Last week, I got involved with social learning on Twitter via #LDInsight – a rare treat as the school run takes place at the same time!
The question was ‘How do you balance the need to be an expert with facilitating access to learning?’.
My immediate (and typically blunt) response was “I don’t”. I don’t set myself up as an expert. When delivering training I make it clear that everyone in the room has knowledge, experience and good practice to share: I’ve noticed that this immediately reduces any resistance to learning that may be present. Those experienced, competent people in the room inwardly give a sigh of relief that they aren’t going to be ‘told what to do’.
When designing training, I add value around the learning process and in particular by harnessing accelerated learning techniques. The nitty gritty of the content is often added by an internal expert.
In fact, my last three big projects followed this model. I’m not an expert in finance or HR, but I have been able to create great workshops on these topics by working with internal experts. The key is not being precious about ownership. It’s about using people to their strengths.
With a national charity, I worked with a very knowledgeable finance professional and we respected each other’s expertise. He knew what people needed to know and do in terms of financial management, and I trusted his knowledge and judgement. In return, he recognised that he wasn’t a trainer, and trusted me to put a structure and activities around these core issues to bring them to life so that people would engage and learn. It worked.
With a global food manufacturer, I’m currently part way through writing a series of half-day ‘Manager Fundamental’ workshops that will be run by internal experts. Again, I’ve added value through the exercises and discussion guidelines. The expert needs only a prompt to talk about policy X and procedure Y, they know more about it than I do, but they don’t know how to bring it to life.
We must also bear in mind that knowledge quickly goes out of date. During (possibly Series ‘K’ of) QI, Stephen Fry commented that half the things they told us to be true in the ‘A’ series have now been found to be false! Yesterday’s expert may not be tomorrow’s expert, so when relying on ‘experts’ to deliver training, you need to be sure that they really are!
Which brings me to perhaps the best example of being an expert versus facilitating learning, which is with another of my clients, a growing bank. We have written (with input from them) 7 HR workshops, which we are now delivering. The trainers are qualified, experienced and knowledgeable HR professionals. They stay up to date with employment law. ‘Black and White’ is clear to them, but what about the shades of grey? Every company takes a slightly different approach and attitude to things like lateness and sickness. Every company does its performance review slightly differently. Every company has a unique recruitment process.
Here, the trainers (myself included) know enough about the subject to facilitate the session, ask relevant questions and know which contributions to encourage and which to challenge. But we are NOT experts in their recruitment system, their bonus scheme, their occupational health programme and so on. Nine months ago when we began the training, we did our best to learn all the detail, but of course things evolve in organisations and, being external to it, it’s easy to get left behind. So, each workshop is co-delivered (for part of the session) by an internal expert. It works incredibly well and the delegates get the best of both worlds: An experienced facilitator who manages the session and can guide and encourage their own learning, and a proper ‘expert’ who can give a definitive answer to specific questions, but wouldn’t be able to facilitate an interactive session.
So, maybe the question shouldn’t be ‘How do you balance being an expert with facilitating others’ learning?’ but ‘Why would you want to?’ – Let each be an expert in their own way and let those learning reap the benefits.