Conversation Topics


Want to get to know your colleagues or teammates on a project? These may give you ideas for topics to ask about and discuss. Perhaps you are looking for a novel way to get to know your friends or family members better?

Some people have trouble with knowing what to talk about or which topics to ask others about to go beyond the first level of getting to know someone – if we assume the first level would be obvious topics like where are you from, what did you study, what kind of role you are in now, etc.

Pick just a handful of topics at most to avoid the other person feeling interviewed. You could also pick perhaps one to two to ask someone you work with or talk to mostly about work on a regular basis – perhaps just before or after a meeting. It could also be useful during a coffee break. Who knows what surprises you may have in learning to understand someone better?

Be sure to pick the right options for people you barely know – some of the topics are better suited for discussions when you already know someone – like friends or family members. I am sure you will apply common sense and wisdom in selecting fun topics that would match the situation and the person you plan to talk to.

Some of these questions can also be used in group ice breaker exercises or as a fun leg-stretching exercise in the middle of a long day of training or meetings.

Some recruiters like to use a question like these to see how candidates might respond. So, read through these, who knows when you may need to come up with an answer to one of them? 😊

Topics

Rotational Development Assignments – an Example


This post assumes a few starting points. For one, it assumes that you have a few leaders whom you would like to develop using a few specific developmental areas. When you review this example, you will notice that the areas shown here are typically associated with development of first-time or mid-level leaders. This example can help you take your own leadership development ideas a step further by defining specific steps, and processes which would make it easier to communicate your vision to stakeholders at your company – offering a well-considered program that includes all the elements that are important to developing leaders, their managers, executives considering succession planning, and also new recruits with dreams of building a great career at your company.

Defining outcomes

Which observable outcomes – behaviors – are important for successful leaders to display at your company? Can you define this per competency? Understanding what exact outcomes that your program strives to achieve makes it easier to select the right people for the program (those with development needs in these areas), evaluate the progress of developing leaders in your program (learning to lead with desirable behaviors), and also to understand where specific leaders may need more support with their own personal development plans.

Here is an example of defined outcomes and you will notice the columns to the right have spaces to insert names of possible program candidates. This would be a way to consider nominations when they are discussed by the program committee to decide on the next intake of leaders for the rotational assignment program.

Governance & Structure

Before you start to implement your ideas, take a moment to consider who are the key participants and stakeholders in this program? And have you thought of how you need to support each stakeholder’s needs and prepare them for their expected participation?

Basic processes would include:

  • Selection (nominations could be an additional process if you would not pre-select possible candidates using seniority or other criteria) – on what basis will multiple raters who know candidates propose and support nominated candidates?
  • Performance evaluation process – before the program starts and also at key stages during and at the end of each assignment.
  • Promotions and salary increase eview processes for program participants – checking thatyou are at least paying them at or above local market rates to ensure you are not endangering their retention.
  • Mentoring process for the benefit of participants – supporting developmental goals.
  • Performance feedback process to participants and the oversight committee in general.
  • Orientation process for managers whom program participants would report to during their rotational assignments.

Executive Sponsor for the program

It is important to understand who would be the sponsor at the executive level – involved in ensuring that the program meets strategic objectives and delivers on the agreed benefits. These would be the reasons why the program would be approved for funding and resource allocation like for example a program coordinator etc. Build a relationship with this stakeholder and ensure that he/she has all the information needed to feel comfortable with the progress you are making with the implementation or maintenance of the program on an ongoing basis.

Oversight committee

This may be a group of operational leaders, some group support (functional) leaders, and perhaps a mentor or two. The oversight committee may also be involved in the nomination and/or selection of participants and may also be a part of the audience when program participants are asked to conduct presentations about their projects as part of the program, The oversight committee might also at least annually evaluate possible risks to success and may suggest mitigating actions or improvements to avoid or manage risks to successful outcomes of the program.

Mentors

If you have dedicated internal and/or external mentors meeting with program participants on a regular basis it would be important to involve them by giving them an understanding of the strategic and operational expectations of the program. They would also need to be familiar with the measures of success and how they are defined and evaluated. The success of developing leaders would be very reliant on this group of people offering key support to them. For this reason, mentors should also be asked for (at least) annual feedback on their experiences as mentors and be able to share improvement suggestions and possible risks that need further consideration and action. Mentors should also be able to informally meet with the program manager to monitor program outcomes – understanding how the program is progressing in terms of outcomes achieved, number of development goals closed, number of participants being mentored, number of successful placements in higher roles for those coming out of the program, etc.

