Collaborative training departments

It's likely that new start-ups in the coming decade will be intensely collaborative, but initially small and without training departments. Established organizations, large enough to have training departments, will become more collaborative or fall behind the changing times. The training departments may feel pressure to become more collaborative or to join an internal resistance movement that clings to legacy practices. In this contribution to the Entreprise Collaboration Blog Carnival, I explore four major innovations that collaborative training departments will likely adapt and adopt. I contrast these developments with conflicted training departments' reactions to any change and to these changes in particular. I make no predictions whether the progressive or regressive vectors will overcome the other. I merely anticipate the bounty of benefits to be realized by training departments that find their way to become more collaborative.

1. Utilized abundance of SMEs
We're in the midst of a paradigm shift. We relied on credentialed experts until we discovered folksonomies, user comments, wisdom-of-the-crowd rankings and Google Analytics hits counters. We tolerated how little content fit through the narrow slots of primetime TV, pages in the print edition and volumes on the shelf. Now were basking in the long tail of narrowcasting cultural creatives who every day upload "user generated" content, responses to requests, and contributions to projects. Countless books, like Groundswell and Crowdsourcing, have made it clear that a lot of very good work can get done by lots of outsiders who have been set up to take pride in their contribution, enhance their reputation and make new connections. We're beginning to privilege the willing contributions of creative participants whom ivory towers and corporate bastions typically reject.

Training Departments need outsiders to contribute to the Analysis, Design and Evaluation phases of the ADDIE process. The internal professionals can handle the Development and Implementation phases more proficiently than others because of the vast complexity and steep learning curves in using authoring software, multimedia resources, updated training facilities, LMS providers and departmental reporting protocols. While the training departments are usually well supplied with conventional subject mater experts (SMEs), they could benefit dramatically from several other kinds of contributions that "training topic" SME's cannot provide. There are experts scattered throughout most organizations with widely applicable expertise in cost containment, quality improvement, problem solving, brand management, strategy reformulation, product innovation and conflict resolution. All these could enhance the internal functioning of the training department within the enterprise. There is tacit expertise that could only come out by getting a community of practice to convene or gathering SME's together from diverse disciplines. There are also experts in how to get on the same page with particular higher ups and how to effectively argue a case for more funds, access, support or resources. There are even experts among the trainees with the know how to realize better effects on the attendees, to make the material more relevant to the trainees' situations and to build on what the participants already know first hand. All these outsiders could make a training department far more effective if they were regarded as potential collaborators.

Conflicted training departments view outsiders with disdain. They think like obsolete broadcasters, print publishers, Hollywood moguls, and music business executives. They assume the only way to control quality, to protect their reputation and to derive an income from their enterprise -- is to keep everything that gets done by qualified hires and contractors. They imagine the unpaid outsiders could only compromise the legacy standards, trash the fragile image of respectability and end up costing more in the long run.

When training departments take advantage of this broad range of SMEs, their internal functioning improves significantly. A greater number of individuals within the enterprise become fans, advocates, promoters and advisors to the department. The department gains credibility as a resource for other departments looking to improve their internal functioning and outreach. These collaborations effectively enhance the sharing of internal expertise that CIO's and knowledge management consultants chase after.

2. Transparent post mortems
Collaboration thrives on transparency. When we can see what questions others are pondering, what decisions they're wrestling with, what criticisms they have of themselves or what problems they're solving, we're far more inclined to jump in and lend a hand. Books, like Naked Conversations and The Whuffie Factor, have shown us how trust, engagement, volunteer effort and positive buzz all increase when a provider reveals internal processes to the public.

Training Departments need to Evaluate the ADDI phases of their process as well as the eventual outcomes they produce. The setbacks and failures of training materials, presentations and online offerings all need to be diagnosed for underlying causes that can be remedied. Surprising successes need to be characterized so they can get repeated deliberately. When these reviews get done throughly, their programs become more effective, the department earns more credibility, others want the department to succeed more than before and fewer conflicts with training objectives crop up.

Conflicted training departments usually dread doing post mortems at all, much less in public view. They assume it is safer and wiser to appear insular, aloof and conspiratorial to outsiders. They keep review processes internal to avoid getting blamed unfairly by those who refuse to take any responsibility for their part in the outcomes. The conflicted departments imagine their already tarnished image could be ruined by "washing their dirty laundry in public". They assume any transparent review of successes would get taken by hostile adversaries as boasting or dismissing valid criticisms.

