The Building of a “Fantastic” Team

Countless stories and movies have brought teams together for good or ill. Some are unsurprising in having successes due to sheer resources brought to bear and others, however unlikely to hit the mark, get there using good leadership, their own ingenuity, processes and sheer luck. The following outlines the key elements of team dynamics that have been successful (or utter failures) in some “real teams” for consideration in your own team’s growth and triumphs.

Recruitment

This is the number one most important element of any team. It’s also the one that, unfortunately, is the most poorly done. It shocks me how in some groups there is very little preparation, leader training, standards and measurements in place for this. Too often is it politicking, a social exercise or just lack of know-how. Be ready and prepared before you hire. Many Han Solos in the Cantina are Greedos.

Culture: “Meh” is the worst hiring criteria.

You are putting together a “Team”. Not hiring individuals. Consider carefully what you want the culture to be all about! Some teams need to be a Green Lantern Corp, who all do the same job for different clients. They need to however be able to upskill each other, come together organically to battle large projects and support each other’s tasks when one is overwhelmed ala SCRUM. Carefully assess your candidates if they will fit the hue of green you are looking for. Not caring, not asking, not carefully assessing will give you a Yellow Lemon when you desperately need another Emerald Knight.

Interactions with Clients: Representing the team logo

Hiring a superstar who fits the team dynamic is fantastic! But also consider how that individual will fit the team jersey. Having a pleasant, collaborative technical guru is important, but most teams don’t work in silos. Don’t forget to ask questions that gather how the candidate will engage clients. Maybe you do need a Wolverine on your team. But you are now able to judge if he’s the best guy to brief the President on current mutant affairs.

Technical Capability: What you can do, not what you know (unless it’s what you can do!).

This element is usually the one most recruitment processes capture. There are rarely rules in hiring that state you cannot ask for demonstrations of capability (facilitators, sharpshooters, dodging bullets etc). Have a keen eye for requirements being truly fulfilled by the conversation. You can usually tell if someone has won in a light saber battle or has only fought training remotes with the blast shield up. Consider having a SME present to ask questions.

The Bond:

For a group of individuals to have glue, they need to actively build that culture and social “knit”. Once this bond is firm and in place, it helps maintain itself! New squads, teams and groups however need to really work at it alongside the leader with the vision. It’s the genuine belief in the mission and value of the team’s reliance and connection to each other that will make it happen.

Trust=Character + Giving a Crap

The number one thing every team needs. It will fall apart without it. Trust is a side effect, not an action. To get it you need a team who get to know each other well, have integrity and when the Orks charge in, really give a crap whether you live or die. The fellowship didn’t just rally around Frodo with shields whenever the sh*t hit the fan, they worked together in sub groups as well to build collaborative approach, to fend off smaller challenges and ultimately divided and conquered to get to the finish line.. er.. volcano. Fostering an atmosphere of “Give a Damn” isn’t that tough. It’s sharing at the team meeting, sharing successes and failures and deciding together how to move through adversity. If one of your peers/reports is having trouble. Play a little “You hold ‘im, I’ll hit ‘im.” You’ll be surprised how quickly that builds a Fellowship.

Peer Awareness: You complete me

A real bond is more than trust; That gets you there, but to really solve a problem, each crewman needs to be aware of the capabilities of each individual on the bridge. I never want to go into battle with a Counsellor Troy, I want Warf with a Bat’leth. On the other hand, if you need a brilliant innovative solution in an ugly sweater, give me a Wesley Crusher. Quarterly group reviews of a crew manifest, monthly lunch and learns in 10-Forward by each team member on topics of their choice and post-battle walkthroughs by the conquering hero are great ways to get everyone aware.

Ability to move beyond conflict: Punch me in the face and let’s go for a beer

Not everyone will always agree. A team isn’t made up of clones! (except on Kamino of course). If I had a third sign to hang over a team it would be “it’s ok to fail, and you don’t always have to agree”. The key to having a team who can disagree is both trust (see above) and a “make it better and move on” attitude. Problems on a team should be met Thor-like. Hit me in the face with the issue, we’ll hash it out in a room, then in the end, battered, let’s call it and go forward together, drinking horns in hand.