Managers of participants

There are aspects of a rotational program that differ from someone having a new team member to support departmental or divisional performance objectives. While the expectation is that these managers would invest their time and resources to accelerate the learning of participating leaders, these program participants will be expected to leave the managers’ groups at the end of the assignment. This concept may be challenged on a regular basis and common arguments include program particianpts being instrumental to maintaining successful client relationships (the client asked for him/her to be on the next project) and how their departures may pose risks to current projects (without his/her key knowledge on this project we cannot guarantee successful outcomes). Such issues would need to be resolved and escalated as needed to avoid participants getting stuck on one rotation.

Program participants

Not everyone considered to have the ability to function at higher leadership levels aspires to those outcomes. It is important to understand the drivers, ambition, and engagement of each participant being considered for participation in the rotational development assignment program. This, on top of his/her performance and development needs being identified and documented in a development plan. . Once a program participant has been confirmed the communication process starts including the next steps, the program contents and objectives, the processes, and what would be required from him/her while on the rotational assignment program. Being introduced to those who are involved in the process would also be important – the new manager for the duration of an assignment and the assigned mentor would be two important links to make. Ensure a feedback loop to understand the success and risks of the program seen from the eyes and experience of program participants.

Annual process(es)

In this example, the annual processes are relatively simple and include an annual intake of new participants, formal communications, obtaining feedback from key stakeholders, presentation by participants about projects they worked on, and talent review discussions on the development of each leader in relation to succession planning objectives and strategies.

Developmental Roles

In general, rotational roles fall into these four categories (see graphic below).

Commercial roles could include sales support, marketing, external communications and sometimes includes roles that have direct interfacing with key customers – account roles. A key objective of commercial roles would be to ensure participants understand how money is made, reported, and the levers which could improve profitability, and the processes that are involved in converting operational success to money in the bank. This rotational assignment also provides an understanding of the level of customer satisfaction and where clients would like to see improvements or innovations. For more senior roles in a commercial function, the development objective could include understanding risks and opportunities and establishing a high-level plan to address both with internal initiatives and even external solutions like a merger or acquisition to address challenges and risks to customer satisfaction and the ability to deliver on customer expectations – given observed and expected changes in the marketplace, competitor offerings, etc.

Operational roles usually offer the ability to understand the daily activities and decisions which could lead to meeting or missing operational outcomes. This usually relates to impacts to the Profit and Loss Statements of a company. In these kinds of rotational assignment roles, participants learn to understand the challenges that project teams experience in delivering products or services that are attractive in the marketplace. They also learn how operational delivery can lead to optimal profitability. Concepts like LEAN, Circular economy, and agile are often concepts that are learned during assignments in operational roles.

Strategic roles are often assigned at one of the larger offices or to shadow a senior or executive leader involved in strategic projects and initiatives. During this assignment participants usually learn more about risk management, organizational strategies, and projects. Sometimes they could be involved in supporting due diligence activities for a possible merger or acquisition and may be exposed to considerations regarding organizational structure changes or changes to the legal structure of a company. During these assignments, participants understand how the company evaluates its internal and external strengths and opportunities along with possible organizational weaknesses and risks. In that landscape, the company will set strategies in motion to improve its competitiveness, its financial outcomes (P&L, Cashflow and/or balance sheet), and its ability to outmaneuver the competition in key areas. This could be as a result of acquiring and/or launching new innovative solutions or getting closer to the customers and how customers’ wishes are being met.

Group Support roles are often either in Human Resources or possibly in Procurement or any other group support (functional leadership) role where that specific participant can learn to more fully understand the challenges of balancing the needs of its shareholders, customers, employees, and supply chain partners.

How to start

Putting together a Rotational Assignment Program can take some time during the early stages and it would be very important to understand the strategic needs and objectives of the company when it comes to succession planning and key skills needed by the leaders of tomorrow. Talk to as many possible stakeholders as you can to build a successful business case and change plan addressing all concerns and needs of key stakeholders in the success of the rotational assignment plan. Talk to experts who have developed a program like this to garner any tips regarding pitfalls that they needed to navigate. Finally, commit to continue learning as you go. Get feedback and act on it and use the data gathered to drive continuous improvement activities. Use the feedback to ensure the program continues to deliver outstanding benefits in a fast-changing world which impacts your ability to attract and retain key talent on a continuous basis.

