Teaching Adults: Part 2

Dec 12, 2021

A reminder about humans: we are efficient beings. We will find the easiest route from point A to point B. Point B is most often “having our own needs met.” Many times, this means, if left to doing anything our own way, we’ll do it the way that comes most naturally (easiest) for us. If you are trying to run a smooth company, everyone doing it their own way just won’t work for long, especially as you grow. You need to be aligned with the way you are building your product, delivering it to your customers, communicating with each other, and solving your issues. These are not the easiest things to do, especially when you take several humans with different natural abilities and ask them to agree on one way. In fact, just thinking about that blows my mind! How do we get anything done at all? But we can, and do, and when we create thinkers in our company, we generate amazing results. These results start with a dedication to teaching your people how to think. 

Eight approaches to make your training more effective for adult learners in an entrepreneurial world

  1. Require Pre-work: Before the actual teaching event, ask people to do some pre-work. Pre-work can come in the form of questions to think about, data to gather and bring, expressed expectations of the course, samples to share, or my favorite, a sloppy paragraph filled with what you already know about the topic. The content that is prepared during the pre-work phase can give the instructor insight on what is important to the group. The instructor can then adjust the agenda or make recommendations to the group. But the big effect here is that the pre-work prepares adult learners’ minds for the topic. It’s like warming up the brain for training, just like we warm up our bodies before a big workout. A good pre-work exercise gets the brain ready to learn. 
  2. Start with Mindset: Mindset is simply how we are thinking about a subject. The purpose is to get the learner engaged with the topic at a higher level, or to see the problem that the training will address from a bigger, longer-term perspective, so they’ll really understand why you are investing in this training. When effective, this mindset assessment step also connects the learner emotionally and individually to the material or topic. For example, I used a story at the beginning of this book about two friends who kept rescuing children out of the river to help you see that swimming upstream to teach your people how to think was a worthy goal. And it worked because you are still reading this book! 😊 Learners need to see the topic in a high level, critical-thinking way to really understand it. It’s all about the WHY: why are we here today? A couple of methods that I often rely on are:
  • Stories: Stories are reliable ways to engage learners and help them reset their mindsets. Stories with personal or emotional elements have extra power. There are dozens of stories in this book that are specifically shared to invite you to think about the topic from a deeper perspective or to get you out of a thinking pattern that may be harmful. 
  • Mental Models: Mental models have a way of simplifying our thinking. Many of these mental models prompt the question in the learner’s mind: “Where am I in this model?” Although we are careful not to attach labels to people, mental models do have validity in getting us to think about our own behavior or thinking. The Coaching Magic Matrix is an example of a mental model. It’s found on page %%% of this book. It will help you define where you are and where you want to be as a coach. More mental models can be found on my website at www.tractionfirst.com. Coaches love mental models and I am no exception! A 2x2 Mental Model (like the one I present in this book) is one of my favorite tools to create and share with my clients. 
  • Fun: Sometimes, engaging someone in thinking about a concept in a new way can be done with lightheartedness and fun. Playing a game, telling a joke or having a contest, always tied to a point, can engage the brain in a different way. A classic game that reinforces the importance of communication is the “telephone game.” This is where the instructor whispers a statement to the first person in the line, then they whisper that same statement to the next person in the line and that continues until you get to the end of the line. The last person in line tells the group what they heard, and we often laugh because the statement has been so twisted. This kind of game helps the learner pause to think about communication at a higher level. 
  1. Teach an Algorithm: An algorithm is simply the steps to follow to get your desired outcome. Algorithms (taken from the field of mathematics) take something very complex and make it simple for the user. Just as Tyler discovered the algorithm for solving a Rubik’s Cube, you can offer your people a simple 3-7 step process for the topic being trained. Think of this step as offering them the high-level, bullet-pointed steps to follow so they don’t need to figure it out on their own. Unless the algorithm you are teaching is mathematics- or science-based, most of the time, the algorithm just needs to work 80% of the time. You don’t need to invest in teaching all of the exceptions. They’ll discover them on their own during the practice phase and you can help them through the exceptions when you enter Coaching mode. An example of this is using your documented Core Processes as your algorithm. If you’ve followed the 3-Step Process Documenter™ as part of the EOS Toolbox™, you already have this algorithm defined for training on Processes. Demonstrating the algorithm as you are sharing it helps the learner see it in action. Using examples, videos, or just simply showing them how the steps fit together helps the next step, practicing, become more valuable. 
  2. Encourage Practice: As quickly as possible, get the learners practicing with the algorithm you just shared. If you are training on a machine, make sure the machine is available for use. If you are training a concept, have case studies on hand to discuss. If you are training a physical skill, make sure they get their hands on the tools early in the process. Effective practice involves: role play, putting pieces together, iterating with the tools, finding obstacles, multiple repetitions, and doing it the wrong way. This helps us implement the idea introduced in the training to a process that affects our daily productivity. 
  3. Discuss Challenges: After the learner has practiced with the concepts, tools or new skill, save some space in the training for discussing the challenges they faced, real or imagined. This is where the big thinking really starts. They’ve been taught the algorithm, shown how it works, and practiced with it; they’re bound to have some thoughts on how it went. When you ask them to discuss these thoughts, they learn in a deeper way. The learning becomes sticky! Hearing from the other people in the class also brings up new thoughts and challenges to ponder. Often, the instructor can also offer additional examples, stories of exceptions and ask additional powerful questions to the group to clear up misunderstandings. It’s been my experience that this is the step where the a-ha moments occur. I’ve found that discussions in small groups (3-7 people) can also engage each individual learner in ways that are unique to them and allow everyone the chance to speak, whereas larger group discussions (8 or more) only allow for a few to share their thoughts. The power in this type of conversation comes by asking participants to actively look for failure points. This will help them see future obstacles and fill in the gaps in understanding.
  4. Encourage Commitment: This step is all about commitment to action. Most likely, the learner will leave the training and be expected to apply the training with very little oversight. By asking them to create a commitment, write it down and share it with the class, the action is more likely to happen. Encouraging them to make a plan for applying the actions or creating triggers for when they’ll apply their new skills can help make the commitment stick, too. 
  5. Check in: Sometime after the training event, create a check-in step. This can be as simple as an email asking them to reflect on their progress over the last 4-6 weeks or a one-on-one meeting or phone call to discuss their challenges and successes. This uses the Return and Reflect mode that we’ll explore more in Part Four. 
  6. Refresh and Repeat: Create a way to refresh and repeat the training. This could be as simple as offering “training alumni” the chance to attend any future session, even if it’s designed for beginners, or you could create a pulse schedule, where every three months or every year, you engage the same group in the same topics, covering the same material, but doing less review of the algorithms and more discussion of challenges. Ask the group to help each other solve their issues. Rarely does a “one-and-done” experience stick. There is too much clamoring for our attention and if we don’t come back to key concepts over and over again, the brain will think the training is extraneous and delete it! Repetition works. 