Kicking Ass

You have the team, there is the daily morning hug session and they are armed to the teeth. What now? Go whack a few moles and save the world!

Clear process: No disintegrations

Real efficiency in processes come from out of one formula: (It is crystal clear) + (It makes sense). Following this simple equation means that when your Avenger card goes off, everyone shows up. When you say “hold your fire” your troops don’t shoot. And if if really hits the fan, setting the whole squad against the Sentinel Army means you can be confident they’ll destroy the evil robots, save the civilians, watch out for each other and be back in the mansion for dinner.

Leveraging our strengths: Tanks, DPS and Healers

Good recruiting means you bring in the strengths your team needs. But on the battlefield, you need strategy to leverage them properly. An armada of aliens ships into the atmosphere requires Thor and Iron Man to fly up and charge into the fleet, The Hulk to run amok and aggro any footsoldiers, Wasp to get bi-standers to safety and Antman do build a doo-hicky that makes the mother ship explode spectacularly. The team doesn’t wait until the A-oogaa horns are going off to discuss what they can bring to the table. They just know, and adjust as needed through good communication. Not having a plan or considering everyone equal for any project or task is just foolish. I’ll pass on the Hulk bandage wrap thank you.

Deliver: Throw the damn ring in already.

Lastly, duh, get it done. The best way for a team to kick ass is to actually land foot to butt. Many companies and teams have churn. Big projects that seem to go on forever. Having bodies in and out of those initiatives is necessary but can’t be the only activity for a team. If it’s the monster you have to tackle, set smaller elements into motion. Every group needs a teleporter built, a mansion with neato sliding doors and it doesn’t hurt to stop a few muggers in down time. If the the only thing on a performance review is “Stepped in after Batman went down for 2 minutes before Superman showed up” its not exactly going to motivate your team to pull on their tights in the morning.

Pruning, Evolving, Moving on

Lastly, the end comes to all individuals and teams. Sometimes it’s in a spectacular explosion post-torpedo in your vent, sometimes it’s bidding a hero adieu when the suit gets hung up and they start a crappy job at the Daily Planet. In either case, planning for it will lead to the team continuing to evolve positively.

Terminations: Set Phasers to melt

A good leader sometimes makes mistakes in recruitment. Even with the greatest hiring best practices, you can’t always be right. Good leaders will not have to wait long until they see a goof was made. Watch the measurements (do you have them?), listen to feedback (are you getting some?) and ultimately make the decision that is best for the team’s existence. Sometimes it’s easy to get blinded by midi-chlorian count, silly old prophesies and charm to realize you have brought down the doom of the empire. If you hire and forget, or worse yet, recognize a problem and do nothing about it, sleep with one eye open, Mace.

Being outgrown: All out of purple Hulk pants

My personal favourite way to exit a team member. They are just too good to keep. Once your superstar has ascended into godhood, built a temple on mars for something to do, or seems bored when the rest of the team is sweating out molemen from the underworld. A conversation needs to be had. Trying to hold your super-super hero from growing will only make them unhappy, make a decision without your involvement or at worse, turn to the dark side and toss you down a dark shaft, lightning spewing from your fingertips. By helping that individual grow to another team or role, you will maintain the relationship.

Promoting within: Darth Vader: “You are in command now, Admiral Piett.”

Lastly, is promotions within the team. Sometimes you see this in a hiring opportunity for the team, and can groom a “Number 2” and other times your wizard falls into a pit and you quickly need someone to point the way. As a leader on the team, it’s important that you don’t leave succession planning to the deathgrip of an irate Sith Lord. Learn and consider the talents and career aspirations of each team member so you can avoid the confused mob when the mantle has to be passed.

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Another Boring Job Aid… Whiskey Tango Foxtrot??