Useful posts to help with the preparation and communication of stretch/developmental assignments:

4 Common Disconnects on Multi-Cultural Teams


Working on multicultural teams you may have had moments of wondering what he or she just meant by that comment? Or why will he or she not make a key decision so an activity can move forward? Cultural perspectives and ways of life may be one of the reasons that could explain those incidents.

It is fun to meet people from other cultures and learn about their lives and experiences. And at first it may be interesting to learn how their cultures vary from your own, but once you work on a project together and it is remote working, including long hours and tight deadlines those differences can start to cause friction on the team. This can slow down progress and impact team morale. Being aware of the most common inter-cultural disconnects can prevent team members from blaming it on a person and instead enter into a discussion to unpack the root cause of a lack of action, lack of decision-making or the exact opposite – too many fast actions without thinking or making decisions without considering consequences.

4 Areas of misunderstanding that can impact inter-cultural teams

Some things are smart to do in order to ensure the team understands required project outcomes and approaches to use. Aspects would include clarifying the definition of done, outlining project phases and deadlines, assigning roles and responsibilities and having regular meetings to monitor and understand progress and resolve issues that are hindering progress or pose a risk.

Some aspects may need additional attention if your team consists of a few members from very different cultures.

1. Managing to deadlines

This relates to how important team members believe deadlines are. Some may see them as a guideline while others will suffer anxiety and will work longer hours to make sure the are met. In some cultures, there is a strong emphasis on being for example exactly on time for an appointment while in other cultures it may be okay to be a few minutes late for business meetings and perhaps even a few hours late for a social engagement.

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Make sure all team members understand the consequences, knock-on effects and penalties which may be triggered if the team missed deadlines. Monitor progress and have follow-up conversations if team members are falling behind to ensure they understand the importance of their activities being completed on-time.
  • Ensure team members understand the priorities they should place on various aspects of the work that needs to be done by the deadline. Ensure it is also clear exactly what “done” means. Do you expect quality checks to be done too or just a first draft of the outcome to be available? Should it be print-ready or just ready for an internal review or further discussions?

2. Clear Role Expectations

There are differences in cultures around the meaning of “in charge” or the Subject Matter Expert (SME). In some cultures, it is customary to take the word of such a person as a mandate to perform a specific task or action exactly according to what he/she said. In other cultures, SMEs and leaders are considered more “accessible”, and dialogue is welcomed when one does not agree with a requirement or task assigned by the one “in charge.” This difference can cause confusion on teams including many different cultures. To what degree can and should instructions be discussed and challenged vs accepted? Are those in expert roles or roles with authority prepared to deal with challenging discussions and comments – if the project team will operate in a culture of open discussions?

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Have a role discussion at the start of the project and include what would be great questions to ask each role and how interaction is expected to take place on the project to maximize positive team outcomes.
  • Be sure to have further discussions highlighting best-practices during the project and as new team members join, who may have missed the original discussions around the different project roles and how to best interact with them.

3. Conflict resolution

Conflict shows up differently in each person – some people speak up and go to the “max ” to be heard and understood while others take their thoughts, feelings and especially resentment underground and do not speak out. This means that conflict can be hard to resolve and to feel comfortable that all thoughts and concerns are on the table and discussed before decisions are made. Some cultures are more likely to speak up and make sure their opinions are voiced while others might patiently and politely wait to be asked for an opinion and speaking out of turn (from their perspective) may be seen as impolite or disrespectful. In some cultures open disagreements are best avoided to maintain a cordial/good relationship with others on the project.

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Use more than one channel to check in with team members and get feedback – ask in meetings, but also check in with individual team members between meetings to understand if there is any part of the path forward chosen which concerns them.
  • If any team members are especially aggressive in voicing opinions, perhaps a quiet word might help that person to still voice opinions, but possibly in a less forceful way to avoid antagonizing anyone from a culture where a forceful (overly enthusiastic ) communication style might cause discomfort.
  • Provide training in non-violent communication and voicing messages with a healthy balance between listening and advocating. Help team members to constantly improve in understanding each other’s styles to help communication and collaboration efforts on the project.
  • When a conflict does occur, address it in a culturally-sensitive way if the disconnect could be related to a cultural difference in perspective. The objective should be to solve and address project issues in a helpful way without causing negative impacts to collaboration on the project.

