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|Large Group Development Day|
This article describes the structure, planning, what happened and the outcomes of a development day for a large administration department. This should interest you because:
The authors are the external consultant, Nick Heap, and the training manager of the organisation. Each has contributed his perspective on the event, its outcomes and the lessons we learned.
The organisation is a large public sector Laboratory doing scientific research. The Administration Department includes all the staff that are not scientists or senior managers. There was a history of poor understanding between the scientists and administrators with each stereotyping the other. This led to poor morale in the administrators and complaints from the scientists. Co-ordination between different parts of the admin. department was also poor. The workload was increasing too. These pressures led to the decision to try to motivate staff and involve them in creating solutions to these issues for themselves. Time and money was scarce so it needed to be a very cost-effective solution.
The development day
The Head of Admin. delegated the management of this work to the Personnel and Training Managers. They decided, with the consultant, to take the whole Department off the site for a dayís development. This would give everyone a shared experience and be economical on consultant time. As up to ninety people could be involved, we needed some members of staff to help with the process of the day.†
We discussed the purpose and outline design of the training with the Section Managers. They agreed to help as facilitators of the working groups. The consultant ran a brief introduction to facilitating. The group of managers identified issues that they thought were important to the Admin. group. The consultant and each manager then took turns facilitating a discussion of each issue. The group and consultant discussed the process of each discussion. This helped people to concentrate on listening, managing the time fairly and avoiding being defensive. A Handout, Guidance for Facilitators, see below, summarised these ideas.
Comments from the floor
Comments from facilitators
Comments from the manager
This design required an area where people could sit Ďcinema styleí and listen to brief talks but also have considerable empty space so people could move about and mingle without falling over chairs. The participants could easily move their chairs into circles for small group work.
In each small group there was flip chart paper, an easel, and a couple of pens. It was important for the managers to reassure the staff that the project was a genuine and positive attempt to make things better.
The design of the day follows the general principles described below. These principles help with the structure and the way the management of the event. Participants must work on the issues they want to work on and be treated with respect if it is to work.
What are the conditions under which people learn best?
People learn best when they feel safe and supported. This happens when they know what to expect, that the risks are moderate and the plan of the event is clear. A collaborative climate makes it easier to share thoughts and feelings than a competitive one. Clearly people will be more motivated to learn if the event meets their needs.
Some design principles and practical implications
The presenter of an event should practice what he/she preaches. If teaching the value of listening and support, it is particularly important to listen to and support the students. If we want people to express their feelings openly, our modelling of this will be more important than anything we say.
You have to build a trusting and growthful learning atmosphere. Clear rules about confidentiality and feedback build trust. Then people know what will happen to the Information they reveal. People usually find it much easier to trust one person than a group.
The purpose of the event and the individual activities and exercises must be clear to all those involved. If the purpose is unclear people will be confused, uncommitted and fear manipulation.
It is more useful to discover how to do things right than how to do things wrong. The information is also more acceptable. Most people do not get enough positive feedback and respond very well when they get some. The training and exercises work best when there is no right answer.
A person acts on ideas best when they come from him/her, then his/her peers and lastly from a trainer. Therefore, avoid the role of content expert if possible and concentrate on facilitating the process.
Any training event should be considered as a whole. How people learn about the event and why they are going on it will influence their commitment to learning. Similarly, think how people leave the event and to ensuring the organisation encourages them to put their learning into practice. If they do not put it into practice then, from the organisationís point of view, the work is a waste of effort.
People value ideas they discover for themselves. They like to learn in individual ways too and work on issues and subjects that are important to them. The task of the trainer is to respond to those needs flexibly and individually. This is easier in very small groups.
What issues did people work on and with what results?
Task groups discussed the above. Each consisted of six people from different levels in the hierarchy. A middle manager led them. They met at the away day and several times after it. Each group had one issue to examine. The Administration Management Group decided the terms of reference. The groups produced proposals that they presented to the management group. Commitment was high and every task group member attended this presentation. The management accepted many recommendations, which the department then carried out. Some highlights were:
People are listening to each other and working together better. This is helping them cope with change more positively.
What would†we do differently?
The most senior admin. manager delegated the management of the exercise to his senior staff. This made it hard for him to own it and accept some recommendations from more junior staff. Although the consultant anticipated this might happen, he could have been more forceful in seeking his direct involvement. The work would have been more effective if the scientists, who were the customers of the Departmentís services, had taken part. We had to start where we had commitment rather than an unattainable ideal position.
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