We invested a lot of time, money and energy in a training program that had to result in increased customer and employee satisfaction. However, the good intentions after the three-day training quickly ebbed away. No one is to blame, the training was well prepared, the program was tailor-made, the trainer was very funny, everyone hung on his words but there is to be no significant lasting results.
Now, four years later, the new Commercial Director has decided that a similar training program is needed. This time by another training organisation or even a business school… but is it going to produce a real change?
We have a reorganisation in the pipeline. The needs and questions of our clients are central for our organisation and this is our starting point. Due to this we need a totally new IT project. In a previous IT project we invested a lot of money in the development but encountered serious resistance to its implementation. Some departments even worked for months with both programs which caused double the amount of work. This time we want the ‘buy-in’ for the future users before everything is developed. But our question is how do we do this efficiently with such a large group of people?
More of the same is not a good solution. If it did not work the first time the chances are very high that it will not work the second. The same with another approach can offer a solution. This is where ‘Large Group Learning’ comes into its own.
The following simple model was first made to show what Dynamo does. But it can also be used as a model to see how your organisation can better learn.
There are two axes. One axis relates to group learning or individual learning. The other axis relates to learning according to a scenario (fixed) or to a purpose (open). The Y-axis between group and individual learning and the X-axis between scenario and purpose form a continuum where you can take different positions. So there are four quadrants.
In practice, the training that follows a curriculum or fixed scenario is still very common. In Belgium, large organisations choose multi-lingual training offices like Dynamo because they wish the training to be available in both languages. Behind this choice is the assumption that all the participants have the same level of knowledge and, if that is not the case, after a group training they will certainly all have the same level of knowledge.
When you learn skills at your own pace either through course material or e-learning you follow the individual and fixed scenario training. Your most talented employees will learn well from this self-motivating approach. As this group usually is only less than 10% of employees ‘blended’ learning, where individual learning is mixed with other learning methods, has a greater chance of being effective.
Coaching is extremely effective when the learning situation is personal or sensitive. The most important point of the training is the goal and the person coached is not asked to follow a fixed training. The explanation given by a colleague is not formal training but is the most usual form of learning in the workplace, this type of learning falls in this quadrant.
It is important to develop adequate training opportunities using the four different quadrants. To obtain results it is better to have a balanced training program with variation. You do not need to always invest in bringing in more and/or new knowledge.
With traditional training programs it is assumed that the trainees must learn new skills. This certainly is the case for technical subjects but it is not so true in the area of social skills. Participants are trained to a desired higher level of knowledge and skills. One can compare it with the following sum:
Large Group Learning does not only deal with content but also with the experience and relationships between the participants. We assume that the trainees are competent (otherwise they would not be working for you), each having their own specialties. The necessary knowledge is present in the group but is not always sufficiently applied or optimally used. This learning process is understood as a group activity where each other’s knowledge is refined and improved. Here the comparison is with a multiplication:
Large Group Learning offers a different approach to problem solving; other methods can often be slow, unhealthy, bumpy and conflict-filled. Below are a few advantages:
Large Group Learning can give some managers uncomfortable feelings at the beginning. Some have insufficient courage to let go of control. There are different reasons for this: from personal ego to a lack of trust in their own employees. Often there is the belief that group-based ideas are unrealistic and impracticable. Our experience is that this is not so when there are clear boundaries. Groups behave very responsibly if it concerns them.
Large Group Learning offers a learning platform applicable to different types of topics, whether this is to reach a goal or to solve a problem: strengthen client focus, knowledge sharing, better communication, tightening security, conflict resolution, leadership direction, building confidence, mission-vision-strategy planning, handling change, increasing market share, simulating innovation, introducing projects, take-over integration, organising a kick-off, celebrating good results, making business events more dynamic, training approach based on company strategy, …
Below you see a summary of a few forms of Large Group Learning. Each form has its specific application with advantages and disadvantages. One form or a mix of forms can be combined depending on the problem to be solved or the goal to be reached.
The ‘World Café’ enables a (large) group of people who normally would not meet or rarely would meet with each other to exchange ideas on a specific theme in a short time. It is a creative way to start to dialogue and to share knowledge on a particular topic.
The ‘Open Space’ method was first developed by Harrison Owen. After a conference he had the idea for this method. He realised that the really important topics were talked about in the coffee breaks often with more enthusiasm than in the official program.
‘Solution Focus’ or Solution Orientated Work is based on Steve de Shazer’s ‘solution focused brief therapy’. He developed it with Insoo Kim Berg. The basis is that one starts from what one already knows and/or can do.
It is good to give attention to the achievements and successes that have been realised by employees within an organisation. Too often it is the difficulties and problems that are highlighted. This can result in negative reactions and, in addition, can deprive employees the needed energy to bring in change(s).
In ‘Future search’ people go together through the timeline of the past, present and desired future. Through dialogue they discover their common grounds. Only then do they make concrete action plans. Appreciative Inquiry modelled their methodology on Future Search.
Employees feel happier at work after participating in Large Group Learning. This is because Large Group Learning is built upon the three most important ingredients that scientific research has shown to be what make people happy. These ingredients are: having autonomy, the feeling of involvement with a specific purpose, and the feeling of being able to contribute to solutions. The positive attitude that is created in Large Group Learning pops up in other forms of cooperation, both formally and informally, in the organization. What is good and what works is quickly learnt and repeated.