Your Guide to the Use of Icebreakers During Training

How to bring on the fun and avoid the flop!

I have been an active participant in training as much, if not more than I have facilitated training courses. Many training courses open with a “getting to know you” activity. These activities usually involve something like sharing your favorite book, a favorite meal, or favorite animal. 

I’m always an advocate for using activities where they have a purpose, icebreakers included. If you need an icebreaker for your next course, bring some fun and avoid the flop. Consider these types of icebreakers for your next training course.

What is an icebreaker? 

An “icebreaker” is jargon for a short activity that gets the attention of your learners. An icebreaker, “breaks the ice” by helping learners get acquainted with one another. 

I am an advocate for using exercises that have a purpose, therefore, not using an icebreaker for the sake of breaking the ice. But, ensuring that the icebreaker exercise relates to the objective of the training. 

What are some examples of icebreaker activities? 

The traditional “getting to know you” 

Usually positioned at the beginning of a course, this activity helps participants get acquainted. This activity usually involves participants sharing about themselves or answering a specific question assigned by the facilitator. This activity helps to establish common ground among participants and allows participants to socialize in a neutral environment. These sorts of icebreakers are great for team building, leadership development, or situations where building a community of practice is important. 

The opening exercise 

An opening exercise shifts learners’ mindset into “training mode.” I like to tie opening exercises to the objective of my course. This helps a learner to think about the course content as I lay the foundation for what the course content is going to be. 

The Assessment

Assessment or “check-ins” can be done throughout a course. Assessments allow you to test a learner’s knowledge during various stages of the course. Moving through the content, you can make small tweaks to the content and delivery based on the results of the assessment. 

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Onboarding Journey and the Importance of Employee Engagement

“Hiring is the opportunity to build the future of your organization. Not a problem to be solved. Julie Zuho. The Making of a Manager. 

I’m passionate about the topic of onboarding employees. A good onboarding program helps to develop staff to be the best they can be. Some may argue that employees will at some point leave an organization. They will. But what is to ponder? What we invest in our employees is a direct reflection of what we invest in our organization. 

Onboarding is not an action but is a long-term journey. It is a cycle that has a start and a finish. Statistics show that employee engagement sits at an all-time low at just 33% (Gallup). The workforce has changed in recent years, but I would argue that the workplace has not. Most leave a job because they seek things like professional development and growth opportunities and flexibility. Most in the workplace today want to align themselves with companies that have similar values they honor.  Therefore, how can organizations shift their attitudes to attract and foster the growth of those in their organization?

Can you shake the old thoughts about work? 

The pandemic pushed the fast-forward button on a future of work people craved. Employees craved flexibility and the pandemic gave it to us. Quickly. We had to adapt because there was no choice. Now, cities, states, and nations are getting back to daily life and people are expected to return to “normal.” Normal doesn’t exist. It’s time to embrace the cultural shift that has occurred for a working nation. What can organizations do to attract new talent in this “new normal?” 

  • Can your organization offer a flexible working schedule?
  • Can you evaluate what vacation or time off looks like? 
  • Can you offer more mentoring and professional development opportunities? 

Side note, I’m in the process of reading the book, “Think Again” By Adam Grant. The book is focused on challenging the way we think to grow and innovate. I’m really digging it! 

Talk to your people

Managers have the most interaction with their employees and set the tone for how employees feel about the work that gets done in an organization. It’s important to constantly engage with employees to understand their needs and how you can continue to help them grow and invest their knowledge in your organization. As mentioned in Julie’s book, “hiring is an investment in your organization.” I believe engagement is as well. 

  • Take your employees or team to coffee or lunch every so often to discuss projects.
  • Make time for team building. 
  • Laugh and have fun with your team. We are people, not robots. 

Parting is such sweet sorrow

It’s a part of business life. Employees leave your organization. We want them to stay, but the fact is that people will leave for various reasons such as

  • New opportunities.
  • Moving. 
  • Death. (It’s a sad reality that is close to home for me) 

Make your employee’s departure something that you can both benefit from. Their departure from your organization is not an opportunity to burn bridges. Use their departure as an opportunity to have them share their knowledge and grow future leaders in your organization. 

