From nothing to something: How to create learning experiences on the fly

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Creating learning experiences on the fly is one of the many talents of Master Facilitator and Performance expert Thiagi.

Here’s just one example of an experience he recently created, and highlighted in his monthly newsletter. What you’ll find is that facilitating meaningful discussions on leadership, communication, and teamwork doesn’t necessarily require a 50-page slide deck or months of instructional design time.

What it does require, is a willingness to a) use what’s in the room (not just the materials, i.e. chairs… but the skills, knowledge, and capabilities of your participants) to co-create a meaningful and impactful learning experience.

Here, Thiagi recounts a recent training session where he walked into the room to see the chairs arranged in a single line.

I took one look at the room set up and thanked my lucky stars for providing the perfect arrangement for an experiential exercise. I told the participants to organize themselves into four groups of six. I asked one person in each group to act as a non-participating observer. I assigned myself the observer’s role for the group that had only five members. I asked each group to spend 7 minutes to plan how to rearrange the chairs in the room to permit teamwork and small-group discussions. I called the observers and gave them specific suggestions on what to watch out for.

After the 7 minutes of planning, I asked members of each group to hold one-on-one conversations with the members of the other groups. After about 5 minutes, I asked the groups to revise their original plans to please the members of the other group. Each group presented its final plan. The plans included removing all the chairs to the hallway and conducting a stand-up session, arranging the chairs in six clusters of four, arranging 24 chairs in a large circle, and letting each participant own a chair and carry it around whenever a new configuration was required. We conducted a poll to choose the best approach (which turned out to be each participant lugging his or her chair around) and spent 5 minutes implementing the plan.

This activity provided valuable experiences related to communication and leadership. I conducted a debriefing discussion with these types of questions: Who assumed the leadership role? Who talked the most? Who came up with the best ideas? How did you listen to the others in your group? To the people from the other groups? How did you attempt to persuade the others? Who kept track of the time? Who took notes? What would have happened if I assigned the leader’s roles to specific participants?

These questions and the responses from the participants and the observers formed the foundation for leadership and communication principles and procedures that we explored for the rest of the day.

Instead of lecturing about leadership to begin the session, Thiagi designed a simple experience for his participants to learn by doing – and to guide the debrief towards specific learning outcomes.

Simple, yes. Effective, yes…  if we can create the conditions and ask the right questions to pique curiosity and spur reflection, then we have more tools already at our disposal than we realize.

Leadership Development via subtraction

Doing more with less.

Doing more by doing less.

No these aren’t faux business article headlines, but they might as well be. In an increasingly fast-paced, hectic work environment, learning professionals are working to create learning opportunities that are relevant, applicable, and personal.

But one of the best pieces of advice I’ve received on creating leadership development experiences in particular adds one more piece to the puzzle:

Many leadership development experiences identify what a leader should be doing more of. What if instead we helped them focus on what they should stop doing? 

Learning experiences can sometimes leave us feeling bogged down by new behaviors we should be incorporating, or knowledge we should be applying. It can become so additive that its hard to focus or feel that we can apply it all. 

To help ease the transition from learning to application we can work to remove some of the barriers that are keeping others from doing great work. We can do this by shrinking the change, helping others identify what they should be doing less of (or stop), and getting really clear on what is getting in the way of the change we seek.

Chances are your learners will breathe a huge sigh of relief when behavior change efforts become crystal clear, tinier, more specific, and hopefully more manageable.

In these busy times our focus for programs that stick can be on removing whatever it is that is getting in the way, and what we could stop doing, instead of piling on more.