4. Navigating with many languages

We all know of situations where people from the same country with the same language find it hard to communicate successfully with understanding and openness. When a team consists of many different cultures, this can be so much more confusing and frustrating.

Cross-cultural impact:

  • Agree from the start of the project to follow a few guidelines such as: For the chosen project language, native speakers are to slow down and use simple ways to bring their points across. And native speakers of the main project language will be patient with non-native speakers trying to get their thoughts across. If there is a large language ability gap between the native-speakers and other team members consider some language classes to bridge the gap.
  • Consider asking presenters/speakers at planned meetings to send out specific agenda items and a summary paragraph of the issues to be raised and discussed at least a day before the meeting. That would help non-native speakers to prepare ensuring they understand the issues and are able to fully participate in the conversation at the meeting.
  • When there are significant differences in levels of language abilities on the team, meetings may take longer, and collaboration may also be a little harder especially in a virtual/remote environment. Be sure to take this into account when planning project timelines and deadlines.

Plan ahead to succeed

Knowing you may be starting up a project with a multi-cultural team, schedule team-building activities for team members early on. This will help them get to know each other as humans/people. Establishing trust early on, can avoid frustration turning into conflict and delays in reaching project team deadlines.

Create team opportunities to get to know more about each other’s cultures. This could bridge the gap in understanding each other’s perspectives and avoid labeling, misunderstandings, and internal team misalignments..

Set continuous learning as one of the core values of the team and live it, encourage it and keep bringing the team back to what can be learned from successes and failure as the project progresses. Having a curious and learning mindset is a great way to avoid major disconnects between team members as they will engage in inquiry and advocacy vs judgment and labelling as a default behavior.

Designing an Interview Training Workshop


(For Interviewers and Managers)

Need to provide a training workshop for managers on how to conduct job interviews? The slides I am sharing today can help you with that. You can turn it into an interactive online event or you can use it to create a face-to-face workshop. You could even turn it into a standalone training video if you provide your own voice-over to explain the various points further.

Remember, it is not a good idea to start with the slides and then just blindly using them for a workshop or other learning solutions without first considering the needs of your own intended training participants, interview process, etc.

Here are the slides:

The structure

After an initial explanation of what behavioral interviewing is and how it works, the slides focus on 5 steps that can help explain how to implement this approach as an interviewer.

Designing an Interview Training Workshop, use these steps as a guide:

  1. Define the group of people who are the intended participants in your training workshop – what do they know, what do they need to know, (if they have done interviews already) what goes wrong, what goes right when they have done interviews in the past? What does all of that mean for what you need to accomplish with this workshop?
  2. Define an overview of what you intend them to know and be able to do after the workshop. (You can only do so much during a workshop so be realistic on what the outcomes might be).
  3. Define what will be included in further detail and exercises during the workshop (bullet points should help you further) in order to meet the goal(s) you have set in point 2 for the group you have defined in point 1.
  4. Set a date when the workshop will be made available so you can remain focused on deadlines that help to meet that date.
  5. Start working on the next level of detail – Consider that you may want to do a combination of training solutions like assigning some online training before they come to the workshop to cover some knowledge you want them all to have at the start of the workshop. Also, work out your bullet points into a “storyline” that logically structures the sequence of topics to be covered and exercises you will use to help build competency in using specific tools or approaches.
  6. Use the slides I have attached for download (above). Using your answers to the points above – maybe you need ideas about how information can be sequenced? See if any of the sections in the slide deck help you fill in some of your planned learning areas. Maybe some of the exercises could be useful for your workshop?

A friend of mine always says (in Dutch) – you can better creatively borrow ideas from others than come up with something yourself, which is lesser. So use this slide deck, and borrow ideas from it to get your budding Interview Training Workshop to the next level!

3 Templates to start your employee development program


Upgrading skills in specific employee groups could be achieved by introducing a new development program. Goals for the program could range from cross-training in key functional knowledge areas to accelerating development of specific groups. Development programs often run over several weeks or months and are attached to pre-defined outcomes to address specific identified learning needs.

Structuring your employee development plan, you will need to pay attention to at least 3 important aspects:

  1. Setting up the curriculum
  2. Preparing managers to be supportive
  3. Preparing attendees to succeed

The overall program

Setting up the curriculum over the development period means you decide how the various learning solutions are scheduled and planned to strengthen and support key messages throughout the time period that your program runs. Each aspect strengthens what had already been covered while adding additional knowledge. Including various learning methodologies (blended learning) enhances the learning experience and keeps it interesting.

