Thoughts and stuff from #ldcu17

It’s been a week now since the L&D Connect unconference in London and as is my want, a good point to think about how the day went and why we do them.

Primarily, the unconference format allows for people to co-create an agenda and drive their own learning in a way which isn’t normally done. There’s something about asking people to come along to a day of open learning and just watching how it unfolds.

The normal conference structure means people are very used to attending a day of talks, meeting some people, if you’re lucky meeting some people you actually want to stay in touch with, and going home with a head full of content. What you’re normally left wanting, though, is a way to make sense of that content. We don’t normally build in reflective practice into a conference session – and a word of caution, reflective practice isn’t a proxy for action planning. For a helpful read on what reflective practice allows for, read this piece by Craig Kaye.

An unconference almost takes things to the other extreme – it’s main focus is the conversation that is encouraged. That can be a bit too open and uncomfortable for people and may not always feel as if the conversation is relevant to your needs. It can also feel like you can’t dictate or bring the conversation back to where you’d like it to be. So there are pros and cons to both the formats.

With L&D Connect, we persist with the unconference format, I believe, because it’s a useful barometer for L&D professionals. How do you know what success looks like if you’re only measure of success is amongst other like-minded professionals? One of the strengths of the unconference is that it’s inclusive by design – anyone can attend because everyone has a valid point of view. That’s a tough one to square for yourself if you have certain beliefs about internal vs external practitioners, or about seniority of people, or about diversity of groups. I personally thrive on that. Complacency sets in when we create such a comfort zone that we fool ourselves into believing we’re at the cutting edge. (I don’t even know what cutting edge L&D could look like – sometimes I think we just need to do the basics better).

The weekly #ldinsight chat (Friday’s 8am UK time) and it’s current sister chat #ldnights (Tuesday’s 8pm UK time) continues to provide a forum for practitioners to come together online and discuss topics of interest. Of course, Twitter chats have been around for an age, and other chats such as #lrnchat continue to be regular stalwarts too. These online chats are nearly always respectful, helpful and people take part from all walks of L&D life (and sometimes non too!). The format of the chat of exploring one question and allowing people to go where they need with it is a useful one too.

As with most communities, there can sometimes be unintended consequences. There’s a perception there’s a ‘cool’ group you ‘should’ be ‘in the know’ with or ‘talking to’. There’s a perception there are ‘cliques’ and ‘in-jokes’ which can inadvertently exclude some from joining in. There’s a perception there is a ‘right’ way and a ‘wrong’ way to take part in the chats. I personally wonder if we’re doing enough to encourage voices we don’t normally hear. How do we remain truly inclusive if we’re blind to how we might not be?

There aren’t easy answers to those questions, and we should take our time to reflect on them too. We’re a microcosm of how life is outside of our bubble, and if we want things to be in a certain direction / with a certain ethos / with certain values we have to show up and do those things ourselves.

I was really pleased to see and experience such a good stretch of diversity at the unconference too. We had two gents travel in from Milan specifically for the event, and that’s pretty impressive! That diversity was in terms of the people there and the different cultures / groups they were part of, as well as professional diversity too in terms of job roles and experience.

There is something also very safe about the unconference format. It’s an environment of exploration and of being comfortable with non-normal practices. People are invited to meet others and spend time getting to know each other. We connect more and beyond than just cursory introductions. We get to explore thoughts, processes, and beliefs. That can be done personally, with others, or not at all. The self-directed nature of the event means people take ownership of how they take part in the day and when they are ready to stop too.

And I was really glad how we gave an hour at the end of the day just for reflective practice. Just taking time to reflect. To think. To allow things to settle. To discuss with others. Experiencing a day like an unconference (be you seasoned or not) means there is often a lot going on in the day and it suits our natural learning processes to have dedicated time to reflect.

On a personal note, I struggled with the day. It was the day after the Manchester attack and I was shook. With the support of the team that helped make the day happen, the day went ahead and I’m really pleased with how it unfolded. We held a minute silence at the beginning of the day, and I appreciate that we did that. When I got home that night I was full of such a range of emotions. Sheer sadness with what happened the night before. Joy with how the unconference happened. Pride with the community and what we’ve created. Calm at seeing my family safe at the end of the day.

And we move on. There are already discussions about what else can happen in and for the community. There is already an unconference planned to happen in the Netherlands this year (I know!). It feels like we’ve become a community for L&D practitioners and professionals who have started with a small group in 2012 and now growing into something more and beyond in 2017. That’s quite something.

