By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

When we view the corporate landscape through the lens of performance and sustainability, there is little doubt that we are living in challenging times. At no point in our history has there been such a pressure on outcomes and performance. Simultaneously we are also challenged to ensure the long-term viability of our organisations, the wellness and fulfilment of those who work for them, while also working to mitigate the ecological issues facing our planet.

Understandably many organisations are becoming progressively more performance driven; forever increasing emphasis and value on measurable outcomes, at the expense of culture, relationships, connection and dare I say it – humanity. There is no doubt that organisations need to have a firm focus on operational excellence and meeting their KPI’s and milestones, but somewhere along the way, the strategies for achieving these outcomes sacrificed the things that matter most.

The irony is that most of the leaders of these organisations believe in the value of creating a positive culture. They see the benefit of building long-lasting and mutually beneficial relationships and they genuinely respect and value their people. How then do we explain the increasing prioritisation of outcomes, at the expense of culture and relationships? This dichotomous behaviour is often the result of one single flawed assumption; that building a care-based culture is mutually exclusive with delivering high performance.

We’ll blow that assumption out of the water in a moment, but first, what is a care-based culture?

A care-based culture places a premium on culture, relationships and humanity. It views and treats a team member as a whole person, not just as their organisational role and function. A care-based culture reminds us that people come with their own hopes, dreams and aspirations as well as their insecurities and fears.

This does somewhat complicate the management function. Managing someone’s hopes, dreams and fears, as well as their role based performance, is far more challenging than simply focusing on the results they deliver as part of their role.

But what if managers really saw the value in building a care-based culture and set about developing the additional skills needed to manage their people in a more holistic way?  Instead of trying to compartmentalise their lives by drawing boundaries between their work self and non-work self, team members would be supported to bring their whole selves to work, and can thereby gift all their talents to the tasks at hand.

Think of the benefits! Care-based cultures lead to greater levels of staff motivation and engagement – and people work harder and smarter when they are engaged in the task. When teams are able to see and support the humanity of each of their members, tighter bonds are formed and a culture of shared accountability created. This culture of care and humanity then flows into the manner in which team members deal with customers, clients and other key stakeholders – and it doesn’t take a genius to work out how this would be received.  When people turn up to work as their whole selves, it also enables them to be more creative and innovative by using more of their life experience, feelings and intuition in order to resolve complex challenges.

Finally perhaps most importantly, organisations that place a strategic emphasis on building a care-based culture not only perform at the very highest levels, the efficiency of the process by which that performance is driven makes it significantly more long-lasting and sustainable than being performance driven for the sake of performance itself.

For most of us, including myself, this is a radical paradigm shift. Until recently I have always advocated that leaders reinforce the boundaries pertaining to an individual’s organisational role, and support those individuals to manage the aspects of their lives that fall outside that role themselves. But in recent times I have been repeatedly astounded by the unexpected high performance that flows, almost as a side effect, from building a care-based culture.


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

In challenging economic times, it is imperative that organisations increase the effectiveness of how they train their people. Hence, organisations need to ensure that they get a significant return on the resources – time, money and staff – that they invest in training and development initiatives. We have found that organisations can increase the effectiveness of these programs by asking one key question, but more about that later.

From an organisational context, we see the purpose of training and development is to bridge performance gaps. Performance gaps (hereafter simply referred to as “gaps”) are the gaps between the current levels of performance (both team and individual) and the ideal or desired levels of performance.

One of the keys in designing and delivering effective organisational development programs is knowing which kind of gap the program intends to bridge. From our experience, there are two kinds of gaps. The first gap is a “technical gap”. This a gap created by the lack of skills or knowledge required to do the technical aspects of their role to the desired level of performance. These skills and knowledge are usually specific to the roles and are generally not transferrable to other roles where a different specialised skill set is required.

The second kind of gap is a “behavioural gap”. This is the gap between the way individuals and teams actually behave and the ideal set of behaviours. By “behave”, we are referring to what some may call the “soft skills” of business – it’s how people communicate, take responsibility and ownership of outcomes, how they build trust, have difficult conversations, collaborate, resolve conflict, etc. It’s all the aspects that go into making the culture of a high performance workplace. Behavioural skills are generally transferrable to a different role, even if the technical skills required are no longer applicable.