Are you looking to improve your onboarding and employee experience? Start small, evaluate your needs and ask your employees for help. Once you know your gaps, you can implement a plan that will work for your organization. 

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[NEW: PODCAST INTERVIEW] Shifting into Consulting with Anchored in Learning

In June, I had a chance to sit down (virtually) with Vanessa Alzate with the Anchored in Learning Podcast. Vanessa and I chatted about learning and development and what it was like to make a shift to my own consulting practice. The great thing about this business is Vanessa and I work in the same industry, but were able to come together with common interests and passion about the learning and development field.

In addition to discussing all things learning and development, we had to share a moment to talk about dogs and Momo!

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Your Company should not Die with You

Will your business run smoothly after your leadership moves on, retires, or death? It’s a stark reality facing many business owners, large and small. 

In 2006, I was running the administration of a small specialty construction firm my father had started.  He died suddenly in October of that year. His role was to run and manage field operations.  We had no one to fill that role.  I ended up closing the company. 15 staff members lost their jobs in a matter of a week. 

I closed my father’s company for several reasons. The matter of succession; or a replacement plan was one. 

“Your company shouldn’t die with you.” This is what a friend and fellow business owner told me a few weeks ago. He’s right. Dying physically is something we all face (unfortunately). But departments, teams, and staff can figuratively “die” when key leadership leaves. 

Succession planning isn’t just for someone’s unexpected passing. One large reason why employees leave an organization is for growth and professional development opportunities. Having the right personnel in the right roles will keep an organization from missing a beat in the event an employee leaves. 

Do you have a strategy for developing and retaining your high performers? 

Why succession plan? 

You’re filling the gaps. Something my father or I didn’t think about as part of his company organizational plan. Some key areas we could have put our focus: 

Identify organizational needs

What were our organizational needs going to be in terms of future growth and how we were going to hire new team members and develop others to move up within the organization. What will the future of the industry look like and what skills would the team need to meet future demands? 

Identifying high performers

Identifying high performers that existed among our team members 

Filling the gaps

Identifying where skill gaps existed within our current team.  

Professional development

Working with the existing team on projects like stretch assignments or formal training to keep them engaged and challenged with their work. 

The result? 

The long-term benefits of planning for your organization’s future ensure that you don’t have a shortage in your team which could result in not meeting client demands, loss of morale and revenue. A succession plan for your organization creates a flow, ensuring you have a plan to keep the right people in the right roles. Employees know exactly what they have to do to advance within your organization This creates transparency and trust among your team, which makes for a high-performing and strong organizational culture. 

Ultimately, when employees are engaged in their work, the result is better outcomes, better service for the client, and in turn higher profits. 

Would things have been different if my father’s organization had some sort of succession or “replacement” plan in place? I don’t know. I can say the immediate outcome would have been less stressful for me and the staff at the time. 

If you can believe this picture was 22 years ago. My high school graduation. I’ve graduated two other times since then. One of those he had to be there in spirt. I miss our Egg McMuffin mornings dad.

Here more of my thoughts on succession planning here:

VIDEO >> Why succession planning?

VIDEO>> Understanding knowledge gaps

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How a Trip to Japan Changed my Perceptions around Culturally Inclusive Training.

I don’t think culture occurred to me until my family and I went to Japan in 2015. (I have wanted to visit since. Thanks, Covid). Being exposed to a different culture has opened my eyes to different ways of living. I was intrigued by the way people moved about their day. 

Two years after that trip to Japan, I was ready to move there. The only thing holding me back was that it is not easy to transport animals, let alone a bulldog overseas. The culture in Japan is not individualistic. Their ideals center around the “good of the group” and watching people put different thoughts into their day was fascinating and refreshing. 

