Usually, I write these posts at home in the evenings, but today I am writing this from the back of the room as I observe a session during a weeklong learning event at our company. Today is Day #3, so we’re at the halfway point. Now, big meetings and events are nothing new…they happen at all kinds of companies in many industries around the world. But this particular event is a step in a different direction for this group. This group of hard-working road warriors have converged upon our Corporate Office for a week of learning, development, support, and connection with their field-based peers and corporate-bound counterparts.
So, how is this week different?
This particular event has been on the calendar every year for as long as most employees can remember. And many of those meetings were forgettable, with exception for how exhausted and mentally drained and most of the participants were before it was even over. But this year? Different story. These folks are engaged. They’re connecting with each other. They’re (dare I say it?) having a good time!
I love being involved with this event, and it’s so exciting that I’ve had the opportunity to craft many parts of the agenda. But I’m just a very small pixel in the big picture. The collective group has taken ownership of the destiny of the week. That said, here are a few details in the planning that have helped make this event a success:
1. The agenda is balanced. Once upon a time, this event was all about these folks coming to the Corporate Office for a week of being talked at. Talking heads, text-heavy slide decks, and sitting. still. all. day. These are field-based employees! They don’t sit at a desk all day, so how can we expect them to sit passively for 5 solid days and stay engaged?! They need balance. They need a break once in awhile. Creating a plan for them to discuss passionately, listen intently, and interact productively at different points during the day and the week is key.
2. The content is relevant. We aren’t throwing pie-in-the-sky concepts at them, or asking them to do something that is impossible or out of touch with their reality. We have given them tools, ideas, and material they can take back to their teams and implement immediately. This week has been very real for the participants. It’s aligned with organizational goals and the direction we’re all headed. It’s been the perfect pitcher of Kool-Aid for everyone to sip on.
3. The activities are engaging. A very simple experiment was to change the way the groups interact. In the past, they have been broken up by region…so all employees from a particular region would sit together, attend breakout sessions together, eat together, and socialize together. This time, we mixed them up! We’ve made sure that all regions are represented in sessions, seating, and socializing. It’s not rocket science, but wow – what a difference! They’ve made new connections – people who they might not have had much interaction with in the past, who have become new allies – new people to call on for a sounding board or advice. And they love it! We have also given these mixed-up groups a collaborative project to work on – providing solutions to common issues they all currently face. They will be giving presentations as a small group in front of their peers and a judging panel tomorrow morning…a prize and bragging rights are on the line, so these professionals are all working hard to be creative and compelling with their solutions. I cannot wait to see what the groups have come up with! I think I even caught one group making sock puppets…
Now, this isn’t my first big training event – over the years I’ve led them, I’ve participated in them, and I’ve certainly attended them. But this one has energized my passion for bringing people together to collaborate and learn. A few months ago, this event was nothing more than some notes on a piece of paper. Ideas and topics that would be worth shaping into something. And to sit here now, at the back of this room, watching 65 people actively engaged in productive dialogue with their peers and leadership, is pure satisfaction for this geek of a trainer. Sure, putting together logistics made my blood pressure spike more than once. And keeping some of the presenters on time can be a challenge. But knowing that these great employees will be able to immediately put what they’ve learned into practice to achieve results is simply exhilarating.
And yeah…I said sock puppets. I love what I do…