De-briefing animals, drummers and Shakespeare

W. C. Fields said, “Never work with Children or animals”. Is this a brilliant aphorism, or did it just indicate he didn’t have the best skill set for such situations? More importantly, how applicable is this to learning methodologies?

In my last blog post, where I described how to get the best out of the use of actors as a learning methodology, one of the points I covered was the importance of the de-brief and how to structure it in order to maximise the learning.

The de-brief itself is too often seen as not being particularly important. This is evident from events I have attended where it has been implemented poorly. This results in reduced learning, varying degrees of frustration for the learners and ultimately a failure to gain the benefit from the financial and time investment.

I have seen horses, drums and Shakespeare used to name just three methodologies – and in cases where these have been used, I have seen some poor quality de-briefs.

These interventions are “Low reality, high process content” learning methodologies. In other words, the “Low reality” indicates that the methodology has little or no relevance to the knowledge or skills of the participants (e.g. shop managers working with horses, office managers learning to play drums). This means that the individuals feel little or no group pressure to succeed in front of colleagues as they are not situations they would face in the workplace. It also means that there is a level playing field in that there is no workplace knowledge or skills required in order to take part. These factors also make the methodology “high process content”. This means that the methodology can lead to a rich seam of learning due to the removal of the described pressures – the result being relaxed participants whose inhibitions have been removed. The participants immerse themselves in the task. This type of methodology is particularly powerful in terms of self-development and team development, and will often focus on attitudes and behaviours.

The use of actors to assist the same managers to be more effective when conducting interviews or running team meetings (as described in the previous post) would be an example of the opposite methodology – “High reality, low process content”. The reality is high, because the situations are tailored to the managers’ work situations through, for example, context and language. The process content in these situations is low as they are predominantly about knowledge, understanding and skills – how to complete the task more effectively. There is less potential for profound self-development and less likelihood of a person changing their awareness of themselves due to participants generally being less relaxed and a little more inhibited – because they know their peers may well be assessing their workplace competence, and the intended focus is around a workplace activity.

Both methodologies are powerful; but for different reasons, and the correct type needs to be chosen. And as previously mentioned, it’s the de-brief that is the key – and one type is generally a lot easier to debrief than the other …

The “High reality, low process content” tends to be the easier to debrief. This is because there is a script, probably some models or theories to include, and it can be predicted to some degree as to the potential outcomes and learning points.

Little of this anticipated de-brief content is available for the “Low reality, high process content” methodology – if de-briefed effectively. The facilitator or de-briefer has to work with the ‘live data’ generated – and this is where many of the providers of this type of activity fall down. They often plan on what they expect to come out of the activity and even have their learning points ready prepared – thus making what happened in the activity fit within their debrief. This can devalue the methodology, and confuse the learners as it doesn’t fit with their experience – thus making any learning less meaningful.

As Abraham Maslow pointed out, “lf you only have a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail”.

Why does this happen?

1)      The facilitator is concerned that perhaps no ‘live data’ will be generated, or they will not be able to make the duration of the de-brief worthwhile – which leads to them deciding on the strands for the de-brief or creating the learning points beforehand. As a consequence they do not listen to or see what is really happening during the activity.

2)      The facilitator has a situationally dysfunctional mind-set. They approach the methodology with an “I need to handle” or “I must handle” mind-set. This leads to them adopting the approach described in point 1 above. In order to de-brief it well, the facilitator requires the skills and confidence to enable them to have the “I can handle” mind-set. This leads to the intrapersonal discussion that there will be ‘live data’ and they will be able to de-brief great learning, thus meaning that they don’t script themselves. They approach the de-brief objectively and with an open-mind, using only data generated. And they usually end up having to decide what not to include – rather than worrying about how much there will be to de-brief – as there are so many potential learning points.

Perhaps in the acting world, Fields was correct – certainly for situations where there is a strict script. There is, however, a strong case for using methodologies which generate unpredictable learning – but the time, place and facilitator need to be right.

Next time someone offers you a wonderfully innovative methodology, don’t get carried away by the methodology itself. Spend time checking on the skills of the person who will de-brief it – then you will find out whether it has the potential to be a wonderful methodology or just a frustratingly wasted investment.

Paul

Tags: , , ,

Leave a Reply