I think I’m a colourful guy.  I have two twitter feeds.  One which is the “professional me” and is topics elements I think are of interest to me in my job.  The other is “personal me” and are all the things I find entertaining be it a hobby, my children, a new toy or whatever.  Quite often of course, these worlds collide and I post to both. Maybe not everyone separates their digital psyche and hosts them in juxtaposition like this, but the concept that I often am driven, professionally, to use methods that I prefer in my personal research or learning is certainly not unique.  It’s basic human nature.For my job, I am responsible to support other people’s growth.  I seek out gaps in what they know and what they need to know.  It’s not exactly dawning knowledge that as a learning practitioner, the better I know my audience and their roles/profile,the better results I will have.Now enter “The Job Aid”.A “what grinds my gears” moment always occurs when I am involved in a learning project that has an impactful design, clear and useful objectives and a well thought out execution.  Great!  Then, often tagged on are “job aids”.

In many organizations I’ve worked with, the “job aid” is defined as a printable pdf that holds information not deemed appropriate for the formal element of the learning solution.  It’s either criterion reference for concepts in the session or learning collateral, short walk-throughs of a tool or process, at-a-glance information, etc.  All perfectly acceptable content to support learners.

I find that often to suggest the delivery medium of flat, printable PDFs might create a solution that is not well connected to the rest of the learning program.

In several organizations I’ve worked in, client groups will over the course of a few years receive hundreds of these.  They become a change management nightmare, often ignored or at worst a sad, sad looking wallpapered cubicle.  It’s not how I personally learn. It’s not how I research things of interest or try to remember important things in my life.  Why would it work for my learner?There are some VERY handy guides out there to support what should be in a job aid.  Here’s oneadapted from “Effective Job Aids” by Susan Russell on the ASTD site. I don’t want to spend time talking about what goes IN a job aid, but I do want to provide some thoughts about other options than the very basic flat PDF.In a design for any learning solution, a medium should be considered based on the output of an assessment of your audience’s learning environment and capabilities.  Elements like location (remote, workstations, cubicles, etc), available tools and software (laptops, tablets, smartphones, reader software, web connections, etc) and required interactions for the content (software walkthrough, demonstrated behaviour, etc) are ideally brought to the table to determine the appropriate solution.  Job aids should be a part of that flow and decision making process.Why not deploy post learning resources in a way that fits in how a learner works and lives?  Why not leverage the approaches they use to be entertained, research items of interest or in how they use the learning on the job.Here’s a few ideas to get you kickstarted…

PDFs

Starting with the target of my ire, the PDF is actually one monster of a great format.  Although many times we cut off it’s arms and legs, push it through a heated ringer and stab it to death to mount on the wall, it has some really great possibilities if you dig abit deeper.One I really like is the fillable form. Although still relatively flat, what it DOES is strongly encourage learners to “do something”.  Ask them to submit answers, thoughts, or completion criteria (assuming you aren’t using an LMS for this of course) easily.  It also allows you to gather feedback from them on impact and use.  Try asking “where are you using this?” and they click submit at the bottom every time they use it.  It’s very cool.A PDF can be created to be fully interactive, linked, bookmarked and supports lots of rich media. (There’s even a YouTube widget to include videos within a PDF!)

Desktop Background

One I haven’t used but I think would be REALLY great for smaller organizations or for the newly hired is to create  job aids as Windows 7 desktop backgrounds.  You can even create more than one and have them rotate.  (Shift-F10, N will allow any user to switch to the next background if not the one needed).  For a new team, or for a new corporate initiative, having this pushed out by the IT Desktop team could be an interesting new approach!

RSS Feeds/Blogs

 One thing I think is critical to consider is how to provide the most impact for a learner with the least shift in their daily paradigm.  Having job aids posted in Blog format internally has some significant benefits. One it’s super easy to update without worrying about version control.  Secondly, it’s searchable and has all the bells and whistles you may want to apply to it (integrated twitter feed, multi-author, multi-media. searchable, printable, global distribution) and when provided as an RSS feed, suddenly your learners can view them on any device, tablet, smartphone, with their favourite news reader, and get notified as soon as a new one is available. It’s a pretty perfect solution.

The Job Aid Room

I have used this one recently.  Using a virtual classroom (I used adobe connect), you create a room that has whatever material you want to show (pdf, ppt, video, process document, software walkthrough etc) and post it with a publicly accessible URL.  Many devices (tablets, smartphones, etc) have access to these rooms via apps (webex and adobe connect do for sure) and you can provide very structured job aid support. It even allows (initially upon deployment for example) a live trainer to be on hand in the room to answer questions (Love the every Friday at noon QnA in the “Job Aid Room”!!) and content is easily changed, printed or downloaded.Have you found other innovative ways to provide post-training resources?  Feel free to share with me!

