Are You an Ally To Your Training Participants?

I have the good fortune of having SkyeTeam as one of my clients. The president of SkyeTeam, Morag Barrett, is an incredibly talented executive coach, facilitator, and author. One of the key teachings from her book, Cultivate. The Power of Winning Relationships, is around four types of relationships: Ally, Supporter, Rival, and Adversary.

In reading an early draft of the book, one comment that really struck me was in regard to Supporters:

In my opinion the Supporter relationship is the most insidious relationship dynamic to have. A Supporter relationship tends to be comfortable and easy, and this comfort may result in complacency.”

When I first read the word “insidious” in regard to being a Supporter (generally perceived as a “good thing”) I was really taken aback. But I came to understand Morag’s point, and how it applies to the classroom.

As a trainer, I really try to manage the tone or the environment of the class. Do the participants feel safe sharing? Does the room/setup promote interaction? Are comments and questions encouraged?

Being an Ally means providing both reinforcing feedback and corrective feedback.

Being an Ally means providing both reinforcing feedback and corrective feedback.

Consequently one thing I’ve really done over the years – and continue to do – is reinforce participation. After all, “What gets rewarded gets repeated,” right?

While reinforcing feedback is important, any good coach or manager can tell you that corrective feedback is also important. People won’t improve their performance as much if they’re only told when they do something correctly, and never when they do something incorrectly.

In the Supporter relationship, you only tell your partner what they want to hear; not in a false way, but more of just neglecting the less comfortable topics.

The Ally relationship includes a level of candor that allows its members to speak honestly and directly – helping each other see what they’re doing well – and not so well.

In the classroom, if you play the role of the Supporter, and only reinforce the positive, you’re missing out on opportunities to seize teachable moments and maximize the training experience.

If you act as an Ally, you are truly living up to your obligation to facilitate the understanding and application of the class topic.

When I do train-the-trainer classes, if we cover the topic of providing feedback, I like to say that, “Participants are never wrong; they’re just not always right.”

I find that this paradigm helps free me up to be an Ally, while also fostering that environment which is conducive to active participation. What does this sound like?

Two of my favorite tactics:

  • Focus on the correct aspect of their response, e.g. “Yes, the option you’re looking for is in the File menu. What other choice in that menu might be the one we’re looking for?” Or, “You absolutely want to block out time for planning, but how else could we carve out a chunk of time for this?”
  • Help them think through their input, e.g. “I can see why it seems like reprimanding someone in public might be effective, but what could be the downside of that behavior?” Or, “What if all our managers did that?”

So the next time you are facilitating a class or a meeting, think about your behavior, and whether you are merely supporting your participants, or being an Ally to them –  while maintaining that environment that fosters participation.

If you would like to learn more about being an Ally or establishing rules of engagement that cultivate winning relationships, I strongly recommend you order your copy of Cultivate today!

What do you think?