At some stage during your career you may have been involved in learning programs that feature scenarios or role plays. Most often, the pre-prepared scenarios feature difficult situations – a relationship with a customer has become strained, one of your team members is under performing or an important deadline has been missed. Participants work their way through scenarios, their responses and behaviours are rated, and feedback is given to aid improvement.
This kind of development experience can be useful. However, there are two limitations:
- Participants’ responses and behaviours during the scenarios may not match those in the real world, because there is less context, and because role plays can feel forced.
- Transfer of learning from the training room to the workplace may be limited, given that constructed role play situations differ from the actual situations participants face.
Now, with the world in the midst of a major health and economic crisis, there is little need to make up scenarios for development purposes. The global pandemic has brought with it a rare and rich variety of challenging real-world scenarios that are better than almost any that could be written.
Here are some real-world scenarios you may have experienced recently:
- You and your team have been forced to work from home for much of the time, despite having had limited experience with this. How will you operate in a way that maintains connections with other team members?
- Your personal workload has increased significantly and it is likely to remain high for the foreseeable future. What strategies will you apply to enable you to complete your work while also managing your energy and health levels?
- Since the start of the pandemic crisis you’ve noticed that one of your close colleagues has become uncharacteristically difficult to work with. How will you respond to this?
- You lead a team which is providing critical services, and some team members have expressed concerns about their risk of personal exposure to the virus. What will you do about this?
Real world experiences can be the best teachers of all. If the pandemic has forced you to face challenges like the ones above you’ve probably learnt some things as you’ve taken action to respond. However, you are unlikely to have captured all of the potential learning benefit because action alone is usually not sufficient for effective learning. To learn effectively and deeply people need to find ways to intersperse periods of action with periods of conscious reflection. As the image shows, when we do this we will not only learn more but we will also usually achieve better work results.
So, what can organisations do to encourage the reflection that is needed to realise the learning potential of this Coronavirus Pandemic? Here are some suggestions, which can be applied either remotely or face-to-face:
- Assign learning pairs in your workplace and ask each pair to have a 30-minute discussion at the end of each week to discuss and reflect on what they have learnt.
- Begin team meetings with reflective questions, “What have you learnt this week?” and, “How will you apply this learning in your work in the future?”
- Pair employees and leaders with suitable coaches to help them reflect on the situations they face, then plan actions and consider results, capturing learning insights along the way.
- At team meetings take the time to review and reflect on group progress, asking questions like “What did we do?”, “What were the results?”, “What have we learnt?” and “What do we do next?”
Whatever your circumstances I hope you are working your way through this time of disruption successfully. I also really hope that you find ways to take real advantage of the rich and rare learning possibilities that have arisen.