There is considerable cost and impact risk in staff development especially if we are looking for a change in behaviour that allows individuals to be more present, more effective or to challenge their own assumptions or beliefs. It requires individuals to put themselves in a vulnerable place and to tolerate uncertainty. Our experience demonstrates that it happens most powerfully when a learning community is created. At Brathay we place importance on creating psychological safety within groups. This means helping group members to gain clarity on the purpose and outcomes of the programme, and to understand how this will be achieved and how they can support this process. It also means building strong relationships between group members.
A great example of this was at the end of a recent four day graduate development programme when each group had created a work of art that represented an aspect of their learning and presented it on the lawn against the backdrop of a sparkling lake. It was memorable and affecting, and represented something that we could all share in. Individuals had bonded within the group and were willing and able to talk about their personal experiences.
New challenges are emerging
Typical graduate development programmes have focussed on leadership skills and team-working skills but whilst these are still relevant and important, a recent survey by the Association of Graduate Recruiters highlights a skills gap that suggests graduate development programmes may need a more nuanced approach.
Graduates come into the workplace, often with a high level of technical skills, but lacking some of the soft skills that they need to navigate through the complex landscape of the business environment. Whether this is due to an impact of the digital age or simply a better understanding of baseline skills is not clear, but the challenge is real.
The most unexpected yet significant skills gap was in self-awareness – although employers do not seem to expect graduates to bring significant work-related skills with them to their post-university roles, they report being surprised by the lack of self-awareness shown by their graduates. Self-awareness is a fundamental element in growth and development: understanding personal preferences, emotions and motivations and how these affect behaviour, as well as the ability to behave differently to achieve a better outcome. The wisest amongst us recognise that this is an ongoing process rather than a lesson delivered in a classroom.
So how do we address this challenge?
Creating the environment in which there is an appetite for feedback and helping people to observe behaviour and to reflect on its impact, leads to a rich dialogue. In turn, this allows people to experiment with different behaviour. The same graduate programme had introduced the idea of challenge and support, both within groups and for individuals to explore how they could stretch boundaries. Feedback and disclosure were encouraged from the outset. The company supported this development with internal coaches so as well as the facilitated conversations by the Brathay trainer, each graduate was able to access 1:1 conversations that helped them to translate the insight and learning into their everyday work context. It proved a potent combination.
Edgar Schein (On Dialogue, Culture, and Organizational Learning) identified that in our complex world we need to work in groups to solve problems and that therefore the experience of dialogue and learning in groups becomes increasingly important. The individual is helped to become more self-aware and to manage themselves more effectively - at Brathay it is in the context of group learning.
We have proven the benefit of our group based experiential approach, and consequently delivered step changes in performance.
Why not come along to one of our programmes and experience what is possible – our next open Coaching Leader programme is scheduled for November. Alternatively you could hold a team meeting at Brathay and incorporate a specific activity to experience how we can change behaviour.