It is often the side benefits that are most important to group training, says Stuart Duff, a psychologist with occupational psychologist Pearn Kandola. “Computer-based training is very good on the theoretical and knowledge sides of learning, but group training gives you the chance to shift behaviour at work, to change the way you work because you experience or understand something that makes a real difference.”
With training budgets and training departments under pressure to demonstrate their benefit to the business, it is reassuring to find that group training activities, held at external venues, are still regarded by organisations as crucial to the development of staff. Such events may cost more than site-based sessions or computer-based training, but, as Duff notes, they offer a unique experience.
“There is the opportunity to share best practice,” he says. “And there is the sense that participants use the course to see where they stand and how they might improve.”
Locations offered as training venues are marketed to emphasise the benefits of a discrete and dedicated site.
“The office is too busy for these kind of activities,” says Brian Payton, business development manager at Wyboston Lakes. “Having a dedicated space and the correct business learning environment helps to keep participants together as a group.”
Philly Nicholson, events manager at Edinburgh’s The Signet, says: “We offer a totally private building. There is a small dedicated workforce, and there is no chance of bumping into the general public at any time.”
Given this discrete environment, it appears the training community is becoming more demanding in terms of what they expect in their home from home.
Initial Style Conferences marketing director, David Owen, says: “Putting people in a distraction-free environment is important. Our study bedrooms are well set up so visitors can do a lot of work while they are here and there are plenty of leisure activities available.”
Tim Chudley, director of the Sundial Group, agrees that attention must be given to the comfort of trainees and trainers so that learning is not compromised by sleepless nights or uncomfortable seating.
Sundial recognises that training sessions can be unpredictable. As individuals may want to break at different times of the day, the company is flexible about space and facilities, en-abling groups to have refreshments as and when they desire.
Martyn Sloman, adviser for learning, training and development at the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development, says: “You need a flexible service because it is a training event, not a catering event.”
He agrees that dedicated space is essential for group training activities, even if the event is being held in hotel facilities. “There is nothing worse than sitting down to a meal after a difficult session and having to talk to a couple of tourists about what they have been doing all day.”
Sloman gives three reasons why external group training events are crucial to developing employees:
- They provide protected learning
- They allow people to practise role-play in a safe environment
- Delegates share experiences and test their understanding on each other.
“When it comes to management training there are often several different options worth exploring,” says Barry Stonham, general manager of the Robinson Conference Centre. “You simply cannot do that on a computer package.”
The centre, which was awarded Training Venue of the Year by World of Learning, has equipped its rooms to give a computer classroom environment, yet the location permits greater interaction than perhaps would be possible in the workplace.
“The advantage with learning in groups is that if you don’t understand something, you can ask the trainer or others in your group,” says Stonham.
The group dynamic of learning can even be used to get learning on-site transferred to the workplace. Sonia Bressley is a trainer with Lakeside Corporate, based at the YMCA next to Lake Windermere.
“I often use a ‘buddy’ system,” she says. “This way, while you can give feedback as a trainer, the trainees also have feedback from each other.
Their buddy is someone who can follow up that learning with them when they are back at work.”
Whether learning at an external venue is transferred to the workplace depends on how honest participants are in creating their action plan for the future, says Bressley.
Sloman says the successful transfer of learning has less to do with the learning environment than it does with being clear about the reasons for that learning in the first place.
“It is not about procedures or location,” he says. “It is about the perceived relevance of that training to the individuals concerned. At the end of the day, trainees are the ones who will ensure the skills are practised. It is up to the managers to see that they have the opportunity to use the skills they are given.”
While group exercises are frequently used to build teams, they can also be used to enhance communications across an organisation.
Christine Page, group marketing and PR manager for Whittlebury Hall and Scalford Hall, says the company has run sessions for groups which have seen a mix of employees working together for the first time.
And while the individual learning style of each participant should be considered before creating an outdoor adventure-style exercise, there is little argument that getting out and doing something is far more inspiring than sitting in a classroom in front of a whiteboard. If nothing else, these venues provide variety, such as raft building, rope climbs, four-wheel driving, motorised sports, giant-sized chess and Jenga.
“It is always good to have a mix of activities,” says Owen. “If you spend one session in a syndicate room or in a classroom environment, you can easily break up the afternoon by taking part in a motorised activity as well.
“You can build teams in different ways,” he adds. “By ensuring you have the right facilities to hand you can find the right way to work with a particular group. That variety can make the whole experience more enjoyable for employees.”
And not only are they likely to learn more while they are having fun, but there is also a chance that they will look forward to their training course, rather than regarding it as an ordeal they must endure, and one which will mean they can’t keep up with work at the office.
confidentially speaking is safe off–site
For more information on making the most of away-days, visit these websites:
The Signet – www.thewss.co.uk
Robinson Conference Centre – www.robinsonexec.com
Lakeside Corporate – www.lmd.org.uk
Warwick Conference Centre – www2.warwick.ac.uk/conferences
Longhirst Hall – www.develop-solutions.co.uk/longhirst/