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Leadership training – Playing a different tune

It ain’t what you do (It’s the way that you do it)

At Enact, we employ techniques and principles from the world of drama to help people in organisations learn more effectively. Lots of what we teach (we’ll use that word as shorthand for what we’re about) is readily available in books and online, and yes, from other consultants and training providers, but it’s the way we deliver it that gets results.

“The way the whole course was delivered really affects you and makes you think about things differently.”

“I enjoyed the format of the training and found I took in more info than usual training.”

“After six months, people still remember the training and have noticed a significant increase in awareness of the issues raised and changes in behaviour.”

Delegate Feedback

What’s going on?

Put simply, we show people something, that causes them to feel something, that fuels change. Using realistic and relevant dramatised scenes, alongside experiential exercises, we put feelings back at the heart of the learning experience. Which makes it much more likely the lessons will stick and turn into action back in the workplace.

The brain science behind this centres on a cocktail of three organic chemicals – Dopamine (which plays a role in reward motivated behaviour), Noradrenaline (which increases arousal and alertness, focuses attention, and enhances formation and retrieval of memory) and Acetylcholine (which is also implicated in learning and memory). Our drama-based approach gives the learner the kinds of experience that will stimulate these physiological responses, making it more likely the learning will make a real difference.

Leadership training, especially developing inclusive leadership capabilities, is one area where our approach comes into its own.

I’ll be your mirror

People have such strong, common sense notions about what it means to be a proper leader that it can be difficult for them to envisage alternative approaches. Throughout the many years we have been working with leaders, we’ve found that using drama to hold up a mirror to their behaviours really helps them to recognise their own style, understand its impact, and identify ways they can change for the better.

By way of example, explain to leaders how they should aim to listen more and talk less when dealing with team members, and these days it’s unlikely many will disagree. Most will probably tell you it’s their preferred approach. Alternatively, present them with an under-pressure fictional leader (played by one of our professional actors), who’s in a hurry to get to their next meeting and as a result quickly working through a standardised ‘team huddle’ agenda with their team members, then they’ll start to reflect about their own behaviour.

Who’s asking nearly all the questions, deciding what’s a problem, and coming up with most solutions? What’s it doing to the engagement of the team? What’s the energy in the room like? What do you think the long-term outlook for this group is likely to be? We can even hear from different team member’s, like Jenny, who never bothers to make suggestions for improvements any more because ‘no one’ listens, or Amiya who is resistant to changes to ways of working because she’s not received the training everyone else has. Makes you think. Makes you feel, too, which is powerful.

We never tell anyone, ‘This is about you.’ Usually, we say, ‘It’s fictional and exaggerated to draw out the learning,’ only to be told, ‘No, that’s exactly what it’s like here.’ From there it’s a short step to exploring alternatives, trying them out through our fictional characters, and seeing what happens as a result. It’s powerful, active experimentation that provides lessons leaders can apply back in the workplace.

“It provokes you to think about the issues in a way that just seeing a written format or e-learning could not. If you see real people, it is easier to empathise and consider what is happening to them.”

“Raised awareness and prompted future action.”

Delegate Feedback

The world keeps turning and someone’s learning

In case you haven’t guessed, we’re proud of how well our approach works. Results from recent Inclusive Leadership programmes show that delegates:

  • Have a clearer appreciation of what’s expected of leaders (96%);
  • Understand more about how inclusive practices support business success (95%); and
  • Have fully explored the challenges facing leaders like themselves creating an inclusive workplace (92%).

No surprise then that most delegates say they found their time with us worthwhile (96%).

Changes

Of course, nothing stays the same and our inclusive leadership material continues to evolve. We’re currently weaving in elements of Compassionate Leadership for a session we’re delighted to be running for the HPMA on 29 November 2017 as part of their ‘Compassionate leadership, compassionate care‘ event at The Queens Hotel, Leeds. We’re looking forward to it. If you’re planning to attend, be sure to check out the session. Do come and have a chat, too, if you’d like to find out more about our work in this and other areas.


Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who’s the bullying and harassment scariest of them all?

We’ve recently experienced a big increase in enquiries for our Bullying and Harassment awareness raising workshops. I don’t pretend to know what lies behind the change, but I do know that in drama we have a powerful tool to make real headway dealing with the issue.

Uncomfortable truths

You might think a drama-based learning provider is a strange place to go to get to grips with a challenging cultural problem like this. But it makes perfect sense when you consider the mix of characters, perspectives, and all that messy human behaviour and interaction stuff that plays out daily in the workplace.

When things aren’t going well at work, every day is a kind of drama; one in which the ‘actors’ struggle to break free from the roles they’re playing. What we provide with our dramatised workshops is a mirror that reveals uncomfortable, but nevertheless vital truths that enable people to start to make a change.

All of which fits with John Kotter’s explanation of the change process as, put simply, people see something, then feel something, then change as a result. That’s exactly what we see happening in our Bullying and Harassment workshops.

A drama in three acts

At the start of our workshops, even before any dramatised material is presented, we ask delegates two questions. Using our electronic polling system, we ask them which of a range of negative behaviours they have witnessed or experienced at work in the last year. After reviewing the results, which typically reveal that many behaviours are more common than you might think, we then ask everybody which of those behaviours they themselves have demonstrated at some point in the same period.

I won’t deny it can be entertaining watching delegates squirm as they reflect on their own behaviours, but what happens next is telling.  The results are always lower. It doesn’t matter who we’re delivering to; board members, senior leaders, managers, front line employees or mixed groups, I can guarantee many fewer delegates report having done any of the things listed.

