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Opinion: How creative is your training?


CreativeForget the misapplied training of the 1980s and 90s, says Bob Selden - creative training has now 'grown-up'. He takes a look at what is on offer, and finds that acting and music can enhance the learning experience.

As a young trainer, I was fortunate to work with a group of extremely talented and creative trainers. This experience has fostered in me the drive to ensure my training initiatives are as creative as possible. I was also fortunate to have a boss who, whilst encouraging our creativity, ensured that training was meaningful. All training had to have behavioural objectives with outcomes that stipulated what was to be learned, to what degree of proficiency and where and when the learning would be applied.

Over the years I have, however, seen trainers who have chased the goal of creativity irrespective of context and ultimate outcomes. Remember the proliferation of misapplied outdoor training in the 80s and 90s where the 'experience' seemed to be the goal rather than the outcome? Fortunately today, outdoor training has matured.

Outdoor trainers are now professionally qualified trainers, coaches and facilitators. Stucki's of Switzerland for example, have business leadership facilitators who use Kolb's experiential learning cycle of action, reflection, debriefing and testing to ensure the transfer of learning to the workplace.

Photo of Bob Selden"When you think of making your training more creative, what can you do?"

When you think of making your training more creative, what can you do? Of course there are the many excellent games and simulations that foster both individual and team development. We've also seen learning experiences such as sailing, dragon boat racing, whitewater rafting, horse training and cooking. Here are three others that I've recently experienced. They focus on developing EQ, coaching and teamwork.

The first is acting. Peter Fisher, a well-known Australian movie and TV star, now uses his acting talents and experience to help managers develop their emotional intelligence. In an interview recently Peter explained it this way:

"My focus is creating an understanding and appreciation of the ever increasing need to bring us back to the human element in the way that we do business; a moment of personal reflection in a world where we tumble end over end in an ever increasing surge of new concepts, ideas, technology and information exchange.

Now more than ever leadership requires a greater understanding of personal impact, influence, self and social awareness, managing emotions in oneself, in others and understanding relationships.

All of an actor's training involves active, experiential training processes, many of which are challenging, lateral in design and yet powerful and immediate in their outcomes. They provide a fast tracked learning of the way humans behave."

I've seen Peter work with a group of hard headed business managers where he has them dress as clowns that reflect their most challenging or overplayed leadership characteristic. The learning is instant, memorable and has tremendous impact. His ability to have the participants reflect and consider the "impact of their intent" is particularly insightful.

The second learning experience is another form of acting. Jörgen Danielson, of Vardagens Dramatik (meaning 'everyday drama' in Swedish) specialises in developing participants' coaching skills by interacting with actors simulating a business situation.

As Danielson explains: "Each session begins with a play about a business scenario where the training participants observe a small number of characters and the issues these characters are confronted with". After about 40 minutes, it really starts to get interesting. Participants are invited to interact with the actors to coach them to improve their performance.

Danielson continues: "Through this dialogue with the characters, the participants have the opportunity to try out and improve their interpersonal coaching skills. The challenge is to successfully motivate each individual character to a positive change. Since the participants are faced with complex 'real life' human beings, with real emotions and real defence mechanisms, they are forced to reflect upon their own way of communicating and coaching. Some participants smile in recognition of a neighbouring colleague until they suddenly realise that they themselves are playing the main part".

Two, or three session breaks are taken where small groups of participants meet to discuss their tactics and get further coaching from trainers. The interactive dialogue then continues. Finally, the entire process is debriefed with the participants, trainers and actors.

Vardagens Dramatik have been using this method of learning for the past 20 years across Europe. As Danielson reports: "Customer testimonials reveal improvement in listening skills, ability to empathise with co-workers, and a greater awareness of one's own responsibility in each given situation".

From my own observations, this is one of the most dramatic methods of instantly learning what works and what doesn't when one is trying to improve the performance of another through coaching.

The third example is one of the newer creative training initiatives - music. Paul Smith, CEO of Voces Contabiles Music a UK-based firm working in the management development area, combines music and business to develop team work. As Paul explains it:

"We use various learning processes - from basics of team building through to more specific MBTI, managing the change curve, the northbound train strategic planning exercise etc. The broad process is to provide a unique platform for learning through music. By putting all participants, whatever their management level, onto an equal musical footing, and by exploring analogies set in the music world rather than the business world, we run workshops which are fun, participatory and offer unique learning opportunities for all taking part."

"Using creative learning appropriately will not only make your sessions more fun... they will be memorable and transferable learning experiences for your participants."

Paul and his team have the participants forming choirs, developing a jazz band, learning the Samba and finally penning the next number one hit! All of these activities are integrated with learning tools such as MBTI. The musical experiences are debriefed with relation to work and team issues. It's an experience that has the group literally buzzing from start to finish and as one CEO recently commented, "We are still talking about the Contabiles Music experience and what we learned from it as a team – and it happened over 18 months ago".

Whatever creative training activities you decide to use, there are some pointers to keep in mind:

  • Ensure your training outcomes are clear at the start – what behavioural objectives are you aiming to achieve? Remember, what will the participants be able to do, to what degree of proficiency and within what context? Avoid the temptation to use a particular creative learning tool or process just because it appeals to you.
  • Once you've established your desired outcomes, how would you classify these? Are they for individual or team development? Perhaps a combination of both? Which creative learning processes will best suit your needs?
  • If you choose a process such as those mentioned here, make sure that you can work in harmony with the provider. Although they are all highly qualified facilitators in their own right, they do like to work in partnership with their client trainers. Make sure you agree the role each of you will play and clearly map this out in advance.
  • Be sure the briefing and particularly, the debriefing processes are well thought out and managed. As an experienced trainer, you will be aware that much of the learning takes place when people have the opportunity to really reflect on their experiences.
  • Using creative learning appropriately, will not only make your sessions more fun, most importantly they will be memorable and transferable learning experiences for your participants.

    Bob Selden is the author of the recently published 'What To Do When You Become The Boss' – a self help book for new managers. He also coaches at the International Institute for Management Development in Lausanne, Switzerland and the Australian Graduate School of Management, Sydney. You can contact Bob via

    Read his Spotlight

    Read his previous features:

    If training is the answer, what's the question?

    Can managers become coaches?

    Take your corners please: Management v leadership, who wins?


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