How do you facilitate an unconference? 

Not all unconferences are run like this. Our recent London one (today in fact!) ran like this.

The day starts with explaining how some of the “rules” work.

 (There was so much movement of the wall that the writing got vanished!)

It then moves into creating a grid using Open Space as a facilitation technique.

And then moves into group discussions in different ways…

With some amazing lunch.

And we ended the day with some reflective practice. 

There was a space made for people to make requests and provide offers…

We ended the day by going to the pub!

Marginal gains and L&D

Every now and then I get to video me presenting. I enjoy presenting and am always looking for ways to test how I present, what I present, and different formats. I’ve done Ignite talks a number of times now, and each time is always challenging. The script has to be super clear. It has to be comfortable to fit in the 15 secs without being rushed. And the practice is paramount for it to work well.

Here’s one I delivered at CIPD’s L&D Show last week as part of their Ignite Lab. I talked about the concept of marginal gains and how this can help us improve L&D.

I’d really appreciate your feedback. 

  • How did I present?
  • What message did you take away?
  • What did you think I did well?
  • Where did I miss a trick?
  • What did I do that didn’t work for you?
  • Anything else?

    Pre-shindig reflections

    Next week, I’m due to attend a facilitation training session with Julie Drybrough, and the focus of this session is about movement. I’ve been reading her blog post today to get myself thinking ahead of the session. It’s rare these days I take purposeful time out to develop my own skills, hone them, and be amongst a group of practitioners from whom I can just sit back and watch magic happen. When I am in sessions like this, I’m usually very pensive, mostly because I’m trying to make sure I’m as present as I can be.

    Here are some thoughts on where I am.

    I agree with Jools that when doing this facilitation thing, it’s about working with a group of people, and only being able to help them move to their desired state, if that’s where they want to go. If they don’t, then no amount of skills will help them get there. And this is often where I find the best facilitators I’ve been around show how good they are. They’ve helped create and cultivate an environment where you want to move. It’s hard to describe what that is. It’s something I strive for. I want people to move, so to do that, I have to understand where they’re at, and work with them to understand how I can help them move to where they want to go.

    And I like the thinking behind how we’re all connected by the many things, people, influences, environments, and all those other factors that affect us, and we don’t always know how to articulate. It’s something I’ve started to design in to the sessions I facilitate in recent years. An acknowledgement of things that are present and that we shouldn’t ignore. Helping people to express where they’re at. Providing them ways to say what they need and what they want. It’s not always easy. And it doesn’t always happen. But when it does, the richness of thinking and of being. That’s lovely stuff.

    Oh and the system. Yes, of course the system that either we’re part of or that we bring with us. And also our system – who I am, what my body tells me, what I think, all I know, all I don’t, and all that is messy. That desired state we want to move into. That desired state we want to make easy for others to be present in. To create and cultivate such a space where people can do this. They can experience a movement of their thinking, of their being, of their person.

    I’ve been reflecting with others about how we allow ourselves permission to be who we are. What does it mean to be authentic as a facilitator. Does that help the movement of the group by you displaying a genuineness, a sensitivity, a connection? How do we take “self as instrument” and use this as a guide for others so they can see, understand, debate, examine, explore, and experiment?

    I’m intrigued by the embodied approach and what this means. I’m reflecting on how I get to be my best self when I need to facilitate at a high level. What’s my process? There are numerous things. Preparation is of course the biggest. Planning for exactly what needs to happen and when. Having such clarity on the plan that if it goes skew whiff, I won’t get flustered, that I know where we need to get to and adapt as necessary. Arriving early and setting the room as I want it. The movement of stuff helps me feel like I have control over the space, of myself and why I’m intending on having things in a certain way. That gives way almost immediately when others are present to, we make use of this space as we need. It is laid out like this now, and that’s temporary. Cultivating mindfulness, at a very personal level. What is my body telling me? Am I hungry? Do I need the toilet now or later? When did I have tea? Do I need another? Where’s my water? When will I have fruit today? How am I keeping well? Where is my attention?

    I watched the video with Wendy Palmer. And when she asked the question, what do you now think about the irritating thing you thought about before, my response was – I don’t care about it. And I totally understood that the flow in the energy in my body helped me find a mental space to look at that irritation and just not be bothered by it. Intriguing.