Snapshot of a learning program for graduates

Note:

  1. Always start by understanding what you are trying to address before you start designing your development program. What is the learning need? What is the business value of employees having this knowledge and experience?
  2. When does the business need employees with these new skills, understanding and experiences? Is it short-term (within the next year), medium-term (between 1 and 2 years) or is it longer term (more than 2 years)? Knowing the timeframe also helps you decide what to develop internally vs outsourcing the entire program or parts of it.
  3. Who needs to learn these new skills/behaviors? Be very clear who is your target population for this development program (How many years of experience do they have right now? What kind of experience do they already have – functional, geographic etc.).

Preparing managers to support learners

Employees are more motivated and do better when their managers are onboard with their participation in the development program. Be sure to engage with managers before participants are told about the program. Managers need to understand the business context of the development program, why someone on his/her team is included in the program (if they were not nominated by the manager) and how to support the employee throughout the program. Some manages may need training or coaching in this regard.

Snapshot of a manager checklist

Employees participating in these kinds of development programs are often still working in their current roles. Supportive managers not only expect good results in their departments or projects, but also hold employees accountable for completing program assignments. This gives employees the best chance of completing the program successfully.

Preparing attendees to succeed

Development program attendees need to understand more than just the program contents and overview of dates. An orientation session for intended program attendees could help with that. The session gives them an opportunity to understand the business context and benefits to their own careers plus they can ask clarifying questions before committing to invest the time and effort needed to successfully complete the program.

Snapshot of Program Attendee checklist

And orientation session with development program attendees should include at least these topics:

  • A welcome message from an executive, usually the sponsoring executive, explaining the business value of the development program and also career benefits for attendees.
  • A message from Talent Development explaining program expectations, the blended learning approach, deadlines, the team assignment and any other relevant details of the program that attendees should know about at the start.
  • If the program existed before and there was a redesign or some changes were applied, explain how the current programs differs from previous versions some attendees may have heard about in the past.
  • Provide the opportunity for some Q&A

Keeping learners motivated when a development program runs over many months can be a challenge. Helping to keep attendees focused on assignments and deadlines can be easier when you build in challenges which generate leader boards (friendly competition) or where individuals can earn points or badges by completing specific tasks. Adding recognition by the manager/group/department can also be helpful. Recognition can include anything from a small token offered to attendees after completing a specific portion of the program to being mentioned in the company newsletter.

Hopefully these three templates (see download links above) are useful as you review your own planned development program. Do download the 3 files above if you need to see the templates in detail.

Learning Book


A learning book is a great tool to use for learners who are keen to capture the key points of learning moments. It is also useful for coaches or trainers who may want to make them available to coachees or class participants to help them along on their learning journey. A pdf version of a learning book is available for free download below – letter size, A4 size an A5 size.

To really learn something new, one must chew on it – write it down, read what you wrote and then consider how it changes your perspective or increases your awareness or understanding. The learning book helps learners to capture ideas and thoughts. It gives them a chance to go back and review what they had written before to remind learners of what they had thought at the time and planned to do about their own continued learning.

“Whoever ceases to be a student has never been a student.”

– George Iles –

There are many ways that someone can learn something. Classroom sessions are not the only option. See the list of opportunities to learn below: (and this list is not exhaustive)

The learning book is a place to capture all new thoughts, ideas, and areas that a learner wants to learn more about in one place.

Feel free to add additional pages that would help guide the learner along a developmental path.

The book is broken down into 3 parts: Prepare to learn, Learning, and Follow-up. In the preparation to learn section, there is space to capture the topics that the learner would like to know more about.

Prepare to learn

Learning

The learning section has a few pages to prompt learners about aspects that may be important for them to remember later. It covers aspects such as areas to research further after the learning event. Or maybe they want to capture the highlights of their learning journey a particular week. Maybe there were a few statements of quotes that they really want to remember – the learning book has a page for that. There is also a page to capture any favorite speakers or writers that they came across and want to know more about.

Follow up

After a learning event or conference, we often have great plans for new initiatives to implement or people to contact – topics to research. And unfortunately, many of those great ideas dissipate when our normal lives resume. The Follow-up section is about capturing the actions you plan to take and it gives you a section to capture dates or months when you plan to work on it.

It’s a great way to help you check back on how you are doing with follow-up activities.