The key differentiator is how we train people in technical skills versus behavioural skills. Technical skills are generally better developed by what we would call traditional or didactic learning. This means attending lectures, reading, writing, research, and having knowledge imparted to you. Behavioural skills, on the other hand, are not effectively developed via didactic learning. This is because knowledge alone does not make a significant and sustainable change in behaviours. If knowledge alone was sufficient to change behaviours, people would not smoke, be overweight, drive too fast or end up bankrupt. Most people know that they shouldn’t do these behaviours and most know strategies on how to avoid them.

The most effective way to change behaviours is for people to have the opportunity to reflect on these behaviours. Via reflection, individuals can better understand why they behave the way they do, they can see the impact of those behaviours and also gain an awareness of the situations and triggers which elicit those behaviours. In short, the ability and opportunity to reflect on these behaviours is what builds people’s awareness of them. And it is only via awareness that behaviours can be modified or improved in a sustainable way.

Hence, the most effective way of bridging behavioural gaps is Experiential Learning. Experiential Learning usually starts with an activity designed to recreate the desired learning context. Then, via a facilitated debrief, participants are able to reflect on and therefore gain insight and awareness of their behaviours during the activity. Finally, participants make learning links between their behaviours with the activity and how they behave back in the office. They can ask, “How can I take what I learned during the activity and debrief and apply it back to my role within the organisation?”

Therefore, the key question to ask to ensure that training and development programs have the desired outcome is: “Is the performance gap this training is intending to bridge a technical gap or a behavioural one?”

As an example, I was recently working with a team of project managers. One of the challenges that they faced was their tendency to, as a group, rush through vital decision making processes because they wanted to quickly get to the outcome they wanted. Unsurprisingly, the rushed decision making process led to poor decisions and as a result, they spend more resources “cleaning up their mess” than they spent making the actual decision.

In designing their previous training, the assumption was made that the gap was a technical one and therefore the training consisted of the technical aspects of project management. This, however, did not change the dynamic within the team.

As we observed them through a series of Experiential Learning activities and debriefed their behaviours after the activity, what became clear was that under pressure, their trust in each other diminished and therefore their ability to sit in the tension of the unknown without a clear direction was compromised. As a result, they rushed through those parts of the decision making process, simply to escape the discomfort of the unknown and subsequent lack of trust and cohesion. This highlighted their behavioural gap and therefore changed the question we as trainers asked. The question was no longer how do we provide more training on their project management skills, but how do we built a culture that is more robust and functions at a higher level in the face of pressure and an unknown outcome?

This example highlights the tendency of managers to assume the gap they are trying to bridge is a technical one. Sometimes it may well be, but if the assumption is wrong, it will lead to a training and development program that fails to meet its objectives.

So before training programs are designed and implemented, ask the question: ““Is the performance gap this training is intended to bridge a technical gap or a behavioural one?”

 


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator: Errol Amerasekera

Great leaders: are they born or made? It’s a question that has been vigorously debated since the dawn of time, well, at least since the dawn of capitalism.

But before we can answer that question, we first need to define what leadership is.

At True North Learning we see leadership as having 2 functions. The first function of  leadership is to capture the hearts and minds of those they lead and then align them toward the goals, vision and purpose of the organisation. The second function of leadership is to manage the team they lead, the individuals within that team, and finally the task at hand.

However, the role of leadership that we are noticing in many organisations looks very different to the above. We are noticing that individuals are getting promoted into leadership roles based predominantly on their technical expertise. In other words, if they are a talented engineer or IT consultant or teacher, there is an assumption that they will also be capable of leading a team of engineers, IT consultants or teachers respectively. This thinking fails to recognise that the skill set required to be an engineer is very different to the skill set required to lead a team of engineers. It’s like saying because I am good at cricket, I am also good at football because they are both ball sports. As a result we see and work with many leaders who feel over whelmed, stressed-out and under skilled in their roles, primarily because they have been placed in roles that they may not be suited to or have the necessary skill set to be effective in.

Often we find the more skilled and specialised someone is at the technical aspects of their role, the harder they find it to make the transition into a leadership role. This is because the method of developing technical skills compared to leadership skills is vastly different. Technical skills are usually acquired through traditional education ie reading, taking notes, classes, university courses, apprenticeships etc. Also, they are generally specific to that role or job and cannot be transferred to another role.

Leadership skills on the other hand, whilst somewhat based on theory, are primarily a behavioural skills set. Leadership skills can be transferred to a different role ie if you can lead a team of engineers, in theory you should be able to lead a team of teachers. But the key difference is in how leadership skills are acquired. Because they are behavioural, leadership skills cannot be developed by knowledge alone. It is well documented that knowledge alone does not change behaviours.

