of good facilitation skills i.e. leading fruitful discussion, driving commitment, linking to big picture.    They should be able to make good judgement on spot what content to bring out.   They should be real good subject matter experts – they are comfortable to lead discussion on various contents under the topic as the conversation flows.

Leadership Skills – The key point may lie on the type of content.   If it is about technical banking product knowledge, the ‘rigid approach’ should be adopted.  But leadership skills is different.   There is no absolute right and wrong.  It is contextual.   And by contextual, it could also mean different learners need different content from the learning intervention.

What do you think?   How do these 2 approaches make sense to you?

3 Replies to “Being flexible in content”

  1. David,

    You have brought a very good issue for discussion. Many of the employed trainers tend to be comfortable with a “rigid approach”. This is because emptying a bag od precollected “content” is much easier.
    “Flexible Approach” is pure facilitation and as you point out, works well with Leadership skills. This however require higher level skills of listening and an absolute unbiased openness since the collection of content happens then and there in the workshop. The role of facilitator then remains to put this fresh content for participant discussion and summarise their insights for them to carry as learning.

  2. David, I just run a blended leadership development program, it combines 4 elements – expert speaker/training session, issue processing group workshop, 1 on 1 private coaching and best practices sharing on email platform. It balances the control/flexible, content/process quite well. So my learning is blended approaches work much more effective than a single approach. Victor

  3. You have brought a very good issue for discussion. Many of the employed trainers tend to be comfortable with a “rigid approach”. This is because emptying a bag od precollected “content” is much easier.
    “Flexible Approach” is pure facilitation and as you point out, works well with Leadership skills. This however require higher level skills of listening and an absolute unbiased openness since the collection of content happens then and there in the workshop. The role of facilitator then remains to put this fresh content for participant discussion and summarise their insights for them to carry as learning.

    +1

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