Reviewing your own learning notes from the last few months can help you pick-up again on an interesting point you still wanted to follow up on. Perhaps you had planned to call someone or to do an internet search, but somehow you forgot about it. Having it written down in your learning book and being able to review it, you can pick up on those points and ensure that you do complete the task that you had planned to do.

The download file links below contain *.pdf versions of a learning book for 3 different printed sizes: letter size, A4 size and A5 size (which is half the size of an A4).

Competence – getting to the top level


According to competence development, there are four levels that a learner goes through on their journey to being consciously competent at a skill they wish to be good at. Knowing which level you are at for the new skill or competency that you are trying to learn is important, but it is also true that until someone gains awareness almost nobody knows when they are at level 1.

image001-11733152243.png

Level 4 is the goal that any learner wants to achieve, and it is that state of skillfulness that does not require effort to execute. Think for example of how you tie your shoelaces or drive your car. If you have been doing it for a few years you can probably have many other thoughts in your head and while you are doing it. This is possible because you have reached Level 4 in the skills required to tie your shoelaces or drive your car.

Going from Level 1 to Level 4

Level 1 means you are not skilled at something specific, but you do not know it. Until someone provides you with feedback in this area or until you are somehow confronted with the fact that you have no or limited skills in a specific area. We do not even think about that area as something we need to work on and we are often blissfully unaware of the potential development need in an area. The main way to move out of level 1 is to ask for feedback and to look for ways to understand how your behavior, actions, communications and way of working impact others.

From Level 1 to Level 2 – Get input. When was the last time you asked a friend, a co-worker or a family member “Tell me one thing that I would have to get better at if I would be a better friend/co-worker/member of this family or better at my job?”

Going from Level 2 to Level 3 – Learn and practice using new ways of doing or thinking. This is where the heavy-lifting comes into play. To make this transition of learning a new skill takes focus, dedicating time in your busy schedule to actively acquire a new skill. This requires a lot of discipline and you will not only need to schedule the time for this, but you will need to practice what you are learning on a regular basis and keep track of your own progress. It is important also in this stage to get input from others so that you can gauge the progress you are making towards acquiring and demonstrating skilfulness in new areas.

Going from Level 3 to Level 4 – It just happens. There comes a day when someone mentions that you have been demonstrating your skills in a new area without you being aware of making the effort. At that time, you will have acquired an unconsciously skilled state whereby you no longer need to focus or concentrate very hard in order to demonstrate your skill in a particular area.

What is the value of using this model?

If you are a trainer, it is important to know at which stage your training participants are because it would drive the kinds of information you make available, the kinds of practice sessions you build into your training class and the kinds of tests you provide for them to measure their progress. A pre-test or exercise can often help determine the level of awareness and knowledge that training participants have in the skills area(s) that you will be focusing on during the class. For example, a trainer may use more assessments to increase awareness if the class is at level 1 or the trainer may use more practical exercises and instructional sessions if the person is at level 2 or 3.

As a mentor, it is important to understand not only the goals and development needs that a mentee would like to work on but also what his or her current level of competence is in that particular area. This knowledge helps you to provide helpful guidance to help him or her reach the next level of competence.

As a leader of a department or a function, you will likely have people within your group or team that are at different levels of competence. Situational Leadership will be required from you as you assign tasks, delegate or provide feedback to each person focusing on the level of competence that he or she is at for that particular skill set that is needed.

Having a framework and process for moving from unconscious incompetence to being consciously competent helps mentors and learners. It is easier to select the right developmental tool or resource for development when it is clear which level of being skilled the learner is at. And the starting point is most often the results from 360 reports for leaders or communication and collaboration style feedback tools and exercises.


Note 1:
In February 1969, management trainer Martin M. Broadwell called the model “the four levels of teaching”. Paul R. Curtiss and Phillip W. Warren mentioned this model in their 1973 book The Dynamics of Life Skills Coaching. In the late 1970s, this model was used at Gordon Training International by its employee Noel Burch. He called it the “four stages for learning any new skill”. Later the model was frequently (but incorrectly) attributed to Abraham Maslow, although the model does not appear in his major works.

Structured Knowledge Sharing


people-final

Very few companies are planning ahead when it comes to knowledgeable people leaving the company and retiring. The knowledge that is lost to the company when Subject Matter Experts (SMEs) leave can have direct impacts to the top and bottom-line and yet, there appears to be room for improvement in this process.