Behavioural skills such as leadership skills are developed by “doing”. “Doing” is a 3 step process. Firstly you need to do an activity or task which places you in a leadership role. Second, is the opportunity to reflect on how you performed during that activity.  In reflecting you can see where you were effective and find ways to maximise or leverage that.  You can also explore where you were not so effective, and find ways to manage or develop those aspects. And then thirdly, as athletes do, practice, practice, practice until those desired behaviours become second nature. This is where Experiential Learning is a powerful and outcome-driven methodology for supporting effective behaviours and building individual and team capacity.

Therefore when organisations fill roles, especially leadership roles, with the intention of creating a high performance workplace or team, it is essential to have a clear understanding of whether the performance gap (between current function and optimal function) is of a technical nature or of a leadership/behavioural nature. This then allows organisations to screen/ seek the most appropriate people for the role and/or put in place the most suitable training and development strategy ie not pursue technical training for a behavioural issue.

So back to our original question-are great leaders born or made? If we see the 2 functions of leadership as firstly capturing the hearts and minds of those they lead and secondly to manage team, individual and task, then the answer to the question is BOTH. In other words, great leaders are both born and made.

This is because development of a leaders’ ability to manage team, individual and task is very teachable. This developmental process is optimised when the training methodology  used  focuses on the behavioural aspects of leadership (as opposed to being purely knowledge based).

However, we believe that there is an aspect of the ability to win hearts and minds that is not teachable. This is because this capability comes from a certain charisma and capacity to motivate people. It’s an ability to relate to, deeply understand, build rapport with, and inspire people from a diversity of backgrounds. This ability can be developed to an extent, but if its not a strong part of your intrinsic make up, then training and development can only go so far (no matter how hard, or how much I train, I am never going to run like Usain Bolt)

This does not, however, mean that leaders should not focus on their own development in the 2 elements of effective leadership. We believe that an openness and commitment to their own personal and professional growth is one of the ethical responsibilities of leadership. And besides, even though we all can’t be the Usain Bolt of the leadership world, there is something very noble and profound in the quest.

Let us know what you think: Are great leaders born or made?


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Craig Wallace

Carl Rogers was an influential American psychologist and among the founders of the humanistic approach to psychology. Rogers is widely considered to be one of the founding fathers of psychotherapy research. The person-centered approach, his own unique approach to understanding personality and human relationships, found wide application in various domains such as psychotherapy and counseling (client-centered therapy), education (student-centered learning), organisations, and other group settings.  The following summary of his Learner Centred Teaching (or student centred teaching approach) underlies many of the basic philosophies of Experiential Learning and can be applied to any adult learning context.

Learner-centered teaching

The application to education has a large robust research tradition similar to that of therapy with studies having begun in the late 1930s and continuing today (Cornelius-White, 2007). Rogers described the approach to education in Client-Centered Therapy and wrote ‘Freedom to Learn’ devoted exclusively to the subject in 1969.  The new Learner-Centered Model is similar in many regards to this classical person-centered approach to education. Rogers had the following five hypotheses regarding learner-centered education:

  1. “A person cannot teach another person directly; a person can only facilitate another’s learning” (Rogers, 1951). This is a result of his personality theory, which states that everyone exists in a constantly changing world of experience in which he or she is the center. Each person reacts and responds based on perception and experience. The belief is that what the student does is more important than what the teacher does. The focus is on the student (Rogers, 1951). Therefore, the background and experiences of the learner are essential to how and what is learned. Each student will process what he or she learns differently depending on what he or she brings to the classroom.
  2. “A person learns significantly only those things that are perceived as being involved in the maintenance of or enhancement of the structure of self” (Rogers, 1951). Therefore, relevancy to the student is essential for learning. The students’ experiences become the core of the course.
  3. “Experience which, if assimilated, would involve a change in the organization of self, tends to be resisted through denial or distortion of symbolism” (Rogers, 1951). If the content or presentation of a course is inconsistent with preconceived information, the student will learn if he or she is open to varying concepts. Being open to consider concepts that vary from one’s own is vital to learning. Therefore, gently encouraging open-mindedness is helpful in engaging the student in learning. Also, it is important, for this reason, that new information be relevant and related to existing experience.
  4. “The structure and organization of self appears to become more rigid under threats and to relax its boundaries when completely free from threat” (Rogers, 1951). If students believe that concepts are being forced upon them, they might become uncomfortable and fearful. A barrier is created by a tone of threat in the classroom. Therefore, an open, friendly environment in which trust is developed is essential in the classroom. Fear of retribution for not agreeing with a concept should be eliminated. A classroom tone of support helps to alleviate fears and encourages students to have the courage to explore concepts and beliefs that vary from those they bring to the classroom. Also, new information might threaten the student’s concept of him- or herself; therefore, the less vulnerable the student feels, the more likely he or she will be able to open up to the learning process.
  5. “The educational situation which most effectively promotes significant learning is one in which (a) threat to the self of the learner is reduced to a minimum and (b) differentiated perception of the field is facilitated” (Rogers, 1951). The instructor should be open to learning from the students and also working to connect the students to the subject matter. Frequent interaction with the students will help achieve this goal. The instructor’s acceptance of being a mentor who guides rather than the expert who tells is instrumental to student-centered, nonthreatening, and unforced learning.