Temple Garden, Tokyo Japan

Unless you are in the learning and development world, many don’t put “culturally inclusive” training top of mind. The irony is, culture exists in our backyards. Culture can be anything from:

  • Differing national origin (where a person comes from)
  • Differing states or cities 
  • Differing companies or divisions within companies 

In fact, in New Mexico, my home state. We are home to 23 Indigenous tribes. 23! How do trainers, designers, and facilitators support culturally diverse teams through their learning journey? 

Know your learners

Comedians and presenters must know their audience to be impactful.  One culturally offensive joke; they can lose all credibility. Learning is no different. Specific colors, language, or cultural references can be offensive or lost in translation altogether. 

For instance, Japan has a high context culture, meaning seniority and authority play a role in their decision-making. Where in the US, communication is much more straightforward and direct. 

A group of learners from a higher context society may rely more on the “respect” and “authority” that comes with being an instructor (Gunawardena, et. al). Learning activities less competitive in nature and benefit the group may warrant more success. 

Avoid Jargon

Every culture and industry has jargon. Jargon is a set of slang or language that has a specific meaning where those outside of the industry or culture would not understand. 

For example, it is common to refer to the Albuquerque area as the “505”. Those who live in another state might have thoughts like: 

  • Is that the New Mexico area code? 
  • isn’t “505” chile you can buy at Costco? 

Jargon can make communication unclear for learners. Worst-case scenario, we may unintentionally use slang or jargon that is offensive to another culture. Ensure that your training materials and communication are free of slang and jargon. Consider a beta test of your materials before course launch. Have a diverse group of peers review the materials to make sure the documents are clear and understandable to your audience. 

Foster a community of practice 

Community of Practice. A group of individuals who come together for the same mission. Communities of practice benefits learning because everyone learns from each other. 

All learners have different “know-how.” We can all contribute to a community to make it better. How does one build a community of practice across cultural boundaries? 

  • Investigate how students might learn best and feel safe to learn
  • Offer support and guidance for learners 
  • Whether online or face-to-face set boundaries 
  • Use colors, and both verbal and non-verbal language that is culturally appropriate
Outside Imperial Palace, Tokyo Japan
McDonalds was a must try!

Source: Culturally Inclusive Instructional Design, 2019

[VIDEO REPLAY] From Snore to Score & Hit the Ground Running!

I had the opportunity to make several presentations to both a group of real estate educators and education directors in early April.

Hit the Ground Running: Using Clear Learning Objectives to Add Value to Your Courses

Keep students running towards your classes instead of running for the hills! Clear and measurable learning objectives will add more value to the courses you design. Clear learning objectives will help the instructor determine if course goals have been met. This workshop will help you identify learning problems to improve your course learning objectives, examine learning domains and appreciate how learning objectives will add value to your courses.

From Snore to Score: Add Value to Your New Member Orientation

Does your new member association orientation need a boost? Real estate agents have the privilege to help promote the American Dream, homeownership rights. Help use your orientation to demonstrate what the privilege of helping consumers peruse owning a home and how the local association adds value to that process. Use new member orientation to help build relationships with members to improve member retention; and examine course practices that will add value and engage members in the orientation process.

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3 Vital Skills for Leaders During Times of Change

Change. “To make different in some particular.” (Merriam-Webster).

Most companies have to address corporate change in some regard. Globally, most of us have experienced change, some significant in the past 12 months. Well, 13 but who is counting!

Much of this has changed the trajectory of many business models and shifted the way many of us do business. When one thinks about common traits that leaders have during times of change, communication, transparency, and teamwork come to mind. 

Communication. “A process which information is exchanged between individuals.” (Merriam-Webster).

It is no surprise that communication is at the top of the list of traits employees value during corporate change. Communication helps employees feel valued and part of the change process. Even if working with distributed teams, leaders can make an effort to communicate with their teams. Examples include:

Schedule regular one-on-one meetings. Go for lunch, grab a coffee and discuss relevant topics.

Schedule regular team meetings. Even short and informal in nature, these meetings are opportunities to “check-in.”

