Tuesday, 22 November 2011

Facilitators vs Teachers

If organising a training programme for your employees, make sure you hire the right type of trainer.

Many teachers (school, college, etc.), pass themselves off as soft skills trainers, presumably because they think they have the skill sets to deliver programmes that involve communication, grammar, culture, reporting, writing, presentations, etc.; and presumably also because they want more money.

Nothing wrong with someone wanting to make more money. But the problem is that teachers simply don't have the requisite skill sets to be successful corporate trainers. They lack the probing, listening and interpersonal skills that make good trainers, and ironically these are some of the very skills they aim to train people on.

Don't get me wrong. I respect teachers and the work they do. It's not their fault that they're largely slaves to curricula and boards that force them to act as dispensers of information rather than facilitators of information. But that's reality. And that's why they don't belong in a corporate training room.

Teachers are used to one-way communication. They're preachers. They talk, you listen. You ask questions, they answer. Their word is law. The textbook is God. You study. Then there's a test. That's what they call a course. Any decent training manager will tell you that this isn't how a corporate training exercise is run, be it 1 day or 1 year long.

Employees aren't children; they can't be preached to. And unlike academia, the corporate world doesn't adhere to a set of textbook lessons to be learned and followed. Every employee who enters a training room comes in with some prior experience and set of assumptions about the course subject matter, either learned on the job, or elsewhere. This is called context. A good trainer recognises this and works with it, not against it. We call these people facilitators.

Facilitation involves understanding that every person in your training room already has some idea about what they're there to learn about, and each person probably sees this subject in a different way, and approaches this subject from a relatively different set of viewpoints and assumptions, and rather than preaching, you're going to use probing and questioning techniques to make members of your group identify their own problems with respect to the course subject, question their own methods, respond constructively to each suggestion you or anyone else makes, and come up with their own ideas and solutions, with an action plan, all within their individual limits.

Teachers suck at this, mainly because they're used to objective, context-free instruction. Facilitators, on the other hand, thrive on it. And who exactly is a good facilitator? A facilitator is anyone with decent interpersonal skills, and adequate subject matter knowledge. That's all. That's all you need to be a good trainer. Don't let the fancy jargon and pictures you come across in the business media, fool you. You don't need any special qualifications to be a good trainer or facilitator. But you do need certain essential skills.

To be a good facilitator, you need to be interesting, not boring. You can't have your group doze off on you while you're trying to help them. A sense of humour helps. So does a confident inspirational personality.

You need to be a good listener. You need to be quick. You need to pick up on suggestions from group members and bounce them around. You can't let discussions get away from you at any point. The group has to see you as their natural leader, has to turn to you to solve impasses.

You need to engage everyone. You have to be able to tell what interventions you should use, when you should stop using them, and when to move on.

You needn't be an expert on the subject mater; this is a soft skills course, not a technical one, and being an expert here is irrelevant, simply because there's no direct transfer of knowledge happening; you're simply enabling your group to come up with their own solutions.



~j~ said...

That was a good read. Do you think I have the skills to become a good facilitator?

Daniel D'Mello said...

I'm sure you do.

Kavita said...

I feel that this post refers to a very specific type of teacher. Most teachers these days have to be facilitators, the days of directive education are fast fading. The majority of today's curriculum deals with synthesis, evaluation and development of critical thinking, which is impossible to do using a directive method.

Daniel D'Mello said...

You're right there. I had in mind English teachers/professors when writing this. Especially ones that approach soft skills courses from a technical point of view.

Nowhere in corporate training is the line between the 2 groups (teachers and facilitators) so clearly drawn.

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