Archives for 2020

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Totem Talks Episode 3: Silo Working

Silos in the workplace cause nothing but frustration for customers, clients and employee’s alike, so why do we often find ourselves operating in this way?

Mark Smith & Helen Frewin have a natter about their experience of silo working, the psychology that creates silos, and how to challenge the ‘silo’ mentality.

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Managing Defensive Reactions

How do you manage someone who is upset, angry or emotional? What do you need to do to understand and respond to this situation confidently?

We even have a little quiz for you to have fun with…

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Ideas on Virtual Learning

What are other people doing with virtual learning?

This is a question we are getting asked a lot right now, so we thought we’d share a few experiences and tips that have come up across our clients.

Some of the L&D teams we work with are highly experienced in curating content and providing links via their Learning Management System (LMS) for people at home to view when convenient. Others are looking at the idea of virtual learning for the first time and so are playing with different technology options and ways of approaching this to see what works for them.

The consistent trend of course is that the situation is new and everyone is experimenting to see how they can help people. Here are the trends we’re seeing in what’s working so far.

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Breaking content into shorter sessions

When your two-year-old makes clear that you cannot sit still for a 90-minute webinar, short and sharp is even more valuable than before. Get on Zoom for 45 minutes, have 15 minutes of that in randomly assigned breakout rooms to ensure people are engaging with the content, and then leave people to get back to homeschooling, washing, the day job or some opportunity for a break.

Offering more than one time slot

Again given the children at home challenge, even when something is booked in the diary, some people cannot make it. Either by recording the session or running two or three live options, the chances are you can hit more of your audience.

Running one-day workshops

Whilst most companies are going with the little and often approach, a few are finding that this leads to a high dropout rate. What used to be a one-day workshop has been converted into four one-hour webinars, one per week. That’s great for making it manageable with the kids at home, but by week 3, it’s likely you’ll hit a clash with a management conference call or a tantrum at home.

So a few L&Ders have gone with the option of sticking with a one-day workshop, starting at 9.30am, with a ten minute break after an hour and a one hour break after the second hour. So it’s really only four hours of interactive webinar time, but the group is all together for the day.

We find on this one that it’s about trial and error, knowing you will never find a solution that suits all, but going with what suits most can at least means you can keep running. Then see what options there are to pick up the others.

Splitting out the teaching and the Q&A or discussion

Sometimes people need more time to reflect on what they have heard, in order to think of how this applies to them and what questions they want to ask. On a face-to-face workshop we can give time for that, but if we’ve shortened to a 45-minute webinar, there may not be time for reflectors to get there. So a few companies have split out these aspects.

On Tuesday there is a 30-minute Webex session, delivering some top tips and suggestions on how these could be used. Then for the next two days, delegates are encouraged to send in their questions and comments on the sessions, via email or on a slack channel. On Thursday, the questions are answered in a recorded session, and for those able to attend live, breakout rooms are set up for people to discuss how they could use the tips in their work.

Mirroring flipchart activities

One of the core basics of learning is that we remember and apply concepts better when we are thinking for ourselves, than when we are taught. This is why the classic flipchart activity in a workshop is so powerful: delegates coming up with their thoughts on a topic rather than the facilitator giving them answers.

Recreating this can be a challenge online, but it can be done well. In one business we simply use the breakout rooms in Zoom or Webex to have people in groups answering a question or coming with ideas, which then one spokesperson shares back with the whole group.

Another client uses blackboard collaborate, having seen this used successfully for teachers. A brilliant feature this enables is the post-it activities, so in a breakout group, each person’s contributions are on a different colour post-it and rich discussion follows.

In these strange times, it’s great to share experiences and learn from each other, as everyone is facing new and unusual circumstances. What’s great is how everyone is coming together to do what we can.

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Converting to Virtual Programmes

And quickly too!

If you’re used to running webinars for learning sessions and already have a decent e-learning offering, that’s one thing.  But what about converting your two-day leadership programme into a virtual session at short notice, so that you can keep your development programmes running?

That’s the challenge facing a few of our clients, so we thought we’d share our top tips here….

Set Some Ground Rules

We all know etiquette on conference calls and webinars can be poor.  Some people don’t even mute their lines, so you can actually hear them carrying on about their business and typing their emails in the background.  Having everyone put their camera on makes a huge difference here – as we are no longer invisible.  Set out what you want the virtual session to achieve, for example, highlighting that this is not about shifting the highly interactive workshop into a death-by-PowerPoint slide show, but more about working where possible to replicate the workshop experience.

There can be a tendency for silence and passivity in these virtual settings, which completely removes the benefit of this being an experience with peers.  When we think about the consistent positive feedback received on face-to-face workshops, it’s always the benefit of hearing from peers – how they face similar challenges and how they cope.

So when we move to a virtual setting, we don’t want to lose this.  Set the expectation that people will be asked to comment and share with the whole group their personal experiences, challenges and ideas on how to overcome these.

Set up Breakout Rooms

Asking people to share their experiences in front of the whole group is far easier when smaller conversations have taken place first.  This is the benefit of small group discussions and breakouts in your face-to-face workshops.  Replicate this in your virtual sessions by splitting people into small groups and getting them to have a discussion.  Depending on the platform you are using, you may be able to actually run breakout rooms (e.g. on zoom) or you could just ask people to set up skype calls.

Again, ask everyone to have their cameras on for this, so that they are more likely to really listen and engage with the conversation than just carry on with emails etc.

Sift your Content

We have to acknowledge that some of the content we prepared for the face-to-face workshop just will not translate to a virtual setting.  Whether that’s the escape room game you had planned or an activity where delegates would take it in turns to influence a stakeholder, forum-theatre-style as a whole group, you’ll need to remove that content or ideally find alternative ways to hit the learning objectives.  Run through your agenda and work out what can be removed and what can be altered to work better in a virtual setting.

In one example on a recent session, we had a game that highlighted the importance of good communication during delegation.  We instead asked the delegates in breakout calls, to discuss their experiences of delegation and to share when it had not worked well and when everything had gone smoothly.  What made the difference?  What themes did they find in their experiences?  And therefore what practical tips would they suggest for future delegation?  This produced the same learning outcome, as the delegates realised how important the communication had been.

Keep it Short

A two-day face-to-face programme will probably not take two days when run virtually.  Think about how you could break the time down into sub-sections and give people space in between for breaks, time back on the day job, or indeed as they are probably working from home, time to put the washing on and see the kids.  Just balance this flexibility with the ground rules, so that when people are in the session, they are truly present.

It’s interesting to consider which of the changes to our lives caused by Coronavirus might stick.  Might we find that this way of running virtual, interactive workshops is beneficial – certainly for saving travel costs and therefore the planet?  The benefits of face-to-face networking are huge, so perhaps not.  It will be interesting to see what happens out the other side of all this.


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