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BBC commissions drama to improve communications skills training


In a move which smacks of ‘coals to Newcastle’, a training company has taken drama to the BBC, running internal training sessions to help team leaders and supervisors to communicate difficult messages and more senior staff, including programme editors, to manage performance.

Each month, from September to July, the BBC runs short, fast-paced workshops to highlight a specific managerial skill set. Aimed at all members of staff, the 90-minute workshops are repeated four times in the month and to date they have covered a wide range of issues such as mind mapping, listening, negotiating, influencing, project management and presentation.

Called Learning Breaks, these workshops run in morning and lunchtime slots and they often feature interactive sessions, exercises and group work.

When the idea came up to run a workshop on providing difficult feedback, Clare Selerie - Learning and Development Consultant for BBC Training and Development - contacted Steps Role Play, the drama-based training company.

“Steps were recommended to me as they’d previously run two workshops on performance management for BBC Broadcasting and Production,” she said. “We had already run one Learning Break workshop on giving feedback but I was keen to concentrate on the issue of communicating difficult messages, including negative feedback, which is a key skill for any manager.”

Called Say it with Feeling, Steps Role Play’s resultant drama-based training workshops attracted a range of team leaders and supervisors, as well as interested HR and general managers. They were delivered at London’s Television Centre and at Broadcasting House and they proved so popular that Steps were subsequently commissioned to run regional versions in Bristol and Manchester.

“It was a very successful session,” said Clare Selerie. “The nice thing with Steps is that the actors role play, not the delegates, and this makes it a comfortable way for people to learn. We gave Steps a couple of role play scenarios to work with, such as a manager dealing with someone who had overspent their budget on a TV show. They also developed their own scenarios and took suggestions from the attendees.”

The role plays were delivered in Steps’s characteristic format.

“They acted out a scenario in which a manager is giving feedback in a very awkward and clumsy way and not getting anywhere,” said Clare Selerie. “The manager then turns to the audience, out of role, and asks for help. The audience coach the character to do better by offering suggestions. The character returns to role and puts the suggestions into practice. The delegates then immediately see the relative success, or otherwise, of the chosen approach.”

She adds that this form of drama-based training can be extremely useful, even though the members of the audience don’t actually practise the skills themselves.

“The important thing is that the Steps approach encourages people to think the issue through,” she said. “They see good and bad approaches to a particular issue and they make personal decisions themselves about how they would handle a similar situation in the future.”

As well as role plays, Steps also provided some general training input on the subject of giving difficult feedback and they finished the workshops off with a summary of practical points for people to remember.

“The feedback from the workshops was extremely good and, as a result, I asked Steps to provide another Learning Break workshop on managing appraisals and I also used them on one of our internal programmes for senior managers,” said Clare Selerie.

The latter was BBC Leadership Challenge, a nine-month modular programme, covering leadership, strategy and managing performance.

Steps provided a half-day session as part of the managing performance module, for a group of 10 senior managers, including programme editors. Again, the Steps team provided role play scenarios, where characters received coaching from the group. They were also involved in subsequent discussions of the key points.

“Steps are extremely professional and they are very quick to pick up a brief,” said Clare Selerie. “Naturally they are impressive actors and improvisers but they can also adapt themselves to the level of people who are there in front of them. This particular programme had a mix of senior people including a contingent who are responsible for major drama productions on BBC1. The group was completely won over by Steps and their approach. They’re such good actors, such fun actors, that even though they deal with quite serious subjects, they make it entertaining and people really enjoy it.”

Clare Selerie believes there’s always a corporate benefit when you improve communications skills.

“Some people are just innately good at managing, others need a little bit of help,” she said.
“The BBC is a fantastically creative and privileged place to work but we recognise the importance of good management and we like to offer opportunities for people to learn. Steps have certainly helped us in this regard. The sessions they have run for us have covered key skills such as good communications and performance management. These are particularly important for any manager because they can help you to motivate your team.”

For more details, please call Robbie Swales at Steps Role Play on 020-7403 9000 or see

Case histories of Steps Role Play’s work for clients such as Accenture, Centaur, Grant Thornton, Ladbrokes, Lloyds TSB, Oracle, Pfizer, Rabobank and Sun Microsystems are accessible online via the Steps website:

The site also includes details about drama-based training and Steps Role Play’s approach.
Michael Dawson


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