The problem that many organizations face today is not a shortage of people in the market, it is a shortage of skills.  Research in Corporate Learning tells us that organizations suffer from a “skills supply chain” challenge. Not only do more than 70% of organizations cite “capability gaps” as one of their top five challenges, but many companies also tell us that it takes 3-5 years to take a seasoned professional and make them fully productive (Bersin Feb’14).

Shift Happens

So if you are a trainer, you are in quite an empowered position. A position of responsibility. And one of creating change – in peoples’ skill sets, their world views, the trajectories of their work and lives. Good managers and mentors need to be good trainers as well. But for the sake of this post, let’s stick to trainers and the practices that can make trainers empowered to deliver successful trainings – trainings that can expand the learning minds.  By the end of this post, I believe that you will agree with me that these practices can be applied to other positions of responsibility as well. For this post, I invited Nilisha Mohapatra to share her learnings from her experience as a trainer and as a trainer of trainers.

Each one of us at some point has interacted with a trainer and learned with them, mostly in a professional setting.  Trainers can be for a wide range of skills – from technical skills like agile methodologies, six sigma, process improvement, to soft skills such as communication, leadership and confidence. Trainers abide by content and experience, and whatever be the training, the objective is ultimately the same – to add value to an individual’s experience and expand her horizon.  Being a trainer myself, there are a few important things I have learnt over time that have helped me become more effective as a trainer, creating sharp impact. No matter what the training session is about, it is the uniqueness of the trainer’s methodology and approach that makes the difference between a Boring Brain-numbing session and a Useful Brain-expanding session. And to allow that edge to come into play, there are five things that I keep in mind always. Here they are:

You are a Facilitator. The trainer approach is somewhat passé now. A facilitator by definition is someone who creates a space for the group to come alive in, for collective learning to happen through group processes. A facilitator may or may not be subject matter experts. Even if they are, the practice is never inclined towards lecture-driven learning. It is more about creating an experience. Facilitators trust the group’s collective wisdom and take part in shaping skills through sharing of power and balancing group dynamics. I quite enjoy this approach as this allows me to blend with the group, breaking hierarchies. I view trainings/workshops as a developmental processes where my objective is to enable the participants with a new lens/skill. This process of enabling I believe is one of mutual participation, as opposed to a traditional directive. Hence, I am at a workshop to facilitate learning. Not give it.

If you feel you are listening enough, know that there is more to listen to. Listening happens at multiple levels. More so at the non-verbal levels. Many a times I’ve found a huge difference between what participants share vs what they really think. Try finding signals that can bridge the gap to create genuine and unique learning experiences. Resistant body language, sheer silence, questions, argumentative or defensive tones, extremely high or low energies are some indicators I always look out for.

The more you accept, the more change you can create. It is tough to take a neutral stand always as facilitators.  Being non-judgmental is a challenging skill to nurture, and requires a lot of unlearning. The key to being non-judgmental lies in acceptance.  Validating each person and just accepting their points of view, doubts, resistances, success, makes them feel heard. And then they move towards change of behaviour and skills by acknowledging the new direction suggested in the training. It is a buy-in process. I have had struggles with this. Each time I have not practiced acceptance, the learning has been incomplete or ineffective. Asking curious questions to understand, allowing a variety of opinions into the space, and solid breathing are ways to practice this. As I have accepted, I have changed. And as I have changed, so has the group. Visualize your mind as an open bowl, which keeps filling with what you experience, and never over flows. Be the light and not the critic to let the learning happen.

Change is a tumultuous process. Even in the easiest or safest of environments. Haven’t we all experienced change and been overwhelmed by it? So how can we expect a group of people to just take on something new in a jiffy, without any resistance? Shunning old ways is a mammoth task. A new skill needs practice, on top of all the other skills. A new programme needs testing. A new behaviour needs strengthening. All this needs time and is met with road blocks. Reminding myself of this process of learning has helped me be a more supportive facilitator instead of a demanding tyrant!

Everything that happens in the workshop is a process of feedback. The old saying of what goes around comes around plays out beautifully in a workshop. Always. Whenever I have given in more energy and life to the training, the participants have come alive, sharing more of their energy. When I have shared stories of my own learning and skill building process, that has helped me establish credibility and helped the participants understand the process of learning. If my tone, ideation, validation has been flat, I have only been met with blank faces. This is the potent feedback process that plays out in training, and it helps to be aware of it.


As I understand today, these practices are primarily about training myself first, before I try to engage someone else in a learning process. Isn’t that where the magic starts? In my experience, as and when I have put these practices to use, the more I have been able to unravel about human potential development. This has become my Pandora’s Box for workshops.  And people in leadership positions who have chosen these practices are some of the most charismatic and influential leaders I have known.

We would love to know what your thoughts and experiences are on enabling learning in workshops and in your teams. We look forward to hearing and learning from you.

Nilisha is trained as a Mentor Trainer, delivering complex training to Indian volunteers learning to become mentors to disadvantaged children. She has a Masters in Applied Psychology and has transformed herself into a creative and inspiring trainer who both taught acceptance and behaviour change as well as living the principles in her training. This is Nilisha (@NilishaM)’s sixth guest post for Happy In The Now and you can read all her blogs at fantasycluster.wordpress.com

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