I want you to have an example of how this training algorithm can work in real life. Here’s my secret sauce for my Accountability Activator Workshop (see the Appendices for more information on this workshop) for Leaders and Managers:

Assign Pre-Work: Before the session, everyone answers a three-question email about what they observe about good bosses and bad bosses. 

Start with Mindset: We explore the Radical Candor™ mindset, getting them to think about their approach to being a boss and the “Jill version” of the Performance Values Matrix™. I also ask them to think about the people they are managing. We finish the section by acknowledging a goal of getting to the Radical Candor quadrant and spending more time with the top two quadrants of their people. 

Teach an Algorithm: I teach the Thinking Advantage Algorithm of Teach, Coach, Don’t Rescue, Return and Reflect, as well as a few additional algorithms planned after assessing their pre-work needs and active issues.

Facilitate Practice: In between each algorithm, we do role playing, where each person has the chance to be the boss while their partner is the employee. Then we switch! It’s so fun to see bosses reacting as employees! 

Discuss Challenges: We break into small groups and apply the algorithms to different scenarios that bosses see on a daily basis, bringing particularly sticky situations to the whole group for discussion and debate.

Encourage Commitment: At the end of the day, we reflect on the entire day, commit to three actions, and read them to a partner or the whole group. 

Check in and Follow Up: Four weeks after the training day, attendees receive an email from me with three questions asking them to reflect on how they are doing with their commitments and what they’ve found useful or challenging. 

Refresh and Repeat: All bosses continue to have access to Accountability Activator videos on my website (and you can, too!) to refresh their training. They use these videos during meetings or pull them into additional trainings. All bosses are invited and encouraged to keep attending the course for additional understanding. 

This is a simple formula to help you get the biggest bang for your buck, even if your buck is literally one dollar! This algorithm is simple: you do not need it to be perfect for it to work. You do not need perfect materials, a perfect location and let’s face it, there is never a perfect time to do training. Just start, even if it’s not perfect.

Training also does not need to take a lot of time. The Parkinson Principle tells us that the task we are doing will expand to the time it is allotted. If you create space for two full days of training, you’ll fill that space. If you only have two hours, you’ll fill that space. Just decide what time you do have and create that space. I’ve even had teams who, with little time to train, created 30 minutes per week in their weekly meeting for training, and it worked! Whatever time you have, that is the time you have. The Theory of Constraints is also useful here. If we are constrained by time, we’ll fill the time that we do have with the most important training. One way I continue to assess the value of the training I deliver is if the leaders remark, “I wish we had more time.” If they feel that they want more time, it means they are engaged with the topic. Keep in mind that with adults, just a little learning experience can go a long way. If they are hungry for more, they’ll be engaged with using the concepts and engaging in reflection. And because adults learn best when there is an active issue (a working task to be done) and they learn best by doing, they can learn and be productive at the same time if we set up the training in the right time frame. 


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