Stop in their office, say hello, and have a conversation. Seems simple, but we all get busy.

Transparent. ” Visibility or accessibility of information during business practices.” (Merriam-Webster)

Transparency is should not be confused with confidentiality.  Lack of transparency especially during times of change builds fear and resentment. When employees are fearful and resentful, productivity and morale erode. Transparency and communication go hand in hand. Communicate what you can to employees during organizational changes. This will build trust and reduce fear in employees.

Teamwork. “Work done by several that benefit the whole.” (Merriam-Webster)

Communication and transparency will lead to an “all hands on deck” approach to change. Involve your employees in the change process. Discuss with employees how an organizational change may impact their role. Ask employees to help develop new processes as it relates to their role. Involving employees in the change process demonstrates their value to the organization. It also shows that leaders want them to succeed in their roles.

Communication, transparency and teamwork are vital skills when leading through change. Exercise these skills to ensure your employees are involved in the process.

VIDEO>> Culture Club or Culture Clash? 3 Practices that Maintain Company Culture Through Change.

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Replay: Webinar: Culture Club or Culture Clash? 3 Practices that Maintain Company Culture Through Change

Company culture can make or break how consumers and employees view an organization. Many companies have had to address corporate change, but only half of companies surveyed said that their company did a good job at addressing change with employees (td.org, 2020).

This webinar and discussion with participants discusses:

Global changes over the last 12-months that have shifted the way many businesses operate,

How mobile learning and data analytics may change the way employees learn and develop, and,

How five generations of workers in the workforce impact the way an organization operates.

Watch as the story of the evolution and eventual downfall of Kodak is discussed and how Mental Models, Psychological Safety and Stable Adaptability could have changed the companies trajectory.

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Leadership versus Management. What! There’s a Difference?

There is a difference between leadership and management. Oftentimes, managers are thrust into new roles, tasked with leading a team. That new manager may be able to manage a process well, but do they have the skills they need to be an effective leader? 

What is a manager anyway?

A manager is someone who manages a process. An individual who oversees metrics and production needs. Managers may oversee tasks and jobs within a specific role or department.

And a leader?

A leader is someone who sets an example for others. A leader may have a bigger picture vision of the work that takes place in an organization.  A leader inspires, motivates, and helps to move managers and others move towards a specific mission. Leaders are people that can inspire change within the organization. 

Do managers need leadership training?

People are not machines. Most managers when entering into a new management role may know how to manage the work process well. What they do not have are the skills they need to lead their team

Leadership training is not one-size-fits-all.

Leaders need different skills at different stages in their careers. New managers may not have much experience leading a team or thinking of corporate strategy and mission.

Seasoned managers may be set in their ways and may need help seeking out new and innovative ways to motivate their team. Five generations exist in today’s workforce, each with different needs.  Both leaders and managers need to know how to create a cohesive team despite the diversity.

If you are considering implementing a leadership development program for your organization; what are ways that your managers can practice their new skills as part of the training? Instead of a “one-and-done” training, enrich the experience so managers can practice and perfect their new skills. These new skills have a better chance of implementation for the long haul if managers have a chance to use them. 

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SPECIAL BLOG : Unconscious Bias Interview with FranklinCovey

Last week, I had the opportunity to interview Pamela Fuller with FranklinCovey. Pamela is a thought leader on Unconscious Bias and the Author of The Leader’s Guide to Unconscious Bias. This interview was a part of a series for the Association for Talent Development, New Mexico (ATDNM) a group that I am actively involved in.

We had the opportunity to discuss topics like:

  • How bias should not be a “four-letter” word.
  • How self-awareness and mindfulness can help to promote new ways of thinking.
  • Promoting authentic environments where people can thrive.
  • Having the courage to take small steps to recognize and make progress towards changing bias.

Thank you to FranklinCovey, Pamela and Justin Boggess, and ATDNM for your help organizing this interview.

I would love to hear your thoughts about the interview and the book!