Virtual Facilitation: Part 1, What you say, How you say it.

I’ve been facilitating since the start of my career and using virtual tools since 2003. Over the last year however, with multiple organizations and project, I’ve logged well over 100 hours of virtual facilitation. The topics have varied wildly from soft skills, sales, technical training and L&D upskilling.

I really enjoy being an instructor. It was my bread and butter for a long time and I’ve been lucky enough to train quite a few virtual instructors over the years. It’s a very different medium but there are certainly many similarities to traditional, brick and mortar facilitation.

From a best practice perspective, there are a few things I would suggest to make a world of difference in an environment where you lose the visual element of your learners seeing you, or you’re seeing them and their reactions. Depending on the study, numbers range from 80 to over 90% of communication being non-verbal. This means there is an uphill battle to drive a positive learning experience for virtual, blind, learning sessions! So here are a few tips to help drive success! The tips aren’t virtual classroom and certainly could be applied to traditional sessions, but it’s so much more important to lean into them when instructing in a remote environment.

How you say it!

1. Strong verbal control. This one is the same, contextually, as a traditional facilitator skillset. Clarity and tone, energy, pronunciation and speed being key critical factors to keep in mind. These are elements learned via practice and candid feedback. These can be coached into a new facilitator and there are many presentation tools, programs or organizations around that can help!

2. A genuine style. Every presenter has their own way. There isn’t a right or wrong presenter style any more than there is a right and wrong to a comedian’s delivery approach, as long as it’s genuine. Always, always be yourself in how you deliver a session. Participants can tell if you are trying too hard, attempt to use humour and are not funny, or deliver in a serious tone if that’s just not you. Being genuine in your approach has a two-fold benefit. First it provides consistency between sessions. Learners will become acclimated to your style and know what to expect. It will keep them coming back as a radio show brings back avid followers. Secondly you will be more relaxed. Once you get over the hump of delivering to a faceless audience and receiving no visual feedback, it becomes easier to judge the groups reactions by the other interactive channels. I always encourage participants to at any time provide feedback using emoticons or chat. Make it the “you” show. It’s makes a difference.

3. Humour. Tying into the last element for many folks, if you relax your participants, they will enjoy the session much more! Injecting humour into a course instills trust, makes you that much more of a real person and lowers the formality of a session. The key to any great facilitator is to engage the audience. Formality can restrict an engagement. You already will have your hands full trying to keep your learners involved, keeping things light can certainly help!

I tend to really lean on this. It’s tough at first because you can’t see any rolling eyes in disgust or adoration from the masses. You have to try to balance it and be session appropriate while engaging individuals in a safe, but entertaining way. It can be as easy as making a little fun of yourself when you make a mistake to a humourous story or scenario.

What you say!

4. Prepare war stories! The very best facilitators come to the table with experience to share. I raises both your credibility while providing an interesting, real-life scenario others can relate to.

5 Keep it light! Every session might have technical issues. In a virtual session, its much harder to triage these are you are not local. It’s CRITICAL that if you hit a roadblock, you try to clear it quickly. I think that a minute is pretty much the limit. After that you will lose others. If the challenge is something like audio or chat functionality, lightly suggest another method of communicating with the session and that you’d be happy to support them later. NEVER argue with the client. (Which I have seen in sessions believe it or not).

6. Know each topic cold. This doesn’t mean memorize it. Scripts are fantastic visual aids for a facilitator to ensure consistency between sessions, but knowing the topic very well allows you to deviate abit, provide colour commentary and you can be abit more narrative rather than a content presenter. I like that way more! Also, if you don’t have anything to say about a bullet than what is on the slide or in the book, research it! All my facilitator guides have little notes for myself for each topic around a survey I saw, an article or scenario or useful little info byte. Desperately important.

7. Enjoy yourself!!! Participants can tell! Bring your passion and energy to the table. If you don’t love the topic, find something you like or find interesting about it.

Next article I’ll dig further into this and start specifically into how to engage virtual learners and keep them interested and involved!