The need for implementing a structured process for knowledge transfer or sharing can naturally come from any of the following process and review discussions involving HR representatives and Managers:

  • Succession Planning
  • Workforce planning
  • Recognition and Reward reviews
  • Training needs assessment
  • Organizational capability discussions (now and future)

The question is: how are you ensuring that those with recognized expertise in a specific area contribute to the learning of others?

In many cases such a recognized SME needs to be assigned to mentor a more junior employee delivering promising results early in his/her career with the company. However, the time commitment associated with mentoring one to three people individually plus ensuring that the interactions meet content coverage expectations can soon become a concern.  So how do you optimize the knowledge transfer or sharing process, while not taking up too much of the SMEs time doing so?

The solution is to structure the knowledge transfer or knowledge sharing process and to include multiple participants. Ideally participants with an SME should range between 3 and a maximum of 8 people. Structuring sessions where those present interact improves learning as it facilitates discussions leading to deeper understanding and the ability to get into more detail on some topics.

knowledge-transfer-graphic

Preparing the managers

It is helpful to ensure managers (of those attending knowledge-transfer sessions) are prepared and understand the process. When they know the topics that would be covered, they can plan post-session assignments for employees to benefit from the new knowledge and help them retain what they have learned. New knowledge is much easier remembered when it can be applied on-the-job soon after the learning session. This greatly improves the amount of newly acquired knowledge integrated in decision-making and execution of daily work activities at the company.

Measuring learning

  • Adding a pre- and post- survey with questions related to the topic can help you measure the increase in employee knowledge from sessions.
  • You can also use a 360 feedback survey and get feedback from those working with, for and managing the employees before they start attending sessions. It would give you a snapshot of their current strengths and improvement points. Structure the 360 feedback survey to include competencies in the areas that will be covered by the series of sessions to come.

Preparing the Subject Matter Expert

Structuring the discussions that will take place between an SME and assigned participants can be a daunting task for an SME. They often do not realize how much they know about various topics.

The first task would be to unpack the area of knowledge the person has – look at processes, clients, products, technology, developments outside your company, projects that the SMEs are particularly proud of. You can also survey the intended participants to find out what they would like to learn more about. That is the first task – focusing on the highest priority topics over a 6 months trajectory of sessions. As a starting point that would give you a good start and the opportunity to do a process check 6-months later to see what can be better.

Once you have the topics settled for each session, the SME would need some helpful structure to disseminate his or her knowledge in a helpful way as opposed to telling several war stories from the past which leaves session participants confused.

The questions below can be used by the SME to prepare for each session and it could be helpful for him or her to even present the information to the group in this structured way.

discussion-topics-for-smes

Capturing knowledge in a database would be one approach to knowledge sharing, but helping adults learn and know how to apply new knowledge requires that you build in room for questions and discussions in the process. This can be accomplished using face-to-face meetings, video conferencing, and webinars.

The best way to ensure that knowledge is retained and expanding within the company is to apply discipline and structure to knowledge sharing and transfer. This is especially important to do when you consider those who plan to retire in the next two to three years. Involving recognized experts (SMEs) within your company to share their knowledge with others is important for the sustainability of your competitive advantage in the market place. Its is about the things you know about your marketplace, the things you know how to do better and faster than your competition etc. Using the process and approach shared above will help you plan ahead and improve organizational capability over time.

Team Exercise or Ice Breaker – This Picture Shows…


pix-final

This exercise is very popular with those who prefer working with images and pictures to express and represent their thoughts and feelings. Using images often opens up new ways of communicating, which could bring a creative element to your event and everyone typically enjoys participating in this exercise.

The set-up is simple and the exercise does not take up a lot of time. It is also very versatile in the sense that you can use it in quite a number of different ways to get feedback and input from those you are working with in your event (training, meeting, workshop etc.)  I am sharing some specific options for you as facilitator to consider, but once you start getting creative with it, I am sure you will find many more applications for this exercise.

The information you need for this group or team activity/exercise is shown below:

this-picture-shows-1
this-picture-shows-2
this-picture-shows-3
this-picture-shows-4
this-picture-shows-5
this-picture-shows-6

Tip:

When it comes to selecting pictures get creative or brainstorm with a creative coworker or friend to create or find pictures that may “speak” to your participants given the context of the event or session(s) where this exercise is to be used. If you often facilitate sessions you will probably build up a good set of images to use for an exercise such as this one. More  “out of the box” (unusual) images could potentially lead to richer feedback from individuals to start group/team discussions. This could lead to vastly increased understanding of issues by participants.