    I enjoy facilitation. It’s a skill I constantly seek to be better at. This dedicated space will be helpful to provide me a moment to consider more deeply what I’m doing. And I often find that the learning continues for a long time after. Some years back when I was part of a group who self-facilitated a ‘facilitation jam’ it really helped shape my thoughts on facilitation and how I wanted to move forward with it. And I’m guessing the same will happen from here too.

    Is L&D still about command and control?

    It’s a loaded question. Heavily skewed to the angle of answering yes. With enough latitude that it could be answered maybe. You’d have to be a brave soul to answer no.

    I was listening to some of the Good Practice podcasts recently and two made me think about the above question. One was about how L&D markets itself internally and the other was about how L&D and vendors can work better together. 

    It struck me that part of the discussions being had were about how L&D wield this power over vendors, how they choose to act with them, and how they choose to ‘manage’ them. And there’s also something about when we deliver programmes to our intended groups, how we create a narrative which essentially says – nuh nuh nuh nuh nuh this group has this learning available to them and you don’t so ha! 

    I’m being facetious, people!

    The fast paced changing world of work that is now just commonplace for most people means that all leaders in businesses and organisations need to better understand how to truly collaborate with other teams – internal and external – and how to be inclusive and appreciative in the design of learning solutions.

    It’s ok to have learning solutions designed and created for distinct groups. It’s more important to ensure the accompanying narrative doesn’t exclude or make one group feel superior to another. It’s also important to ensure as business leaders ourselves, L&D cultivate and help others see how new work can be achieved.

    When we think about inclusive design and appreciative communications, what we need to enable are things like:

    • Co-creation of learning materials so that it’s not seen as L&D who made the thing, but a collaborative effort. Not just identifying SMEs either, but providing a way for people doing the job to be active participants in the design and provision of the learning materials.
    • In our communications helping people understand what’s available for them or how they can access stuff if what you’ve written isn’t immediately available to them.
    • When partnering with external suppliers to ensure they are brought in to feel part of the team, not just order takers.
    • Practising things like openly sharing the work you’re doing with others even if it’s only in development. Creating transparency means others are more likely to have an ongoing interest and build trust in L&D as opposed to a big launch.
    • Inviting active feedback about the programme delivery so that you understand if it’s having the desired performance improvements you’re seeking.
    • Being careful to ensure that the user test group or focus group you invite to test stuff is made up of a diverse group of people – it’s quite easy to dismiss this as being too difficult to do. It’s only difficult if you don’t try.
    • In your communications being aware of and limiting the use of gendered language. It’s easy to describe things in certain ways, and when we do we can unwittingly reinforce stereotypes. The English language is rich and wide in its vocabulary and we should always seeks to phrase things in ways which all people can appreciate. 

    As ever, these are just my thoughts. Maybe they spark thoughts for you. If they do, comment below. 

    What does creativity in L&D look like for you?

    What is L&D if it’s not a creative function? Does ‘training’ need to be creative? What’s wrong with the pedagogical approach to training? What does creativity enable in a learning environment? How do we reconcile being seen as the ‘fun’ team against the perception of not delivering on performance related objectives?

    As with many teams, L&D can benefit from creative thinking. But I wonder, how creativity is part of the day to day operation of L&D, as opposed to part of the delivery.

    See, if we understand how to enable better thinking, tangential thinking, lateral thinking, idea generation, and all those other things related to creativity, it shouldn’t happen in isolation in a learning event. It has to happen regularly.

    Things like:

    • When you have a team meeting, or a 1:1, or the annual performance review, how many of you do this in a meeting room, or something similar, and how many purposefully go outdoors for a walk? That change of environment reduces barriers, encourages natural dialogue, and is conducive to building rapport.
    • When you are designing the strategy for L&D, how many of you sit at your PC and produce spreadsheets, and how many are at a whiteboard creating messy links and drawings? Illustrations, graphics and visual representations are a helpful way to create connections and spark different things that you may have missed in alternate fixed formats.
    • (I can hear it now – oh yeah, I use mindmaps to do that)
    • When you’re about to design a new solution, how do you experiment and try different ways of doing things? Or do you not feel you have the permission? Or have you tried to experiment and it got shot down? Or have you experimented, it didn’t work, and you gave up?
    • When you’re looking for new ideas, how often do you look to completely different fields – or even read about different fields to understand what they’re doing? Completely different fields of work can often raise completely new ways of thinking for what we do in L&D that we may never have considered an option.
    • When you’re challenged about your actual approach to designing and delivering L&D, how many get defensive? How many get curious? How many sulk? How many get collaborative? How many seek to find out more?
    • When you are in a team meeting, and someone suggests something that contradicts you, how do you face up to that humiliation and present it as respect for the other person as opposed to a slight against you?