Virtual Reality Check: Remote Learning Frustrations

I’ve been spending quite abit of time of late working both within my current role and in discussion with a few other practitioners talking about Virtual Learning.

The concept of delivering some type of upskilling or behavioural impact remotely is certainly not new. Even looking at “modern” tools like the webex’s of the world, they’ve been around long enough for a million and one white papers, books and blogs to outline some great howto’s. Continually however, I am finding organizations frustrated at the quality or impact of the Virtual Classroom.

My first foray into virtual training was in 2003. I delivered a training program through webex. The course design was sound and followed the “rules” (another blog post could come out of THAT comment…) and I was a seasoned classroom facilitator. I prepared, was comfortable with the material and logistically the session was organized.

It was ok. Not a complete disaster. But for me it was a REAL eye opener. I hadn’t anticipated how unprepared I was for the experience. The tools are significantly enhance since then and have a lot more bells and whistles, but the obstacles I came across and have fought to find ways of clearing are exactly the same as what I’m hearing now.

I think that taking style into account, there are many ways of solving the following problems, and I’m sure some of you have great methods I haven’t thought of, but I think noting the obstacle itself is an important step that many don’t seem to do (or notice).

The very first and most important challenge to note. You aren’t there.

Quite often, when I’ve worked with virtual facilitators, they recognize the value of being prepared, taking time to organize themselves, do great prep, setup the system, audio, video, cables, glass of water, guide, etc, etc.

They are serene and relaxed..Coiled to drive a focused result.

What often happens however is they have forgotten to consider what’s going on for the learner…

Chaos reigns. The session was registered weeks ago, they got an email reminder 2 days before which was quickly buried, meetings all day, milestones to hit, clients to call, teams to run… thankfully Outlook reminders saved the day and they are at the session on-time (ish).

This is the primary driver for all the other challenges below. These learners are not in a controlled environment. They are likely to be surrounded by distractions that, lets be honest, are way more important than you. Make sure you recognize it before you move on.

Keeping them engaged

Now that you recognize that you HAVE a battle to fight, how do you do it? First, you need to interact with them.. ALOT. This doesn’t mean talking AT them. Any adult learning model you follow outlines the need for adult learners to make content their own, reflect on it’s impact and do something with it. Otherwise, 90% will wash over them and become noise. (Which will encourage them to start reading email….)

The course has to have regular engagements with your learners to FORCE them to interact with you. Many tools have raised hands, checkboxes, exclamation marks, whiteboards, polls, audio etc. USE THEM… every 3 to 4 minutes. Have them do something like signal they are ready to move forward or that they have completed a task. It’s a simple way to ensure they are at least partly involved in the session.

Going deeper than that, when you design your structure, don’t fall into the “Any Questions?” trap. I’ve seen this one overused alot Everyone does it, I have. It’s easy and quick and helps keep you on time without distractions, but it NEVER keeps those NOT interested involved. I strongly suggest directed questions. Verbally select individuals to help you find the answers, or make use of knowledge tests where they have to do something. The “Any Questions?” should be used sparingly when you know folks are all waiting on bated breath to push you.

Keeping them Interested

Not remotely the same thing as engaged. You can whip a clown and it will dance. (I’ve wanted to say that all day…) But to trigger some kind of value out of the content is a two fold challenge.

First, if you are finding this a challenge, ensure you have a solid objective from the Affective domain. You will then be thinking outside of just having them understand and do, you want them to find value that means something to them.

Secondly, be real. This is a style thing I suppose, but it’s my way. If I were at a party and wanted to keep everyone interested in my story, what would I do? To stand up and start talking about xyz in a monotone voice and then asking everyone their thoughts on my boring-ass lecture will get me no where. BE the show. Don’t be afraid to facilitate! Add some colourful analogies, dig into your experiences and elaborate and be funny. Virtual training is VERY hard on style. Some very funny, great facilitators I’ve seen, become vanilla when training remotely. Why? Ask a Radio DJ. It’s hard to be funny when you can’t see your audience’s reaction. They might moan, groan, cheer, clap and you have no visual stimulus to trigger the stop/continue in your brain. The fact of the matter is though, it will be interesting. Bad jokes still keep people listening. Don’t AIM for bad humour/colour/stories, and be appropriate for the audience, but don’t be afraid of it. It so completely works.

