Last year, I was working on a project to update one of my client’s onboarding programs. Pretty standard for me really – analyze the existing material, see what works and what does not, make updates where needed, and use my knowledge of adult learning theory to ensure that the course is presented in a way that the learners will get the most out of it. Nothing new, really. Until about halfway through.
That was when James, or who we will call “James” joined. You see, James had been on vacation when the project started, and had not been able to join the calls, but James was by far the most knowledgeable resource on this subject. We had to have his sign-off, he needed to be included, and he needed to approve of the material, or we would lose the credibility we needed to get the adoption needed for the end-product accepted by the business. Now I assume some of you can see where this is going, but on the first call that James joined, we quickly realized that James was not happy with this project. James liked the material exactly as it was, because he wrote it.
Why Do Collaboration Woes Happen? And What Should We Do About It?
When working on an L&D project, you will come across times when you must deal with stakeholders or SMEs, or even other IDs that will disagree or even argue with your ideas on what the best path forward on the project is, or in some extreme cases, if you should even continue with the project at all. Part of your responsibilities as an ID is to manage these viewpoints and ensure that you give them the same consideration that you would anything else. Look at all opinions from the same point of view, what is best for the learner. With this in mind, you can engage your alternate viewpoints with a more neutral tone, asking them what they believe is best for their learners.
Most people, when asked what is best for someone outside of themselves, will then take a few moments to reflect and actually think about what is best for those individuals. In my experience, this is one way to deal with difficult personalities on L&D projects, remind them that the ultimate goal of the project is to help their fellow employees. Most of the members of the project team are there because they actually want to help their fellow employees, so reminding them of that fact will help to ground the discussion back to what the goal should be, creating the most effective learning.
This is what we did with James. James understood some things were missing from his course, things that he always wanted to do but either did not have the resources, or the time, to complete. So we offered a compromise. We will bring him in on the ground level of the project and he can be a part of the creation process and he can help shape the content of the new course and add the things that he always wanted, but that means that some things would change from the old course as well, because we had to make room for the new material. Unfortunately, that means we would need to get rid of 5 hours of the history that the learners never use in their job that he felt was needed.
James is just one example of how good communication can make or break an L&D project. Dealing with the different personalities on a project is just as important as meeting your deadlines or completing the eLearnings. If you alienate your project team it does not matter if your training is the best thing you have ever created. It will still leave a bad impression, because YOU left a bad impression. So here are a few tips to ensure that you are doing what you can to ensure you are keeping the lines of communication open.
Tips for Communication Wins
First, never say anything negative about the existing material. It may be the worst thing you have ever laid eyes on, and you have no idea how it ever worked in the first place, but you keep those comments to yourself. Someone took the time to create it, so respect that if nothing else. It is your job to create learning, not theirs. Also, the person who created the documents that you are criticizing may be on the call listening to you put your foot firmly in your mouth, so keep that in mind.
Second, do what you say you will do. Under promise and overdeliver. If you say you will have something done by a certain date, if you were given all the relevant information and needed sources, complete it by the needed date. Consistency and dependability will take time to cultivate but will pay out big dividends later down the road.
Lastly, always be respectful. Remember that everyone on the project is an adult and should be treated with respect. Everyone has the same goal; to have the best training at the end of the project. If there is an issue, call it out respectfully, work through it, and move forward as equals to ensure that all parties’ concerns are addressed. Sometimes this is not possible. If that is the case then you escalate and the manager/director will step in and assist or handle it, but hopefully that is not needed.
Every project will have its own ups and downs, and inevitably there will be some communication issues somewhere. We are all human, and most of our communication happens via email or messaging where it is hard to add context, or sometimes context is imagined, so communication in today’s society can be difficult. Just remember the advice above and keep your learner’s best interest at the forefront of your efforts and you will come through your projects with the best possible outcome.