Terrie's Job Tips -- Team Training: Part Four - Planning the Course

A lot of managers call for training as a knee-jerk reaction to some problem that they have been experiencing within the team. While this is understandable, just like any business process setting up a training program warrants time, proper planning, colleague buy-in, and a well thought out set of goals. This week we cover some of these considerations.

The first question, and one that I have pointed out in previous articles is, "What are you trying to achieve through this training?" If the objective is to improve specific skills or to reinforce a general company ethos of self-development, then the course content will be very different to someone who is trying to fix an in-fighting problem, cultural friction, or improve the performance of a dysfunctional team. The worse the problem you're trying to fix, the more support and higher up the training has to go.

This implies that you could be trying to fix a problem whose root cause lies in a defective senior management team. This situation presents a real challenge to the middle manager, and if you're not getting good feedback from your senior managers, it's a safe bet not to dig too deep in terms of issues addressed by the course content. Instead, stick to just trying to improve the environment for your team members, using content that follows company goals and values.

After setting the objectives, next comes the buy-in from the senior staff within your team. Identify the opinion leaders, who are hopefully the same people as your sub-managers, but not always, and be sure to get them interested in the training content and planning outcomes. This is an excellent exercise in team building in itself and will create a sense of value in the course that will trickle down to the junior team members.

In a multinational company, another important consideration is the language you conduct the training in. While you may feel that you have strong bilinguals on your team, remember that effective communication is not just words in a language but also nuance and shared experiences. My recommendation is that you choose the native language representing the bulk of your course attendees. If you have some staff not completely fluent in the course language, consider some native language breakout sessions just for them.

Now that you have buy-in, you need to choose a vendor. There are many training organizations around, but the results can be decidedly different. If you have the cash and time, you might want to try some of the specialist multinational vendors such as AMT and CoachA. But if you're under pressure to keep the budget low, then look at purely Japanese firms.

Recommendations from business friends can be a reliable way to find a vendor, as can reviewing 5 randomly chosen vendors' materials, looking for one whose program is well structured and yet flexible at the same time. In my opinion, a good training organization will try to tailor their courses for you, so ask during their presentations about their methodology for doing this. Check too, their own core values - there is no point in bringing in a vendor who believes that top down feudal management is the most productive work unit!

Something for you to remember as the manager initiating a training course is to have an in depth powwow with the training vendor about outcomes. It's all too easy to get sucked into the process and the content decision-making and forget what you actually want to have happen. I've found that you can be quite specific and a good training vendor will respond with special exercises for special problems. I tend to make a cheat sheet for the vendor of issues that I feel each member of the team is struggling with, and/or issues for the team as a whole (such as low performance, inability to close sales, etc.). Clearly this material is highly confidential and would cause you untold political fall-out if it were to be made public. So treat this kind of document with great care - but nevertheless create it.

In the same vein, at the conclusion of the training, you should get a detailed report from the vendor in return. I ask for individual assessments, a team evaluation compared to our competitors, and recommended follow up training. I've always found these reports fascinating, since they elevate the training organization almost to the position of amateur psychologists - at least within the confines of the training objectives. Again, treat these reports with the greatest care. I don't think the contents of such reports should be shared, and instead, you should take your time to interpret what you have read and communicate any follow up actions in your own words.