Anyone can learn anything

We were born equal. Unless there are severe issues with the physical brain, I firmly believe that given enough time and guidance, anyone can learn anything they want. But they may learn the same thing differently.

For example, Christian (not his real name) makes the mistake of assuming that his new team members learn the same way as him. He leaves them alone to learn things alone (as he does), which does not work. 

Angela faces another challenge when she tries to teach her team members from a completely different culture. She comes from a world where everyone is eager to ask questions if they don’t know something to an environment where people are often reticent. As she goes through the training, no one says a word. She asks if everyone understands, and people nod, so she concludes the exercise. Little does she realize that in their culture, people are uncomfortable asking questions in public as they can “lose face” even though they do not understand much of what she is talking about. So what can you do in Christian or Angela’s situations? Their circumstances are quite different from one another. Yet, they show that people learn very differently, especially from different cultures. So you should not develop a training program, assuming that everyone learns the same way, especially the same way as you. If you need some help understanding the context, there is no harm in asking your line manager for help, or you could even ask your team members about their best learning experience. Why not? There is a minimal downside to asking the people whom you train about the best way for them to learn a particular subject. They will tell you what helps them or articulates what does not help. 

Training team members is one of the most important tasks of a manager. You can’t build a team without training them in hard and soft skills. 

What I am going to do is to share some crucial recommendations which have helped me over the years. The basic approach is  

  • Agree on the key outcomes of the training program with your team members. It could include both soft skills and hard skills.
  • It is advisable to break it down into three, six, and twelve months.  
  • Evaluate where your team members are (regarding required knowledge and skill sets) against where you want them to be.
  • Develop learning experiences that allow your team members to gain/master those knowledge/skills. It could include classroom training, self-learning, on-the-job training, etc. 
  • Build and align the overall training program with critical milestones and align it with your team members. 

The approach is simple, but it is not easy to follow. It requires actual effort to build the program and determination to follow through. It can be successful only if you consider it a core part of your job. 

One of the best ways to learn is to teach

“There’s no better way to learn something, and become an expert at it, than to have to teach it. ”

Excerpt From: Keith Ferrazzi. “Never Eat Alone, Expanded and Updated: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time”. 

This approach can be tricky and may take a lot of courage to implement. It also requires a group of learners to have a good rapport. Yet when it is done successfully, you can see a considerable improvement. The basic flow is like this. You gather 3-6 team members who need to be trained on several topics. You explain to the group that they would train each other instead of you teaching the team. Each one will take a small sub-topic, read all the materials about it, and then train the rest of the group. The “trainer” job is to ensure the rest understands the topic of discussion by using whatever means necessary, like slides, case studies, etc. You will join these “training” sessions to ensure that the key concepts are raised and learned. You also prepare a list of questions to ask during each session. By the end of each session, you ask the “trainer” to share the materials with the rest of the group. 

One thing about teaching is that you need to understand what you want to teach well to explain it to someone else. Hence, this forces your team members not only to learn by themselves but also to be able to explain clearly to a group of people. 

Try to teach the problem-solving approach

It is much more complicated than teaching someone the answer to a specific problem. I recommend it because the result is a lot more powerful and long-lasting. Remember that you will not be there every time your team members have a question, so they must learn to depend on themselves to find the answers. One of the ways is to coach your team by asking questions, showing them how to break things down, and identifying how different elements connect and the relationship between them. It sounds simple, but as you practice it, you may realize that there are different levels of specificity that you may need to use when asking questions, depending on the level of familiarity your team has with a particular subject. If you sense that the team is stuck, you may need to ask detailed questions to help everyone move along. 

At work, we are paid to perform, not to go through training

While it is significant that, as a first-time manager, you try your best to train your team members, it is healthy to keep in mind that we come to work to perform, not to go through training only. We are paid to complete specific tasks and create value for relevant stakeholders. Working differs from going to university or training school, where you pay the school money to be taught. In that setting, you are the client, and the school needs to/has to “train” you in exchange for the fee you paid. At work, the company pays you money to perform.

The company is the client, and you need to/have to “work” in exchange for the money paid. There is a difference in perspective. This does not mean that you should not train your team members; instead, it means that you should have the right mindset when training them. Do not think of it as an obligation or something extra on your plate. Instead, see it as an opportunity to invest in your team members and help them improve their skills so that they can contribute more to the company.

When you treat training as an investment, it will be much easier for you to motivate yourself to do it and to see the benefits. It is not only about making your team members better at their jobs; it is also about building a good relationship with them. When they know that you care about their development, they will appreciate and respect you more. They will also be more likely to trust you and follow your lead.

It is important to train your team members, but it can be a lot of work. As a first-time manager, you may find yourself struggling to motivate yourself to do it. However, when you see training as an investment and not as an obligation, everything becomes a lot easier. Not only will your team members appreciate and respect you more, but they will also be more likely to follow your lead. So go ahead and start training your team today – it will be worth it in the end!


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