The Flow is CRITICAL.

In my top 3 for sure. I think the previous comparison to the Radio DJ is again useful. I’d almost go so far as to suggest profiling one. If you are listening to your funniest, most interesting morning radio show, and it suddenly goes silent. How long until you change the channel?

Why is your virtual training any different? If you hit a lag, technical glitch (VERY common with participant audio!), or get abit lost in content, you can basically hose the success of your session. Be prepared. Have extra stories prepped to bring to the fore, have an exercise ready that does not require a complex technical interaction for them ready in the wings, have a host on the line with you to sort out technical audio issues with a learner so you can keep the rest moving forward. There no amount of apologies that will rectify a 5 minute gap in your session. Design these into the course. EVERY time.

Ultimately, regardless of the tools/tips you use (and I’d love to hear them!!), your virtual session HAS to be engaging, interesting and move like clockwork… or they’ll turn the channel.

Training’s Essence: Remember The Learner

I think that as human  being’s we like to complicate things.  There is a very good reason why countless books on time management and organization software exist. Project Managers were born out of the chaos of scope creep and an unending tide of enhancements, feedback and evolution.

There’s certainly nothing wrong with making things better!  I’m a technophile.  I love bigger, better, growth and the constant evolution to the impossible perfection. (I think there’s a blog post on that!)

Most times, projects, initiatives or programs come from a root of purity.  A problem that needed to be solved, inefficiency that needed to be streamlined or people who needed help with a task.

When a learning program is first conceived, it would come from an intrinsic need like an identified skill gap or personal interest in growing or an extrinsic motivation such as a deployment, missed objective or larger vision for direction.  It’s exciting to be involved in the birth of these types of programs.  Passion and motivation is high and out of box thinking is common.

As we progress though, the weight of several elements eventually start to bear down.  Competing initiatives and projects, a need for consistency in processes, technology enhancements, budgets, integrations and my personal favourite (and the death of potential), politics.

It’s vital to in the early stages, when ideas are flowing and everyone is focused, to capture the essence of what you are trying to achieve.

I don’t mean timelines or scope or anything so mundane as that.  I mean “Why are you doing this?”.  What’s the point?

If you are putting a program in place because your team needs to learn how to ensure customers really love the experience when they call.  That’s your essence.  Everyone gets that tattoo, everyone says it at the start of every meeting, there’s a cake every friday with pink glowing letters.

Don’t worry, the Devil Wears Project Management will ensure your gantt chart pushes you to the timeline.  The budget can still be managed.  But if you get to a point where you call any single person on the team at 3am, and when asked, they can’t immediately tell you “This project was put in place so that our learners walked away being able to kick ass when rolling widgets”….

…you will get to a point when someday you will have an integrated, expensive, on-time, complicated program… and your learners won’t be rolling anything.

The Wiki; Social media’s battered brother.

Everyone and their dog is getting onboard social media in a serious way (I say as a write in my blog which will auto tweet when published and appear in my facebook page…).  Innovative 2.0 technologies are raining down something new every day!

There is however, this poor older brother of the collaborative online spirit called the Wiki.  Misunderstood, mislabeled or disregarded by organizations looking to get into the social media “phenomena”, it is often cast aside in the face of others. (Blogging, Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter…)

Wiki’s have some amazing application to the world of learning, are cheap and easy for organizations to put together, and can bring really huge impact, really fast if applied correctly.

In 2004 I was introduced to the Wiki.  Up until then, although the concept of collaborative work was certainly not new to me, the idea of everyone able to edit anyone’s else content flew in the face of my mild OCD.

I liked data well organized, numbered and versioned.  How else would you be able to ensure accuracy through proper reviews?  You might as well just throw it all out a window and let any Tom, Dick or Harry write whatever the hell they pleased into the repository.  It was abit insane.

 

 

 

 

The crazed visionary, who’s idea it was to put in place as a pilot, impacted my view of this technology in a way that I wish everyone could have been.   7 years later, it’s still the best way of helping folks understand.

