Tavistock Experience – Learning Design

Further reflection on the Tavistock experience – As said, it is a very uncommon learning experience. To the extreme, for some parts, I could not help comment them as “bad learning design”.    On the surface of it, there were things looking like ‘shallow debrief’, ‘loose instruction’, etc.    On the other hand, I questioned myself on ‘What am I missing?’.   In sharing these thoughts with others, I was challenged with a question ‘So, what does good learning design mean to you?’

I think this is a good question to ponder on.   Given how unusual the Tavistock experience is, the question can really uncover and challenge my assumption on learning design.    I think there are a few elements which a good learning experience should consist of (not meant to be a prescriptive answer to good learning design).

A good design should create an environment which generates more learning around the topic as agreed with the learners than environments otherwise experienced by the learners.   What such intended environment should look like thus depends on what the topic is.    By environment, it includes the process, facilitators, the physical set up, the material, the learners mix, etc.

In order to achieve the above, a good design should take into account the Adult Learning Principles.   To me, the key ones are WIIFM, variety in learning styles, repetition, a balance of realness and unfamiliarity, learning transfer, effective use of pre and post experience.

In particular, a good design should enhance learning transfer as much as possible so long as it does not crowd out learners’ own responsibility and compromise learning depending on the nature of the intended learning topic.   To be more specific on experiential learning, a good design should provide space for learners to make sense out of the experience individually and collectively with fellow learners.

In that sense, my Tavistock definitely create an unique environment to learn about group relations which the participants would not experience otherwise.  In particular, it is very successful to create the learners’ mix – the size, the willingness to learn and the variety.   Re the Adult Learning Principles, being an open program, the Tavistock conference has limitation on repetition and ‘pre & post’.   I think it did well on variety in learning styles and realness.   Yet, i think there is missed opportunity in WIIFM and learning transfer.

For those who have been to Tavistock experience, what good learning design means to you and what do you think of Tavistock from the learning design perspective?

Power of Facilitation

Michael Sandel 2I talked about Professor Michael Sandel before here.  See the post ‘What’s the Right to do?’   I am drawn to his works again recently given what is going on in Hong Kong around the ‘Occupy-Central’ initiative.

Putting the content aside, I am amazed again how his facilitation has helped the debate. As mentioned by him in his interview with BBC, his work is basically to enable public debates though there may not be agreements at the end. I think it makes sense and he has done a great job.

Moreover, he has been enabling debates in different countries like China, Japan, etc. In one of his forum in Japan, the comments from the audience speak for the power of facilitation. See the news report here.

“We tend to shy away from these debates, worried that we might hurt other people’s feelings. But with the help of a good facilitator, Japanese people, too, can have an active discussion.”

And perhaps the biggest attraction of the “Sandel Theater,” as Hayakawa Publishing President Hiroshi Hayakawa called it, was that the professor demonstrated an exceptional ability to put people at ease, treating everyone equally and with respect — as seen in his policy of calling everyone by their first name.

In fact Kan, who said he found Sandel more inspiring than U.S. President Barack Obama, confessed he was “almost in tears” when Sandel called his name. Kimiko Morinaka, 38, a volunteer counselor from Hokkaido, was likewise thrilled.

“When I saw the NHK program, I felt very strongly that I wanted to participate in such an outstanding course,” Morinaka said. “Coming here tonight was my dream come true. I had long dreamed of being asked, ‘What’s your name?’ “

PS See his recent talk on ‘What Money Can’t Buy’.   Amazing examples and arguments!

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)

 

 

‘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?

Leadership Development

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A friend of mine once attended a Leadership Development workshop all the way in the US.   I supposed it was a huge investment by the company who hired an external facilitator and flew talents from all over the world.   I was surprised when my friend showed me her course material.   It was basically a presentation skills workshop.  And they did do the typical presentation training drill e.g. stand up to present, video-taped, receive feedback, etc.    I wonder how could a presentation skills workshop be considered as ‘Leadership Development’.

What is ‘Leadership Development’ after all?

