The pandemic required us to rethink the way we set up our well-established leadership trainings. We had to move away from in-person gatherings and had to enter a new space – the virtual space! How we used and still continue to use this new space abundant with opportunities and limitations for our trainings – including fundamentals like collaboration and networking exercises – you can read in the following interview.
Here is how CONOUT (represented by Markus Ried, founder), TDK´s external training partner for European and American TCDP (Territorial Career Development Program), settled into the new virtual training environment. Enjoy reading!
When you hear the word "remote" – what comes to your mind?
Remote means being apart from each other. Our training, however, is based on a close personal exchange. Although we cannot meet in person, we as a training provider try to build a bridge to the participants, by empowering them to take personal responsibility for their own development.
Another important pillar of a successful remote training is self-organization where tasks, responsibilities and expectations must be clearly defined.
In order to incorporate the wishes of the participants into the training sessions, we frequently and proactively ask questions to get participants feedback so they can share their expectations and experiences.
What means "training" to you?
Training always means development, i.e. not only teaching theoretical content or recommendations for action, but also reflecting on oneself and recognizing strengths and weaknesses. This leads to successful and valuable learning outside of the training and enables the participants to integrate new skills and perspectives into their daily activities. An important point for me is: Do not limit yourself to technical processes and tasks, it is about to consciously develop the relationships in your team and create a culture of mutual support.
So what we try in our trainings is not just to see the individual, we put our focus on the whole system. Because we know the transfer of learning content needs an environment and culture where the integration of new learning is welcomed.
This means, we ask our participants directly about their professional environment and discuss their personal framework conditions in common coaching sessions. We also try to get in touch with our participants’ managers as much as possible and have a positive impact on the integration environment. The fact that the TCDP training sessions are held in various locations gives us the opportunity to get an insight into the moods, working environments and also the economic environment in which our participants operate.
Could you please explain CONOUT´s training approach and how you adapt it to the remote training set-up?
Humans are social creatures and we learn most through exchange, dialogue and new perspectives. Certainly, technical points, languages, and models can also be rehearsed individually, but the transfer should always be designed socially (like a language that can be studied individually but only learned by speaking with others). Our basic approach is the action-reflection-transfer methodology.
Hereby, action includes exercises and other interactive tasks like group discussions or self-learnings. Based on the action-part, it is always important that the new learnings are also reflected and transferred to the existing and individual personality, character and skillset. Subsequently, the learning transfer can be attempted in a promising way.
Accordingly to our approach, we try to allow a lot of group discussions and exchanges also in the remote setting. We use team-building exercises, especially at the beginning, to promote an honest exchange and to create the basis for mutual feedback and sustainable learning.
Regarding TCDP: how does the virtual training set-up impacts the overall learning journey?
Of course there is a certain disadvantage compared to former groups who met permanently. If we can still do one or two in-person trainings together with the current TCDP cohort within this term, we will be able to compensate a lot – so that also this group will be very satisfied at the end of the program. However, as already mentioned, the personal burden is also more work-life balance compliant due to reduced travel times and less work left at the desk after the training.
What was the biggest challenge for you personally when remote trainings have started one year ago?
Due to already existing experiences with online meetings and isolated hybrid trainings, there were no fundamental fears. What really proved to be a challenge was the adaptation of interactive methods to the online setting – but in case of TCDP I think we found a good solution with the Tangram-Exercise for example (virtual teambuilding & leadership exercise).
If you could change one thing about remote trainings, what would it be?
I would arrange a professional equipment for all participants and also the necessary rest, time and free space to support them in concentrating during the online training without disturbances.
Can you tell us three positive aspects of remote trainings?
Time saving, cost saving and more ecological than face-to-face trainings in regards to travel time and fuel consumption.
What are the big differences between remote and in-person training apart from the personal-contact-factor?
Around 95% of communication does not take place by using words but over gestures and facial expressions. The facial expressions can be still partly recognized in a virtual setting – in regards to gestures, it is more difficult remotely than in-person. In addition, online communication, especially if the technology and the connection is not working well, is much more exhausting than face-to-face communication.
In summary, it is very difficult to create the same level of relationship in online settings compared to face-to-face trainings – with the resulting disadvantages of reduced communication quality (the depth of content), less personal exchange and feedback as well as difficulties in finding creative solutions together as a virtual team.
How do you think these pandemic times will influence training structures in future?
The pandemic itself will probably not affect training – but the accompanying symptoms will. The experience gained from online training and the resulting advantages should also be used in future, i.e. from my point of view a mix between face-to-face events and remote settings would be great.
The pandemic itself may have an influence on the perception of uncertainties in forecasts – but it will give personal contact (which was limited) a higher priority again.
Can you tell us one of your most defining moments & highlights of TCDP?
Looking back, for me, the trainings in Israel and Istanbul were certainly a highlight because the local hosting support was amazing and the historical highlights were certainly very impressive (e.g. the private tour through Hagia Sophia, the city tour through Jerusalem).
For me, of course, the last module with the final presentations is always a highlight where I develop a certain pride related to the performance and commitment of our participants to the TCDP journey and their TCDP projects (during the TCDP, the participants form project groups and work on self-selected project themes over a 9-month period. At the final TCDP module, they present their project work results in front of the respective territorial Committee). Additionally, I always try to include entertaining and funny moments in the training.
Certainly, our outdoor methods are much diversified for the participants. Because hormones such as dopamine, serotonin and adrenaline are a prerequisite for learning, a too serious and purely cognitive approach would not be beneficial.
What do you enjoy most of being TCDP´s training partner?
Already at the first offer presentation, I mentioned that a prerequisite for the success of the program is that both, we from CONOUT and Global HR department from TDK, develop a common learning team: not the classic client-service provider role, it is more that we both are contact persons for our participants and also jointly develop the program further. In my opinion, this works very well and motivates us to do more than just provided by the contractually agreed service.
If you could have a superpower – which would it be and why?
I do not know if I would call this superpower – but possibly pandemic vanishing power. However, apart from the pandemic, beaming would be great of course – to compensate the disadvantages of face-to-face training. I would like to use my beam power to look over the shoulders of the participants in their daily work and support them directly in certain challenges with customers / colleagues and their managers.
In private, I think having a superpower makes you also super lonely, because you are the only one who has that power and on the other side everybody expects that you do what you have to do with your superpower. So I am happy to have no superpower. Instead, I am more grateful to still have the ability to climb on high mountains and to manage long distance bike-trips even when these things felt a little easier 20 years ago.