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Integral training: why everything matters

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Trainers have specialisms but they should look beyond them and get interested in everything because everything is having an effect, says Mark Walsh.

My whole life I have been fascinated by what is left out. Studying psychology I realised much Western education is disembodied so I also perused the martial arts. Learning Aikido I found the emotions were not included so I looked into a heart-led system called Non-violent communication. Seeking greater spiritual depth I started meditating and studying religion. Trying to understand culture I travelled and worked abroad...and so on.

While I have my specialisms I am interested in everything because everything is having an effect. If we miss out one side in life, business or training we quickly get into trouble because that side doesn’t stop having an effect because we are not looking at it. Everything matters.

What these studies left me with when I started my training company was a diverse bag of tools that I could take to any organisation and always be able to offer something new that they would get a lot of leverage from. What you’re ignoring can teach you a lot. Often it was the embodied, emotional and spiritual dimensions in business but sometimes it was rigorous systems and cognitive understanding.

"Trainers need to understand both passing psychological states and more permanent types of trainees to lead successful courses."

All these “intelligences”, to use Howard Gardner’s terms, are important in the modern workplace. We are all smart in different ways but we need to be clever enough in all of them not to sabotage ourselves. This is the true meaning of the word “holistic” - a term now sadly co-opted by new-agers who are just as lop-sided as emotionally disassociated old-school 80s managers.

So how do we make sense of the big “anything goes” mess that can result in having done a bit of everything and is common among consultants and trainers? The system I’ve found which makes the most sense and includes and structures the widest variety of areas is Ken Wilber’s integral theory.

This model which has diverse applications includes what he calls quadrants (the most basic distinction which we shall look at shortly), lines of development (like multiple intelligences), levels of development (how these advance), states (short term - for example, waking, dreaming, altered) and types (longer-term, for example, Myers-Briggs).


Quadrants

The four quadrants are the fundamental divisions of . . . well, everything. Any trainer worth their salt needs to be aware of and use each of them. They refer to interior (subjective) and exterior (objective), singular and plural. These make “I,” “we”, “it” and “its” as quadrants. In business terms these translate into psychology, behaviour/embodiment, culture and systems/structures respectively.

For example, let’s say you’re doing stress management training. As a trainer you need to consider the psychology of stress and could teach CBT reframing techniques, the biology and the behaviour of stress - many can’t think their way out of stress and need physical grounding and centring techniques. Also, behavioural coping mechanisms, such as drinking, need to be considered.

You also need to appreciate the culture of the company you’re working in. Some clients are happy to be offered meditation, others need it framed as “mental toughness and attention training”. Lastly, it is often necessary to work with the company on their structures and systems for stress training to be truly effective and “stick”. They are all necessary to consider to do a good job. On the training day your own mental state (I), physical health (it) cultural match with the group (we) and the classroom itself (its) all matter.

Lines and levels

We have already discussed “lines” of intelligence and there are several important ones involved in most types of training. Leadership, for example, is a mix of interpersonal, values, emotional, cognitive, creative, practical, spiritual and embodied intelligence lines to name just some of the main ones. Any leadership training program needs to consider these or you will be doing participants a disservice. Training itself requires similar types of intelligence and an effective trainer needs to be more than “book smart”.

Intelligences develop along “levels” or “waves” - the Spiral Dynamics value sets, for example - and these are ignored by trainers at their peril. Levels concern adult development and can be a controversial idea. The notion that we can grow in our capacity for perspective and care is perhaps not so radical, and learning how people grow is critical for educational and training success.

To use a simple model, participants operating from an egocentric (me), ethnocentric (us) or worldcentric (all of us) paradigm will have very different learning styles, motivators and success with different types of programs. Different value-sets speak different “languages” and training and trainers need to match. A pluralistic postmodern soft-skills trainer will not go down well with a hard-nose rational-materialist group of bankers who will likely see them as “soft and fluffy”, for example.

States and types

Trainers need to understand both passing psychological states and more permanent types of trainees to lead successful courses. State management techniques are part of NLP, embodied training, accelerated learning and good emotional intelligence training, and make a big difference to learning. Being awake is a start, optimising states for learning even better.

Types are reasonably well understood in the training world compared to the other distinctions here and covered by models such as MBTI, learning styles and The Enneagram. A good trainer knows that different types of people learn in very different ways, quickly identifies them and accommodates them. 

This has been a very brief overview of what is a complex subject - but reducing everything to 1,000 words is a good challenge. Many organisations are becoming aware of these issues so trainers need to be up to speed with this. We can also play a part in the evolution of these systems.

The “conscious business” movement is one addressing multiple bottom-lines (more than money matters), multiple shareholders and growing corporate social responsibility. This badly needed and ethical forward movement is supported by, and a good reason for, a more integral approach to training. If this is not aligned with your values I would suggest that the integral model is worth considering as it just works better than missing stuff out. That’s a technical term. Everything matters, and that includes what we do as trainers.

Resources



Mark Walsh leads integral leadership training providers Integration Training - based in Brighton, London and Birmingham. Specialising in working with emotions, the body and spirituality at work they help organisations get more done without going insane (time resilience and stress management), coordinate action more effectively (team building and communication training) and leaders build impact, influence and presence. 

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