In fact, if you ask 10 business executives what they will expect to happen in a ‘Leadership Development’ workshop, you probably have 10 different answers.  Probably very different ones.   It is like the term ‘Leadership’.   See my earlier post on ‘Really.. what is Leadership?’   Further, in my experience, ‘Leadership Development’ does not always carry a good reputation.   Some find it very vague and disregard it.   Some will welcome it because of the wrong reason e.g. being invited to attend one means ‘I am in the club’.   

On reflection, there is actually one (probably unconscious) definition on ‘Leadership Development’ that causes this problem.    To many, ‘Leadership Development’ means any development intervention to people in the leadership position.   By this definition, this really could mean anything, including presentation skills workshop.

Well, there is no right or wrong definition.   I guess the question is whether it is useful.   And if it is useful, it should base on a conscious definition on what ‘Leadership’ is.

 

Co-facilitation

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As I am about to leave my current organisation, someone asks me ‘what have you gained the most from the job?’    I think it is my learning and the learning came mostly from working with my co-facilitators.   Whenever possible, I will choose to work with a co-facilitator.     It is not because of workload.  In fact, the work may become more difficult with a co-facilitator.    For example in working with a new co-facilitator, you need to spend time in advance to prepare together.   And when you two are not aligned,

 

To me, there are other more important reasons why i prefer co-facilitation.

 

  • Feedback – With right contracting, the best feedback comes from your co-facilitator.    He or she is probably the best person in the room who understands the intent and result.   He or she is thus most informed to give you feedback.   In addition, especially in leadership development workshops which are about personal disclosure and are reflective by nature, you will have the atmosphere and time to build reasonably good level of trust with your co-facilitator.   This enables him / her to give you feedback.   So, your co-facilitator has both WILL and SKILL to give you feedback.
  • Pushing the boundary – If learning facilitation is about helping learners push the boundary, I do a better job when I do it with a co-facilitator.   Frankly, I am more ready to challenge the learners knowing that someone is backing me up.
  • Role-model – You learn by simply watching another facilitator in action.   This is especially powerful when you swap with your co-facilitator to run each other’s modules.   You can see how the other facilitates the same thing differently from you did.

 

 

 

Thus, I have to say THANK YOU to the co-facilitators I have worked in the last 2-3 years!    Graham B, Graham H, Hannah, Helena, Simon, Fiona, Tony, Patrick, Sabrina, Trisha, Judith, Leslie, Emma, Winnie, Noel, William, thanks!!    (My apology if I miss any of you)

 

‘Check-In’ in Phone Meetings

A useful post on the HBR Blog – Create Human Connection in a Virtual Teams.

A reflection as I read through it…. on the idea of conducting ‘Check In’ to build human connection in virtual meeting.   It is quite tricky.   When I discussed this idea with leaders, their response is often ‘We do not have enough time for this’.    This brings to 3 points:

  1. Someone shared a question with me before ‘Is it about efficiency or effectiveness?’
  2. There are different ways of Check-In instead of everyone on the call doing a ‘wedding speech’ .   To be exact, there are more efficient ways to do so
  3. Check-In will work only if the leaders themselves believe in it, do it first and do it a few times.   It is bound to be a bit odd the first time.   If we do it just once and then drop it, it will probably ‘prove’ to be not useful.

Be careful about L3 and L4

A great piece of learning I got in talking to a learning / training veteran – It goes like this:

Business leader: ‘I am sending people to your programs. Can you guarantee that they will do what they learn (i.e. L3) and perform better (i.e. L4)? Oh, and how are you going to prove such to me?’

Learning consultant: ‘You tell me. You have your reasons in why sending people to programs. And you are the one who control the environment in how they transfer the learning into the workplace.’

The above may be a bit extreme. But there is some truth in it. Conversely speaking, problem will arise if as a passionate learning consultant, one promises to produce and measure L3 and L4 result. He takes away the business leader’s responsibility in clarifying what specific result he tries to improve and providing the necessary support for learning transfer. It is like a stationery store selling a pen to a dad for his kid. And the store keeper is trying to promise to the dad that the kid will use the pen and will win the caligraphy award. It is tempting to be so helpful but it could actually be…… not helpful….

I experienced it before. Lesson learnt.

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