 

The above excerpt was taken from the following link:

Source Link:  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Carl_Rogers


By True North Learning Director and Senior Facilitator Craig Wallace

Story of The Wizard of Oz is a wonderful metaphor for experiential learning. It shows how each character shared an experience yet received a different learning or meaning from it. In experiential learning programs each person is exposed to the same experience but may take away a different learning based on their perceptions, desired outcomes and their learning styles.

Carl Rogers (1994) wrote that learning is facilitated when: ‘(1) the student participates completely in the learning process and has control over its nature and direction, (2) it is primarily based upon direct confrontation with practical, social, personal or research problems, and (3) self-evaluation is the principal method of assessing progress or success.’

Experiential learning is one type of instructive strategy for learning. It isn’t an alternative approach, but possibly the most traditional and fundamental method of human learning. Ironically, the current perception of experiential education as (a fringe modality) different is possibly due to the normalisation of didactic teaching as the mainstream educational model.

Traditional, unidirectional, didactic learning paradigms have dominated Western learning for centuries. Traditionally an instructor might prepare content and spend most of the time on delivering that content. Whereas an experiential facilitator may have a few key concepts and a framework for delivery, but not limit themselves to that content alone. In true experiential learning the facilitator provides opportunities for interaction, feedback and making choices so that learning is active and individualised.

So is experiential learning for everybody? Here are some key concepts that may help you decide.

Firstly, conventional, didactic training is for you if you prefer:

  • Trainer centred, theoretical, prescribed lessons, with fixed design and content.
  • Delivery that transfers and explains knowledge and skills
  • Fixed and structured delivery style – often via powerpoint presentations, chalk and talk style, class reading, lectures, observation and theoretical work.
  • Measureable and fixed outcomes

In contrast Experiential Learning (EL) is for you if…

You believe the learner is central

You are ready, willing and able to become personally involved in the process. You are prepared to actively engage in both the activity / challenge and the reflective process, determine your meaning / context to the messages and then apply the learning back to your team or organisational context. In the Wizard of Oz each of the characters engaged fully in the journey yet, had their own personal learning by the end.

You’re able to hold back your pre-judgement to learning experiences

Because the human element is involved, we all take slightly different meanings from any single event. In fact, depending on your perception, events can provide diametrically opposed learnings for individuals. Coming with prejudices leads to distraction by your personal thoughts, and a lack of appreciation for other learners and their views. Judgements can be about yourself as well as others. In the Wizard of Oz the characters held judgements about their courage, intelligence and compassion. Their own character judgements were actually different to their true selves and held them back in many ways.

You are flexible on when the ‘real’ learning comes

It can take time to develop the safety within the training group and confidence of individuals to get to the key messages or core of the learning. EL is for you if your prepared to take time with success with smaller areas first, progressing to the point that you can consider raising and tackling more fundamental issues. Once again in the Wizard of Oz the characters experienced learning that was not what they were expecting in terms of content and timing, but the learning was powerful and relevant nevertheless.

You’re able to engage in experiences that are real – not based on artificial impact

The purpose of an EL activity is to create an opportunity for valuable and memorable personal leaning. The ideal activity will engage, stimulate and challenge while you become absorbed in the task as yourself. You must be able to be yourself in the experience and not take on an artificial persona.

You see the value in meaningful reviews and reflection.

The ideal review will involve you in personal thought, challenge and discussion before coming to some form of conclusion. If it is to be of real benefit, the review must be an honest critique of what happened and the contributions and challenges of each individual. Real issues should not be swept under the carpet, but discussions must be positive, constructive and entered into in a spirit of ownership, accountability and responsibility.  You must be willing and able to engage positively in those discussions with the intent to learn, not blame, deny or justify.

You don’t expect the facilitator to be the font of knowledge.

