As covered previously on this blog, meetings are often a boring waste of time that take us away from our actual job.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
Meetings can be a place for brainstorming to find solutions. They can be a place for vigorous debate to address a thorny issue. And as we’ll cover today, meetings can be used for trainings that improve your team’s skills.
A good in-service can keep your team engaged and help them become more proficient at their job. But a good in-service is more than you simply prattling on, no matter how strong of a speaker you may be.
We want your team to more than listen. We want them to actually learn.
To that end, here’s a simple done-for-you system to help you plan and structure an effective in-service.
- Opening: Clarify and Sell the Big Idea
- Teach: Introduce and Explore the Content
- Practice: Engage with the Content
- Closing: Review the Big Idea and Expected Action Steps
1) OPENING: Clarify and Sell the Big Idea
The first section of the in-service is all about introducing, clarifying, and selling the “Big Idea.”
It’s very important to make the goal of the in-service crystal clear. What are you covering, and what will it allow them to do better? What are the outcomes they can expect by applying this new skill? How does this reflect the values of your organization? How does this serve your mission? In other words, why does this matter?
Importantly, it can be useful to address the consequences of not mastering this skillset. I recently saw a speaker describe this as “selling the car accident before selling the ambulance.”
If this reminds you of a traditional sales conversation, it’s with good reason. You can’t just assume your team will understand why a given training will be valuable. You have to show them how it will make their life better and solve their pain points.
PRO TIP: Instead of simply telling them why this matters, introduce your topic and “big idea,” and ask your team how mastering this material will impact their work. Then let individuals share the benefits they see with the rest of the group.
2) TEACH: Explore the Content
In many trainings and in-services, this second section is the only part that actually happens.
While it’s not wrong to share a presentation (and can be a great learning opportunity for whoever prepares it), this is different than using your meeting to train your team. If you want a deeper understanding of the concepts, there needs to be ample time to engage with the material. Nonetheless, it’s usually prudent to spend a bit of time laying out the material you’re going to cover in a more experiential fashion in part 3.
Almost any topic benefits from creating a structure of some kind. For example, you could offer a 3-6 “steps” framework to create your chosen outcome (e.g. “The 3 Steps to Handling a Complaint”).
While Powerpoints often get a bad rap, creating some slides can be helpful here. By thoughtfully using graphics, images, and even (gasp!) tasteful bullet points with minimal words, you can organize the information visually.
Additionally, stories are a great teaching device. We learn through narrative better than through rote memorization. If you have the time and the material warrants it, consider using stories to illustrate your points and demonstrate the content in action.
Finally, based on the time available and complexity of your material, there’s an opportunity to have your team participate and “practice” your skill even here in the “teaching” section. While this structure separates “teaching” from “practicing,” this is most certainly not a hard and fast rule. Particularly if you have a longer workshop and more material to cover, you’ll benefit from getting engagement all the while.
Whenever possible, you’re looking to create exercises or curate conversation so you’re team is not only listening, but actively reflecting on the content as you teach them.
3) PRACTICE: Engage with the Content
Practicing is the most important part of a good in-service. And unfortunately, it’s the ball that is often dropped.
Most adults don’t learn effectively by listening to someone talk. Whether you’re doing roleplays, written exercises, or small group conversation, the goal is to make everyone engaged in and curious about process.
(For YEARS I did this wrong. Personally, I learn pretty well by listening to people talk. And lord knows, I LOVE to talk about things I’m passionate about. To make matters worse, with my background as a professional performer, I’m pretty good at keeping people engaged and entertained. Thankfully my team kept on me, and consistently asked me to do a better job of helping them actually learn and engage with the material I wanted to cover.)
Here are a few examples of ways to “practice” the content you’re covering:
For many skillsets (particularly in service industries), doing roleplays are incredibly useful.
First, have your team brainstorm scenarios where the skill you’re covering would be useful. Have them write out example scenarios on a piece of paper. Collect the written-out scenarios and distribute them to different people. Have everyone break into pairs and practice the skill, one at a time.
Take periodic breaks to reflect as a large group on what you’re learning and what obstacles you’re finding. If there’s time, you can switch partners and do multiple rounds.
NOTE: Many people will bristle at the idea of roleplaying at first. It can feel super awkward. But at the end of the day, roleplaying is pivotal to master many skillsets. Be empathetic with your team if you get pushback, but make sure to explain why it’s uniquely valuable.
For scenarios where there is no obvious roleplay, break your team into groups of two to four (don’t get too much bigger, as you want everyone to talk). Have them discuss a question related to the content you’ve covered, and reflect on how it applies to their work and your business.
In a 45-60 minute meeting, you can usually get through about three “rounds.” Once again, take breaks in between each session and ask individuals to share with the whole group what they’re learning, ask questions, etc.
PRO TIP: At least one question should revolve around identifying new actions and behaviors based on this information. Without connecting those dots, this can become very academic.
Based on the content, some writing exercises may also be warranted. Other examples of exercises can be preparing a short skit or performance of some kind that the small groups or pairs can then share with the rest of the team. Whenever possible, adding in a physical element will help with retention and engagement.
Regardless of what tools you use for practice, the main point is to spend time “chewing” on the content.
4) CLOSING: Review Big Idea and Clarify Expected Action Steps
Now that you’ve spent time reviewing the material “in action,” it’s time to put the cherry on the sundae.
In your closing section, review the key points of the material and re-sell them on the “big idea.” If there’s time, you can take more Q&A that weren’t addressed during the practice section.
Finally, and most importantly, clarify the expected new behaviors and actions. In-services can be painfully theoretical. To help your team apply what you’ve discussed, explicitly address your expectations for how this skill can be implemented in the week ahead.
Putting It All Together
Now that you know the general structure, it’s time to create a timed outline for the meeting. As a general rule, the engagement part should be the bulk of the meeting. While there’s room for some flux, a general structure can look like this:
- Opening (5-10%)
- Teach (15-30%)
- Practice (50-75%)
- Closing (5-10%)
If we consider an hour long training, it may look like this:
- Opening – 5 minutes
- Teach – 10 minutes
- Practice – 35 minutes
- Closing- 5 minutes
Ultimately, based on how long you have, the size of the team, and the content covered, there’s plenty of room to add exercises or sections as desired. But this structure will provide a solid framework to make sure you always hit the most important parts.
Lastly, if there’s one more thing that will improve the quality of your in-services, it’s this sentiment:
Pros don’t practice until they get it right. They practice until they can’t get it wrong.
As a rule of thumb, any skill requiring consistent execution will benefit from at least three separate trainings. For review purposes, you can keep the opening, teaching, and closing sections pretty similar. But for best results, design new ways to practice the skills.
Repetition is the mother of mastery. Don’t be afraid to review the things that matter over and over again.
As always, if you have questions or ideas, hit us up. Would love to hear things you’ve found valuable (or ineffective) in training your team.