Tips for new Facilitators


picture2

Being asked to facilitate a group of people to accomplish structured outcomes to a meeting or all-day session can be daunting if it is your first time.. This is especially true when there are strong opposing views within the group. I used to facilitate many sessions for a large global company and worked with a few colleagues who did similar work in other regions. The resource I am sharing contains tips received from my colleagues when I got started as a facilitator years ago. In turn, I have made it available to other new facilitators that I have encountered over the years. Now you can also benefit from this. (see inserts below)

Some assumptions made for these tips to be relevant:

  • As facilitator your workshop/session is part of a process. The session includes exercises designed to produce outcomes that would benefit the team. There is at least one (could be more) manager who have a vested interest in a successful outcome and who will also attend your session. These same managers are aware of the team and session process and have provided input to you in terms of their vision and needs from the process. Note: there may be more than one manager if you are facilitating a group process involving members of a client organization too and which may also be attended by the manager from the client organization.
  • Your role is to facilitate the agreed process and to re-agree next steps should the process somehow not be able to continue as planned or new information/changes trigger you to recognize that a change in timing/agenda should be considered.

TIPS for Facilitators:

tips-facilitator-1
tips-facilitator-2
tips-facilitator-3

How to stimulate participation by session participants?

  • Ask open-ended questions
  • Do a poll – where by raising hands people have to vote for one idea vs one or more other ideas
  • Count to 10 or more before you speak, let them bridge the silence with participation
  • When there is a question to you or a comment, defer it to the group – how does the group feel about this topic/question/statement?
  • Ask direct questions to specific participants whom you know (be sure) have experience in an area or on specific subject matters.
  • Summarize the points raised and ask the group to respond – agree or disagree? Correct or ..?
  • Divide them into pairs for a short discussion on a topic that pertains to what you just covered. (Gets them active after a period of perhaps monologue or exclusive dialogue.)
  • When the group seems lethargic consider an unscheduled short break
  • Do an impromptu energizing exercise (always have two or three of these in your back-pocket to employ when you see the need.
  • Expect some sluggishness in the period right after lunch for about an hour or so. Ensure your session design contains activities for this period – small groups etc.
  • Call it – sometimes a group is unresponsive, because everyone is thinking about an elephant in the room – some topic which should be discussed or settled which may not be on the agenda., but it is occupying the minds of everyone. If you know what it is, ask “Is ….. something we should discuss at this time?” if you do not know ask “Is there another issue that we should be covering at this time which may not be a scheduled topic?” [You would need to check in with the manager to ensure he wants to do it right away or later -schedule a specific date and time when he will deal with it. So call a short break if they tell you that something needs to be settled. To determine the”how” with the manager involved.)

These examples are not exhaustive, but they did help me out during those early years of facilitating sessions with groups and teams. I do trust they will do the same for you!

Cultural Differences Could Impact your Session

From a cultural perspective it is important to take note of cultural differences which may impact team and group dynamics during a facilitated session.

Some tips:

These examples could be tricky situations to navigate successfully, if you are not prepared to structure the process, the introduction and plan for the day in a way to ensure all participants see value in the time spent together. In some cases the answer may not be to have a facilitated session, but instead to have a series of meetings involving specific people from the participant groups. .

  • Some cultures expect the person in the front of the room to be an expert and if the facilitator asked questions of the group, his/her credibility may be at stake – in the mind of such a participant.
  • Valuing the goals that a sub-group brought to to the session, some cultures would expect that these goals may be more important than the goals set out for the session at the start.
  • Some cultures prefer to talk about practical examples during the session while others may prefer to talk about concepts. This could especially be apparent if a culture respects the resolution of disagreements privately instead of in a group context.
  • Physical activity or high-energy participant exercises may be seen as disrespectful or unsuitable behavior for senior level personnel in some cultures.
  • Asking questions or exploring concepts are not common across all cultures. Some participants from other cultures may find that approach alien and uncomfortable. They would expect the facilitator to simply give them the answers instead of asking the group to come up with the answer.

Use THIS LINK to read more about how to understand some cultural dimensions to consider as you plan to facilitate a meeting where there might be participants from multiple cultures.

Here is an example of how people from a Low Power Distance culture may differ from those coming from a High Power Distance culture in a facilitated or training sessions: