There’s something badly wrong with training courses. Not training for skills or health and safety, those seem ok, but the type aimed at making you a better manager, a better salesperson, more innovative, more creative. The sort that normally takes a day or two and includes lunch (I hate free lunch). Fundamentally not only do they not work but they actually have a negative impact.
At this point I should present some empirical evidence, and perhaps I will in due course, but for the moment I am going to set out a scene and see if you are familiar with it. These events usually follow the pattern of ice-breaker, motivational clichés and sound bites and brainstorming exercise – sound familiar? Nothing inherently wrong with that. At some point during the day you will look at what is wrong with the present situation, why we aren’t achieving our goals. You may well finish on a high full of ‘plans’ to work differently in future. Yet seldom do these materialise, another training day is required.
What goes wrong? It is my belief that these days fail to deliver because of their very fabric. Dig a little deeper and you will find that the speaker often has a background in sales. There is nothing inherently wrong with this as a background or present or future; but it does lead to an uncritical belief in one’s own message. Many of the triggers used by the speaker will be similar to those used by sales staff. They will agree with you, they will agree with you a lot. Nothing will be your fault. The solution will be wound up in their product.
How often on one of these events do we brainstorm problems – maybe a SWOT or one of its derivatives? And how often are those problems time, money, culture, targets, and management. In other words the day has repeated back to us our own generic prejudices. If you are trying to be creative then targets and management get in the way, if you are trying to sell then engineers just don’t understand the need for deadlines and customer focus. You come away feeling you are right and that you are being held back. The company is, perversely, happy as they feel you are now aware of the need for change (in their event you were the problem, in your event they are the problem – the culprit is never in the room).
The real issue is that organisation, like life, are both complex and simple, both fluid and solid. Just like relationships we can overcomplicate and create narratives and myths that bog us down. After all surely a relationship is just a friendship with kissing? Surly business is just some people getting together to share the effort of making money?
Of course there are issues in every sense and use of that word, but these are not solved by a flipchart. No amount of identifying the need for cultural change will actually effect cultural change, for example.
Now it would seem I have fallen into my own trap – I have talked at length on the problem, the issues. Let me offer a solution and I promise to come back in more detail. What is needed are events that dive straight in and get to grips with something tangible, with anything! Don’t learn a new technique spend the day rearranging the office, canoeing or walking with a group of customers, being customers in another business – a rival’s or any business! Enjoy just doing something different, but do it together. You will see the business differently, see each other differently and see the company differently - it really is that simple!