Experiential learners are able to take ownership of their own learning. Looking for a ‘professional analysis’ from the facilitator, or a structured outline of what you should be learning means that the experience is delivered from the facilitator’s point of view. The facilitator should be able to guide the discussion, reflection and outcomes in the learners’ context meaning and point of view. This point is illustrated perfectly in the Wizard of Oz. The characters abdicated or projected their own wisdom and knowledge onto the Wizard, but didn’t realise what they needed was within them all along. This is often a realisation within EL programs.

You have faith in your ability to learn.

You believe that you have the potential to make progress and be committed to the fact that your role is to engage and reflect on the opportunities to learn and progress.

You don’t expect traditionally assessed and measured outcomes.

EL is largely about learning at your own pace and taking your own meaning (individual or team meaning). Whilst it is proven to lead to better understanding, behaviours, changes, learning can be difficult to measure via conventional assessment measures alone.

You see learning as cooperative and interactive.

EL is for you if you prefer cooperation, participation, challenge and fun over winning, competing and alienation. Sometimes we learn by watching others journeys and by having them actively involved in ours. Feedback based on real interaction with others is often more of an assessment than an exam will ever be.

You are able to learn through experience.

Whilst there are various learning styles, an effective learning program incorporates other styles as well as EL. EL provides development of knowledge, skills and deeper understanding through physical activities, games and exercise, simulations, drama and role play that become real, and actually doing the task or job. It’s the emotional connection that comes with experiences that gives learners the personal motivation for change and ability to retain the memory and transfer the learning. EL is for you if you can appreciate and work within those type of learning experiences.

To discover more about how True North Learning uses advanced Experiential Learning methodologies and approaches to enhance the learning of your teams and leaders visit us at http://truenorthlearning.com.au/pages/experiential-learning-methodology.php


5 Facilitator Challenges in Running Experiential Learning Programs

Facilitating programs using an Experiential Learning approach requires a slightly different skills set and can lead  to very different interactions during the program when compared to more traditional, didactic, ‘chalk and talk’. It gives participants the opportunity to create their own meaning and guide their own learning from the programs. As in all programs some will take the learning directly from the intent of the program, while others determine their own relevance and meaning. As a facilitator of this style of learning I have found these 5 key points central to helping the learners get the most from our programs.

1. Have faith in people’s ability to learn for themselves.

Like many trainers and facilitators I felt the need to ensure people were getting something from my programs. I took it as my responsibility to ‘help them learn.’ If we provide the right environment and program the learners  can and will make experiential learning opportunities work for them. To be an effective facilitator of experiential learning you have to believe that they have the potential to make progress and be committed to the fact that your role is to provide the opportunity and support them in that rather than ensure they are learning.

2. Reactions to experiences vary.

Because the learning is ‘experiential’ no two learners will have exactly the same experience. You cannot predict the learning an individual will take the same messages from any single event. Being prepared for and curious about how individuals assign meaning to an experience is something I have found extremely helpful in facilitating those different thoughts.

3. The learner is central.

It might seem simple to state this but in traditional, didactic learning the trainer / facilitator / teacher is often the centre of attention. The success of the experiential approach depends on the learner’s engagement. Learners can only make best use of their opportunities if they are ready, willing and able to become personally involved in the process. Our role as facilitators is to provide context for that to happen. Learners have to be prepared to actively develop their understanding, critique and evaluate the messages in their context.

4. Resist temptation to give answers.

An observer is in a privileged position, often seeing aspects that are not obvious to others. If you observe a point that isn’t raised during a reflection it is legitimate to raise it, but best through observations and questions. If, despite you stating what you saw or understood to be happening and then questioning, individuals don’t relate to the point, there is no benefit in pursuing as any ‘learning’ will not be theirs.

5. The activity must be real and engaging – not based on artificial hype

A learning activity is a means to an end, not an end in itself. The purpose of an experiential learning activity is to create an opportunity for reflection, new ways of thinking (or being) and a memorable personal learning. The ideal activity will engage, challenge and stimulate with learners becoming absorbed in the task in their own persona or natural behaviour. The activity must be designed and facilitated carefully so that the activity has impact, but doesn’t override the impact and memory of the learning. The size and scope of the activity doesn’t need to have all the ‘bells and whistles’ in order to be memorable and provide real learning. In fact, sometimes the simpler the activity, the more poignant the learning.

 

To find out more about True North Learning’s Experiential Learning Methodology click here: http://truenorthlearning.com.au/pages/experiential-learning-methodology.php