    As L&Ders, we’re probably well known for delivering good and useful learning sessions. And in those sessions, we’re probably well known for being creative about the design and delivery. But as I said above, and in the points above, creativity isn’t something restricted to just one set of stuff – it’s about how we allow for that and cultivate it in many ways so that it becomes a natural and reflexive muscle we can use regularly.

    Practical steps for physical and mental health

    It’s easy to think in our days of busy-ness that if we’re not feeling the I’ll effects of a poor body or a poor mind, then we must be ok. It’s not logical, but you can follow the reasoning. The human body, though, like any other well functioning system needs sustenance and maintenance. To be well and to be our best selves, we have to not only sustain and maintain we have to cultivate and nurture. A beautiful garden doesn’t just happen by itself. 

    There’s theory, there’s evidence, and there is plenty of sage advice on how to do these things. And here’s my take on what we know about practical steps for physical and mental health.

    Be physically active

    This doesn’t mean go to the gym. What we know is that even if you go for a 20 min walk everyday, that’s good enough to help you feel physically well and maintain good mental health. It’s not a lack of going to the gym or being on the latest diet to reduce weight that’s our biggest problem (although obesity is a problem), it’s mostly just not being active enough. 

    Don’t feel like going for a walk? How about doing the hoover around the house? Or cutting the grass (if of course you have a garden)? Or playing a sporty game with friends, family or kids?

    I suggest going for a walk because it’s something most of us can do. Especially those of us with regular jobs. And not simply just going to the shops for your lunch, or to the station for your commute. But a purposeful 20 mins to just go for a walk.

    Meet with friends / be social

    Humans are social beasts. We can’t help but be social. Even though you may prefer the company of yourself most of the time (and lots of people do) at some point you’ll have a need to be with others.

    Being with friends and being social serves a fundamental need in us to feel appreciated by others, generate relationships, be with like minded people, and generally feel good about ourselves. 

    If you find it hard to sometimes connect with others, maybe find a group or a network you can join. There are loads of them around, and can help you find a regular activity to enjoy with others. And clearly I’m not meaning to engage in illegal or morally questionable activities.

    Do one thing to enjoy your time and be happy about it

    This can seem like a properly indulgent thing to do. Especially if you have various personal expectations about when you should do something just for yourself.

    The truth is, you can take that time to do something for yourself, and the only person who will have any judgement about it is you. If others place judgement on you, that’s there issue not yours.

    Doing something where the time just goes and at the end of it you feel rejuvenated, is a personally very fulfilling thing to be able to do. It’s about self-learning. When we learn about ourselves and feel that we’re better as people that’s pretty unbeatable.

    Kindness happens without need for validation 

    There’s something about the modern age which invites people to share just how kind they are. For some this is done to project an image. For some it’s about genuinely wanting to share without needing validation. For others it’s about being seen to show how good they are.

    For all our ages, we know that kindness is another fundamental human behaviour. Sure, to some it can be seen as a failing trait, but when we experience it, it creates connection, it creates happiness, and it affirms who we are as a species.

    So, go ahead. Be kind to others. If you share it, fine. If you don’t, that’s fine too. Just be sure your intent is to genuinely help others and not manipulate them for your own purposes.

    Sleep well

    As long as a condition isn’t getting in the way, try and sleep well. I know people who profess they only need 4 hours sleep a night. Erm. Maybe, but you’re hardly cultivating a healthy lifestyle. If you’re activemy restricting the length of sleep you get, you’re just simply not letting the body be physically and mentally well. You’re filling it with too much stimulation and little time for it to not be active. The body needs considerable down time in order to be at its best. Some people can do well on little sleep. That’s a small minority.

    For the rest of us, we need at least 6 hours sleep a night if not 8. I mean that’s not a mandate, do what works for you.

    And I’ve got news which might not be great to hear. The experts say you should maintain your routine each day. Yeah that means not sleeping later at the weekends. I’ll admit to not seeing that part through. Although if you have younglings that may be out if your hands anyway.

    As always, this is just some ideas and some of it you probably know. There’s plenty I’ve left out and probably more still that I don’t know about. Hope you have a good weekend.