A selection of strategies for dealing with assignment traps
Establish a sense of purpose and get the client on board
It is important to get the highest level (in terms of hierarchy) client on board. This person should formulate in the most transparent way possible what he or she sees as the relevant reasons for the team development assignment. Next, the client, the team and the consultant collaborate to develop a way forward that makes sense and is acceptable to all involved. This can be called a “team development workshop” or also have a completely different name that all parties consider consistent and that dovetails with the jointly defined process.
Using this way of moving forward, for example, an industrial client of mine created the term “team workshop,” which everyone involved was happy with. After this joint creative naming process, the company employees were also motivated to work with the management on the assignment design process. This led the mid-level management to recognize their own need for support and, as a result, the “leadership workshop” was created.
Explaining working methods to establish purpose and motivation
As they do not yet know us very well as trainers and consultants, the relationship with clients is at first often fragile and the first task is for us to establish trust. One key way to establish trust should, therefore, be transparency in communication. In concrete terms, this means that we should explain our working methods during the assignment design meeting along with the principles underlying these methods. This is the ideal point at which you can introduce the work you do with the tools.
The reason why this approach is also effective is because it brings more authenticity into the assignment design process. If the trainer is transparent about his or her true motivation for working in a specific way, it will be easier to understand why he or she works the way he or she does. This makes it possible to easily avoid the previously mentioned assignment traps.
Trainer: “I would like to propose that we work with interaction activities.” In this photograph, you can see a team of leaders who I worked with last week. Not only did they have a lot of fun, but they also saw themselves in a completely different light. The advantage of this way of working is that communication and relationships can be quite concretely and objectively shown. At the same time, everything happens like in an experimental room. This means that, if one way of working doesn’t lead to success for the team, it is possible to change the strategy and redistribute roles to see whether something else will be more successful. And, as I understand you, this would be a way of working that could be particularly useful to you in your professional lives. After the interaction activity is completed, everyone reflects on what they experienced together. With the team, we look at what we can take away and what is useful for Monday morning. Because that’s what we want, isn’t it? For there to be a difference on Monday morning!”
Client: “Okay, I understand. And what does that mean for our daily routines?”
Trainer: “For example, this is what the process that we will work through together could look like …” (Trainer presents a rough overview of the way the day will pan out).
Half a day?
Client: “Unfortunately, we can only do a half-day team development workshop.”
Trainer: “Okay, I understand. However, this also means that we are not talking about team development, but at most about a short event, because there’s not a lot that can be developed in half a day. How about if we use the half day to find out what the team really needs? At the same time, you can get to know me and the way I work.”
Client: “Okay, that sounds good …”
Client: “Unfortunately, I won’t have any time to attend the team development workshop myself...”
Trainer: “In my experience, it makes sense for you as leader to participate in the team development workshop, because you are the actual client. This will allow you to see everything that is going on and you can help shape the direction in which the process moves. As I understand it, the aim for this training is for it to be effective. At the same time, I can give you feedback so that you can be even more effective as a leader in your daily business life. How does that sound to you?
Client: “Okay, I need to think about it …”
Definition of your own role
Another effective way to establish expectations in your client that are conducive to achieving the goal is to define your role as trainer. For example: “I will help you to look at your day-to-day situation in an alternative way;” “I will contribute new ideas and insights;” “I will give you feedback;” “I will help you to activate hidden resources;” “I will support you in developing achievable goals.”
However, you should also communicate the role that you will not take, that is the role of healer, magician, sounding board for every problem, and so on.
At the same time, through defining your role, you as trainer are in the position to make healthy communication offerings and to act as a communicative role model.
The freedom to turn down the assignment
I think I have clearly set out how important it is for the trainer to communicate transparently and, ideally, to act from a position of personal strength. Of course, we as trainers have our own needs for the consulting setting. If these needs, such as the right location, a suitable duration for the process, support from other parts of the system in achieving the goal and, last but not least, the fee to be paid are not fulfilled, we should feel free to turn down the assignment. It is amazing how often my rejection of the client’s conditions causes absolute astonishment in the client, connected with a reprioritization of the decision on the team development workshop!