Sit on your hands and shut up

I heard a veteran facilitator talking about Open Space earlier this month. Great wisdom. She said that there are 3 necessary conditions to make Open Space work. First, there are burning issues which the participants care collectively. Second, all participants join the event voluntarily. Third, the sponsor (who calls for the event) is really interested what may emerge from the process.

If these are in place, after giving the instruction, the facilitator should just sit on his / her hand and shut up.   It is so true but not exactly easy to do.

To the contrary, an Open Space will surely fail if the participants as a community do not see any burning issue, some (if not all) of them are ‘forced’ to join the event and the sponsor calls for the event just for sake of doing it. For the last point, the worst is that the sponsor in fact has his / her solutions in mind already.

 

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Is Training (alone) a form of Work Avoidance?

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‘…  Beyond selection, leadership development is a line manager’s daily responsibility.   Training and development processes like those we design in our consulting services are no substitute for regular on-the-job debriefing….’  

From The Practice of Adaptive Leadership

This is so true.  It is such a common illusion held by managers (me included) that sending people to development interventions (mostly training course) is THE answer to develop people.   The managers in fact are the most important teachers as we can role model, coach, give feedback, reward etc on timely basis…  frequently.   This is more the case for soft-skills capabilities e.g. leadership, managerial skills, presentation, but also applies to technical skills to a certain extent.

Some more reflections on this:

1. Our contribution – L&D practitioners actually help create this illusion.   We are eager to help, sometimes, by doing more and better at what we know i.e. running workshops.   Sometimes we could unconsciously convince the managers that attending workshops is the magic pill.   Politically, in order to justify the existence of a training department, we make ourselves busy.   The immediate answer is more workshops.   We are promoting technical fixes to an adaptive challenge.

2. Reward – In most organisations I know, managers are not rewarded for developmental work.  At least for most managers I know, they do not see it this way.   Even though some companies measure managers’  developmental effort, the norm is that such effort can be ‘sacrificed’ in the name of quarterly business result.

3. Organisational Collusion – Somehow, simply putting people into workshops is easy for the managers as well.   We (in fact the whole system) do not need to face the pain in adapting ourselves to be people developers.   In a way,  is training a form of work avoidance (from the organisational perspective)?

See my related previous posts

How much does training matter? (2008)

How much does training matter? Cont’d (2008)

Be careful about L3 and L4 (2014)

 

 

Facilitation at High Schools

I am taking an edx course on the topic of learning.   In doing so, I come across a video describing a teaching practice in the US.    I am surprised how facilitative it is.    I wish my high school experience was like this.   I certainly want this for my children (but also hope that the examination system will not discriminate such practice)

Just 10 mins.  Watch it.   If you are in a job of helping people learn (and especially if you have children), you will like it.

Basically, the teachers ask students to read original documents highlighting the history instead of telling dates, names and incidents.  The students will then act like CSI detectives to construct what happened, formulate views, debate, etc.   It is particularly interesting that the teachers start each session with a question.   They then help out the students’ own discovery.   They probe and challenge. 

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‘Diversity’ from Ancient Chinese

When I hear the following Chinese saying idiom from a radio broadcast, it rings the bell.

兼听则明,偏信则暗

This one is extracted from a conversation between a Tang Emperor and his ‘Prime Minister’ over 1,300 years ago.     The literal translation is:

You will be enlightened if you hear different opinion.   You will be muddled if you just hear opinion from one side.

This piece of advice is rather straight-forward.   We all know that we should hear different viewpoints.   But it is easy said than done.   We are so tempted to side toward opinion we would like to hear or those similar to ours.     In a way, it is a common sense but not a common practice.

There is another layer of connection for myself especially in the frame of Adaptive Leadership – If the problem is a technical one, we do not need much of different opinions.   We just need to identify who the expert is, and then follow the best practice.    Not necessarily easy to implement but we can be rather efficient in knowing what to do.    But if the situation is adaptive by nature, we need different interpretations on what is going on and ideas on how to approach the challenge.   More importantly, we need to create space for the people involved to air and hear different opinions.    This allows both emergent practice and people (and their thought to be exact) to change.