“The Knowledge Incubator”

A ton of sites I’ve come across have leveraged wiki’s as web pages.  Information is posted there (links, images, etc) but the tool is a leveraged for it’s easy of posting features instead of the collaborative tool it is meant to be.

I learned from my experience back then that offering trust to participants, socializing the hell out of the tool so it became part of the culture to participate and guiding rather than pulling data allowed for real diamonds to pop out of the bottom when it was time to build learning programs.

The power of the wiki is the fact that content can be inputted and edited by anyone.   That’s basically it.  As soon as you constrain that capability, or when it becomes a singular voice, you should instead consider other tools (Web page, blogs, etc).

Opening access to all to add, edit and delete will allow information to grow and leverage the brilliance of many rather than the genius of one.

There are great applications for this from a learning perspective.

Collaborative Stories – Allow customer service reps to work together to create and mold customer personas.  What a great way to new hires to get introduced to the types of clients they will interact with.

Information Gathering – Charts on policies, best practices, cold call experiences/ideas or software test scenario ideas.  Providing a place for these to be entered, and live edited by others will allow teams to dynamically shift approach and provide direction of success/failure.

This is also a great tool for gathering info from SMEs.  Especially in the world of developing product, allowing them to work together to mould learning content while moderated by an ID who cleans it up and organizes flow can be a real time saver.

Drawing Tacit Knowledge – The bane of the corporate educator.  Information lives in the heads, emails, post-its and doodles of the tenured.  How do you get it out of their heads and in a durable format?  Provide them a tool, socialize it and start drawing this vital info into a repository.  Provide incentives, games and light competition to help.

My suggestion on a few elements to keep in mind when considering a wiki as a tool.

1. Start with a goal.  Make sure you clearly know the objective of the wiki, each section and the role of each individual invited to take part.  It can be hard to drive busy people to populate content.  Having a clear picture of the end result goes a long way to intriguing participants to jump on board

2. Develop loose standards.  I say loose, because the more rules you put in place, either the less folks will participate, or the less value in the end result.  Elements like who has access and acceptable language will lend to the credibility of the end result.

3. Moderating.  Really give this one thought.  The less you moderate, the more you need to trust in those who are participating (see element 2).  Even a 24 hour turnaround in reviewing edits will frustrate participants away from being involved.  It’s also a huge job.  Let thoughts flow and stay involved as a participant.  If it’s abused, deal with those individually.

4. Start with Artifacts.  Describing a great idea and providing blank canvas is not motivating.  Posting a video demo of the newest software, list of curricula/topics/learning objectives, images of competitor products, or pictures of an org chart are great ways to kickstart thinking and ideas.  Spend your time organizing pages and artifacts for new sections (instead of moderating!)

Wiki technology is super cheap and accessible, allows for tracking of who edits what and when (you’ll find natural champions), and you can go back to previous versions in any edits put in place.  The risks are very low!  As long as you hold to the idea of collaborative spirit and the knowledge incubator, the end results can be astounding and reduce your efforts.

Webinar Platforms – Basic Must-Haves!

It’s a fantastic feeling to face a big group of interested learners.  I guess because it was the start of my career, I don’t do it nearly as often now, but being a facilitator is a bit of a rush for me. Walking around a room, marker in hand, as I go on about something or other was my version of being on stage.

Going from post-secondary to corporate however, the learner’s logistics certainly change.  New elements need to be considered. Time available, other priorities, distance to session, parking costs, etc, etc.  Add to this growing technology (plus decreasing costs!) and a greater understanding in learning for less traditional approaches, and the webinar was born.

Fast forward, add social media, mobile infrastructure and devices and a greater basic understanding of technology and you have a pretty neat opportunity.  Your avenue to getting your message out there is easier than ever!  Interactive micro learning (1 hour, 30 minute, 5 minute) sessions can be greatly impactful to direct tool usage, support a customer, pitch a product/service, warm up a relationship is powerful and cheap!

But there are a ton of tools out there?  What to look for?

I narrowed down, for my needs, the top elements that brought the most impact to the table.

Sharing:  

This one is the no brainer.  It’s the basis of pretty much any tool out there.  But for me, sharing a powerpoint is just the beginning.  A tool needs to be able to show your desktop (and select which monitor), pick specific applications, allow me to upload files (any media, not just powerpoint!) so viewers can see them and show videos clearly.