Somewhat mischievously, we suggest that quite clearly most of the delegates in the room don’t need to be in the workshop. Then we ask them what else might lie behind this pattern of results. Eventually, someone always says words to the effect, ‘It’s easier to observe faults in others than it is in ourselves.’ This is undoubtedly true, and it’s an insight we build on.

Perspectives

Next typically (we design for each client so exact content varies) we invite delegates to watch a short dramatised scene in which they see a team member grabbing a moment with their line manager for a ‘quick word!’  On first viewing, delegates’ sympathies tend to be with the team member.  What they’re asking seems reasonable and the manager’s reply is curt at best.

We then introduce delegates to the manager. They get to question them and learn a bit more about them.  Having introduced some more context in this way, we revisit the dramatised scene again. But this time we show it more from the manager’s perspective.  Same lines, but slightly different body language and inflections.  The impact is striking and it’s amazing to process with the delegates how quickly you can have sympathy with another perspective.

This is how we gently introduce people to the notion, summed in Robert Evans’ quote, ‘There are three sides to every story: your side, my side, and the truth.’ Or as we adapt it for delegates, there’s my world, your world and the ‘real world’. The real world is where we put the audience next; they become the outside eye, able to appreciate both perspectives, at least to some degree!

Learning into action

In our final slice of dramatised action, we show delegates a scene in which the characters exhibit a range of inappropriate attitudes and behaviours. Then, using stop-start (forum) theatre, we get delegates to explore how to challenge inappropriate behaviours when they observe them, as a bystander. It’s a safe opportunity for them to take what they’ve learned about what constitutes negative behaviour and about the different perspectives that are at play, and practise interventions to make a positive difference.

To be clear, we’re not saying the perpetrator or recipient of unwanted attitudes or behaviours don’t have a responsibility to do something about it. But in this exercise, we want to explore why and how we can all play a part in maintaining an inclusive working environment. In fact, we typically frame this and other parts of the workshop in terms of the organisations stated core values and behaviours, where they have them, so they become more than simply ‘words on a piece of paper’ (as one delegate memorably called them).

The end

Of course, all of this doesn’t stop negative behaviour in its tracks overnight. And we are always very clear with clients that our Bullying and Harassment workshop should never be a replacement for taking appropriate action with known perpetrators. It does, however, as our evaluation results show, increase organisation-wide awareness of what exactly constitutes unacceptable attitudes and behaviours. It also boosts delegates’ confidence to do something about it when they come across it. All of which helps explain why nine out of ten delegates see the workshop as a worthwhile session to take part in.

So, sad as it is to see requests for help with bullying and harassment rising, it’s really good to know we have a tried and tested means to offer practical, effective support.


If you’re interested to know more about our approach, feel free to get in touch. I can fill in the details, and we have video material and evaluation results we can share. Also, it’s well worth keeping an eye on our Events page for opportunities to catch one of our showcases.


Unconscious bias training online – what a terrible idea!

Facilitated, online learning and development webinars can be an effective means to raise awareness of unconscious bias, one which helps participants identify ways to ameliorate the frequently unhelpful natural tendencies of the way our minds work.

In the two years we’ve been delivering online sessions, 99% of delegates have confirmed that they found them a worthwhile experience. And everybody who has participated, that’s 100%, tells us they now recognise the importance of unconscious bias in the workplace and, even better, they have ideas about what they can do about it.

We kind of didn’t want this to be true.

Overcoming our bias against online learning

When one of our long-term clients, one who really liked our experiential unconscious bias workshops, asked us whether we’d ever thought of creating a webinar version, I’ll be honest, we were reluctant to even consider the idea.

Our drama based approach is all about interaction and an emotional connection with the characters and scenarios we bring to life. We give participants experiences and help them recognise their reactions. Then, using skilful facilitation, we pride ourselves on getting them talking and exploring their own assumptions and potential biases. All of this is backed up with electronic polling to anonymously take account of, and quantify, everybody’s experiences. It’s a tried and tested approach that delivers.

And we couldn’t see how it could ever really work through a screen.

Getting out of our comfort zone

Our client, who was singularly unimpressed with the rather dry and traditional e-learning material they’d sampled elsewhere, encouraged us to give it a go. They weren’t in a position to commission a wide scale programme of our half-day Unconscious Bias workshops, but they were convinced we could put together a shorter online version that kept key elements and could be delivered to up to 15 participants at a time, as and when required.

Looking back, they had more vision and faith in our ability than we did. A lesson I took to heart.

A successful investment

With the excellent support of our client, we set to developing a 90 minute version of our unconscious bias workshop, one which also includes:

  • Experiential video clips, streamed live;
  • Facilitation and interaction with participants; and
  • Live polls

And, long story short, it works.

We’ve successfully run 10 sessions, with mixed groups of employees; some of them on their own and some in small groups. Results like those quoted above speak for themselves. And our client is very happy and continues to commission sessions. They understand an online solution is never going to be the same as having a trainer and a delivery team of actors in the room, but it’s clearly having the kind of impact they believed it could.

From our point of view, we’ve learnt lots about using this technology, its strengths and its limitations. (Try running an online training session when your phone company with no notice switches off the local telephone exchange for the day!)  We don’t foresee a day when this supplants our main offer, but we now fully grasp how an online approach can make a positive difference. And ultimately, that’s what matters to us most.


If you want to start addressing unconscious bias in your organisation and think that facilitated online learning and development webinars could play a part, by all means drop me an email and I’d be happy to arrange a time to demonstrate our approach.