When collaborative training departments solicit diverse inputs, their post mortems can exceed all expectations. Participants take responsibility for their share in the outcome. Insights into hidden dynamics come to light. Contexts that indirectly influenced participation get factored in. Attendees volunteer their read of mixed messages and distressing dilemmas that were completely off the radars of the instructional designers and trainers. Coworkers, back on the job, can sort out how much the undesired outcomes are due to the lack of follow-up by the team, lack of initiative by the trainee or lack of resources that should support the changed conduct. Everyone is then aware of the complexity of contributing factors and disinclined to blame any individual after that. Subsequent training cohorts seem more congenial and collaborative as if everyone expects to work together to realize the desired outcomes.

3. Co-created experience designs
Businesses ahead of the curve have been learning to stop thinking that they are selling products and to start thinking they are creating customer experiences. They are beginning to design the long series of sales and service interactions like an unfolding story or theatrical performance. Books, like Change By Design and The Experience Economy, give us clues for thinking about the experiences customers have when they are relating to product/service offerings. Customers who feel understood, respected, inspired and/or enchanted are far more likely to help co-create the experience designs for subsequent customers.

Training Departments could benefit from their trainees assistance in designing educational experiences together. Problems with 'talking to a wall" or "preaching to the choir' could be alleviated. Fine tuning the pace, scope and depth of a program could utilize trainees' insights, perceptions and suggestions. Their anonymous feedback that complains about programs could be put to better use by redesigning the course completion experience.

Conflicted training departments believe it's almost always a struggle to get people to learn. When the program becomes too fun and entertaining, the education value gets sacrificed. . They are wary of weakening the resolve, discipline and endurance of the workforce by indulging trainees' whims. They assume that most employees get sent to training as a reward or a much needed break from hard work on the job, rather than to learn anything memorable, essential or useful. These training departments are torn between being strict and "going easy" on their trainees.

When educational experience designs get co-created with trainees, the resulting experiences are on their wavelength. Rapport develops easily in discussion, interaction and participation formats. The quality of contributions during educational gatherings also increases when the experiences have been designed collaboratively. The feedback and suggestions following a program are more constructive, useful and insightful.

4. Training Department's brand
Every product and service has a brand in the minds of those who consider using it. The brand may include the user's image of owning it and the reputation it has for reliability, value or convenience. Prior to the current paradigm shift, it was assumed brands were created by advertising, packaging and warranty expense. Focus groups merely tested which efforts at "managing the brand" had the most favorable impacts on a select group of potential users. However, as online social networking has taken hold, brands are no longer under the control of the brand managers. Books like Accidental Branding and Brand Hijack teach us how to work with consumers transforming brands on their own.

Every training department could benefit from improving its brand image in the eyes of its beholders. Getting framed as more reliable, valuable and convenient than before could enhance the trainee's and supervisor's motivation to pursue, commitment to get results from, and satisfaction with -- the training experience. It's possible to inspire the trainees to spread the word about the benefits they obtained, the value they perceive and the respect they now show the training department. Stories will take on a life of their own about what happened during a training experience, what difference a training made and what trainees are looking forward to next. The training department that collaborates with "brand hijackers" will get told "yes" more often when they propose how they could deliver another training.

Conflicted training departments typically suffer from negative reputations. They may be known for providing training programs that are boring, useless, unresponsive, out of date, repetitive, and otherwise ill-conceived. Built on methods of mass production for mass consumption, conventional training "delivers content at unteachable moments". It's assumed nothing can be done about individual differences, timing issues or changing situations outside the training context. This robust negative brand can escalate into stereotypes of incompetent and clueless instructional designers, trainers and departmental managers. Negative brands seem "made to stick" because they tell a trainee's "victim story" that then evokes instinctual vigilance about imminent dangers, tribal solidarity to gang up against the common enemy and unquestionable labeling to blame those in a position of authority. In these situations, brand management takes on the look of "damage control" where the "brand hijackers" are seen as troublemakers, saboteurs and traitors.

When the training departments brand gets co-created with other members of the organization, a self fulfilling prophesy plays out beneficially. The fans of the training department find more to rave about to their social network. The advocates of more training acquire more justifications for their stance in favor of the departments continued success. Informal prophets, who foretell what to expect from training programs, get proven right as trainees find their experiences match the widespread reputation. Experienced collaborators with the training department makes themselves look good by telling others how well the training department works with outsiders.

Each of these innovations pose choices to training departments in collaborative enterprises. These choices may appear between:
  • living fearfully the past and living optimistically in the future
  • neglecting technological advances or fully utilizing them
  • rejecting the younger generations or embracing them wholeheartedly
  • facing the future with self-absorbed resignation or creating a future by caring for common interests with many others

These choices disrupt the status quo. They pull people out of the comfort zones, habitual routines and reliable expectations. They bring out people's insecurities, apprehensions and paranoid imaginations. They multiply the number of conflicts with the transition to increased collaboration, no matter how good the idea of learning and working together seems. The success of any change to more collaborative approaches depends on how well these conflicts get anticipated, understood and resolved.

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Designing the transition into collaborating

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