Fuze and Adobe Connect did a fantastic job of videos.  Not streamed, but uploaded the looked great.  Webex felt clunky and choppy for videos, but shared most anything, was most versatile and was my fave on app sharing.

Audio Conference:

They all did it.  But with a tremendous variant of approaches.  They all could do the traditional VOIP using speaker/microphone or headset.  I didn’t see a tremendous difference between them, most of the issues/successes were on my side with quality of equipment, connection, etc.

Toll free, some like Webex and Fuze has it integrated, but with a wide difference in cost (Webex was .15/person/minute, Fuze was .06).  Adobe connect didn’t have it in the barebones package (you had to add another provider).  This one isn’t a huge issue due to VOIP, but it’s dependant on connection/equipment quality.  Fuze has an AMAZING feature where they’ve integrated Skype.  You can dial in from anywhere using skype to their skype line which will connect you.  Very neat.

Camera:

Nowadays, since it’s so cheap and everyone is getting a webcam or has a device with a camera, it’s a no brainer.  Give your learners the chance to see you (and you them!).  It makes it more personal, and helps keep them engaged.

Most of these tools did this.  Fuze has full HD capability (GoToMeeting has this in a beta).  HD is cool, but for me, alot of folks won’t have a super fast connection, so I wasn’t too concerned.  They all allowed multiple feeds.

Recording:

If you are going to the trouble of hosting a session, for the love of god record and keep it.  Why wouldn’t you? You have everything to gain (reuse, provide offline/intranet, refreshers, learn from errors/issues, IP, etc) and nothing to lose.

One IMPORTANT question to ask.  Can you download the file locally.  Some tools this is not an option (Fuze for example, you own the files, but they won’t provide to you.  They host and provide links only).  With Webex, you get the file as soon as you close the meeting, but you need their proprietary free viewer to watch it.  Adobe Connect Pro, you can now (yay!) get your file, but you need to actually re-watch the whole damn seminar across the net, and their tool will record it for you locally in flash format (not while the session is going on??)  I think it’s a crazy waste of my time.

Polls:

There are tons of great learning tools in many of these services, but this one is of of the biggest ROIs. Poll at the start on the topics to be presented allows you to gauge how deep to go, Polls allow you to engage a large group, without dealing with voice/chat conflict or floods, Polls allow you to gather information on each respondent (name, answer, etc) to get market info on them.  Most had it, Fuze did not.

Mobile Access:

1999 is gone.  Don’t force your learners to sit in their boring cubes, to find an internet cafe (are these even still around??) or have to lock their dogs in the bathroom.  A participant should have full capability to watch, listen and participate in a webinar from a laptop, tablet (Android, PlayBook, iPad) or smartphone (BlackBerry, iPhone, Android).

Webex did a passable job, nice integration of voice, great experience for camera feeds and navigation.  Terrible on streamed videos (movies, clips etc).  Tablets show video, smartphones, just presentations and voice.

Fuze has a beautiful video/camera experience.  I really liked it.  No polling (obviously).

Adobe Connect Pro – Pain in the butt to access the meeting (had to type in the URL, not meeting number or something easy),  hard time getting camera to stream to it, many presentation files not recognized.

InstantPresenter, not yet, coming.

Elluminate, only mobile access is to play back recordings after the fact.


Cost:

Webex was the best value, 25 people, full features for 49/month for unlimited usage.
Fuze was pricey, 70/month, if you wanted video and full features, but those features were limited.
Adobe Connect  about the same as webex at 49/month.
GotoWebinar was pricey at 100/month, but you got gotomeeting as a bonus (15 people max)

 

Personally, for features and value, I went with WebEx.  It has the best all around feature support.  Some of the others were sexy and slick, or optimized in one area or another, but there was a loss of some functionality that I liked.

Interestingly, there is a service called AnyMeeting, which is absolutely free but includes ads.  Up to 200 people, video, sharing, recording, voip, polling, and lots more.  How can you beat that?  Not for profits, you have no excuse!

 

With the features above, you can put together a great, dynamic learning OR a really robust remote meeting in a snap!

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