Terrie's Job Tips -- Team Training: Part Three - Big Picture Issues

Training really can transform a company, whether you're in the services business or in manufacturing. It helps people see a common goal and to work towards it. It also helps them understand each other a bit better and try to overlook the issues of different value systems and cultures. Further it sets expectations team-wide that help restrain those with "expansive personalities" from trampling over the more reserved.

Especially in the multinational sector, I have come across many companies where the employees are too concerned about dealing/fighting with each other to fight the real enemy: the competition. Innovation and risk-taking are suppressed, clients are sold uninspired and usually unprofitable solutions, and the company is only as good as the customer relationships formed many years before when the company was an emotionally healthier place.

As I related last column, I've founded and grown a number of companies, and discovered for myself the power of teamwork. In my first IT company, LINC Computer, we were able to grow the business by almost 100% a year for the 5 years following our first management powwow and subsequent training. That's an amazing jump in sales from just JPY150m to JPY1.8bn in just 5 years - growth that any company owner would be happy to have. Perhaps more importantly, when we sold the company to EDS in 1995, there wasn't just 1 owner but 10 - representing all the members of the key management team who'd committed years earlier to work towards making the business Number One in our space.

As a manager, a training program starts with some holistic thinking - understanding what the objectives are to be, and ensuring that the environment and resources for that training are made available. It helps a great deal if you can convince your own senior management in advance to accept the outcomes of the training, even if that means changing the way they do business. This is not an easy task and in a Japanese environment, might mean that senior management would be agreeing, for example, to be less autocratic about running the business and allowing the staff some flexibility and budget to be more innovative.

Training itself also tends to be a holistic exercise, unless you're simply doing some technical skills training. Like counseling you start off with a single simple goal, but as you get into it and people start opening up, you find other issues that all interrelated start popping up. For example, you might want to focus on educating sales people how to be creative in their offerings to clients, but you soon find out that your company's own systems won't support irregular or new products and services.

Thus, if you have it within your power (or powers of persuasiveness over senior management) you probably want to ask yourself early on whether you are going to do simple training on one particular area, or try to approach training from a longer-term basis, layering in levels of team development from top to bottom and taking a more strategic line.

If you decide that the problems being trained for do merit a holistic approach, you need to be ready for some serious vision building by the management team and commitment by them to stay with the program - which may take some years. This is not for the faint of heart.

On the other hand, if you decide to be tactical and pinpoint your training, be aware that you might be waking some personal and interpersonal demons inside the business, and that at best people will start expecting to be allowed to practice what they've learned and will become cynical if the company doesn't support them in doing so.

The irony of educating someone is that they are more likely to become dissatisfied with their work and leave - so a lot of thought has to go into keeping pinpoint training focused on a specific purpose, such as improving sales presentation techniques, and where the employee receiving the training can start using it to personal benefit despite the current work environment.