As an example, if the problem is about how to perform a successful heart surgery or produce the best credit analysis report, it is technical.   It is not easy but we can go to the experts.    But if the challenge is about how to make the patient live a healthier life or install sustainability as a company value, it is adaptive.   There is no best practice but just emergent ones.   The ‘leader’ (not necessarily the one in the authority position) need to listen to the people involved and mobilise as well as allow them to experiment.

I think in a way the challenges a Chinese emperor faced were largely adaptive by nature.   As such, cultivating diverse opinions was generally the way to go.

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‘Learning’ from Ancient Chinese

IMG_0241Triggered by a discussion with a friend, I would like to write a few posts about Chinese ancient wisdom, and more importantly what it means in corporate learning nowadays.   I believe it would be a good reflection for my own experience in the corporate learning world as well, both in China and outside.

 The first one is the one that I have thought of the most (by 荀子 Xun Zi)

不闻不若闻之,
闻之不若见之,
见之不若知之,
知之不若行之,
学至于行而止矣.

The literal translation is:

Not hearing is not as good as hearing.
Hearing is not as good as seeing.
Seeing is not as good as knowing (intellectually).
Knowing is not as good as doing.
True learning is complete only when we put it in action.

This quote illustrates a great deal on corporate learning:

  • How the industry has changed – The quote highlights the evolution of corporate learning in the past decades.   In the past, when we thought of corporate learning, we tended to have experts standing up and talking for the whole day i.e. teaching.   As visual technology e.g. powerpoint became popular, the experts talk and show picture, video, graph and unfortunately mostly bullet points.   This is from ‘hearing’ to ‘seeing’.  Further, the focus changed from ‘what is sent’ to ‘what is received’.  The learning professionals were transitioning from trainers who tell to facilitators who guide people to discover and make meaning themselves.  This is from ‘seeing’ to ‘knowing’.  

(Whilst this makes sense, I do not find facilitating people to learn common in the corporate learning field, especially in Mainland China. Here is an interesting phenomenon – when you are waiting for your flight in Mainland China, you often find shops selling video with an expert talking loudly and vividly about certain topic.)

  • Action – The last part of the quote i.e. from ‘knowing’ to ‘doing’.   In a way, experiential learning activities and business simulation are answers to it.    For example, getting a group of people to compete in a treasure hunt activity and debriefing on what they learn about working in team.   Depending on how the intervention is framed and run, this can be much more effective than traditional teaching in terms of learning transfer.   However, I have experienced how learners just went through the motion in the intervention.   They sort of decide to take it just as a ‘game’.   In the debrief, when asked about say what they learn about team communication, they can produce a laundry list of ‘standard answer’.   People cheer and clap their hands as people present back.   But that’s it…..

To me, a more advanced version of the ‘knowing’ part is Action Learning.   There are different practices in the market under the name of Action Learning.   The one I prefer is called ‘Action Reflection Learning’ or ARL – where guided reflection plays a significant part to learning.   See my previous post athttp://www.ask-nottell.com/?p=751    This practice tackles nicely the ‘realness’ problem mentioned above by always working on real work.   (By real work, I mean the result of those will have real consequence to the learners.)    I particularly like the philosophy of ‘Learning whilst you are Earning’.   Using the ancient Chinese language, it would be something like 行学并行.

  • Kirkpatrick 4-level of evaluation – The quote also illustrates the 4 levels.   The ‘Knowing’ part is like Level 2.    Learners can remember the learning and demonstrate say by passing the test at the end of a learning event.    The ‘put in action’ part is like Level 3.   Learners can put the learning into action in the workplace.   The natural challenge of course to the quote is that it misses the Level 4 i.e. real learning is complete only when the learning intervention creates impact as mentioned by the pre-determined business measurement e.g. revenue, cost, attrition rate.    Yet, this challenge is from the corporate perspective rather than the individual learners.

It is amazing how the ancient Chinese has figured out the above a few thousand years ago already.   But even more interestingly, why such wisdom has not been commonly practised though it has been around for so long?