Facilitators and Trainers Note: Confessions of Reluctant Participants

cheerytrainerThough I’ve been facilitating problem-solving, strategy and training sessions for 20 years I’m still periodically baffled when I encounter certain reluctant participants. The first place I look for explanations is my own facilitation, e.g. “What could I have done differently to support greater comfort in these individuals?” I was recently driven however to explore what might be other sources of reluctance. Were these adults scarred by nasty elementary school teachers? Stunted by punitive parents at the dinner table? Or do they just have a propensity toward introversion or shyness?

I conducted an informal poll through “Help a Reporter Out” and the preponderance of responses addressed the differenct particpation style of introverts; they don’t think on thier feet, need time to process options and may have an answer they want to contribute after the conversation has passed them by.  However I thought the spicier responses below were even more eye-opening:

Death by Development

It’s not all about introversion however. Some different and very intriguing comments also emerged from my informal poll. “I have been on so many retreats and through so much training in the corporate world that I could scream! What trainers and workshop leaders may be experiencing is resentment about having the latest management fad crammed down their throats. And the forced group exchanges, problem-solving exercises, making collages, visioning, and so forth–well, it’s just too much. Perhaps the places I’ve worked have overdone this. The ‘games’ are the worst. I’ve looked around at all the expensive talent in the room and wondered if we could really afford the dollars/time being spent. Corporate America is filled with consultants who often waste people’s time and have no real lasting impact on how things are done… I’ve been working close to 30 years and have seen all kinds of programs and tactics, etc., come and go, many with very little impact on how businesses are run. I’ve been forced to take the Myers Briggs test 8 different times! Sorry to dump, thought you’d like one person’s view.” Gotta love it! I must say this person’s pain is palpable and entirely understandable. I think I’d clam up in a training program if I’d had this much over-exposure to professional development, team-building and facilitated problem solving.

Indecent Exposure

Here’s another frank and enlightening response to my query about reluctant participants: “I was part of a management team at a major pharmaceutical company that in the mid-90s was required to participate in a year-long training/team-building program … which involved multi-day retreats, in-office follow-up and integration into personal goals and work plans. … The training sessions demanded participants to reveal deeply-held beliefs, fears, and “secrets” in order to break them down and create new patterns of interpersonal behavior. As a result, many employees ended up leaving the company quickly because of embarrassment at what they had revealed during late-night, sleep-deprived sessions (extramarital affairs, drug abuse, etc), and others, myself included, experienced loss of faith in the management team for subjecting us to this experience in the guise of professional development…Years later, whenever I’ve been part of organizational training sessions, I find myself skeptical, fearful, and ultimately, withholding… I believe that the line between appropriate and inappropriate ‘sharing’ as part of team-building is a thin one and that this angle could be an enlightening one for your trainer-readers.”

Whew! Who knew?  So what’s a facilitator to do?  If you’ve landed this role in a training or team-building session without participation in a prior needs analysis, it’s pretty hard to ensure that the folks in the class are the right ones and aren’t suffering from “over-training”.  However if you’re crafting the training from the outset, gauging the saturation level of prospective participants is essential. And clearly, the “open the kimono/share all” style of building teams that leaves people raw, vulnerable and exposed is risky business to be avoided for everyone’s sake.

This entry was posted in Training and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *