Lessons from Workshops

Early in my career I was sent to a workshop.  I had no idea what to expect.  I remember two things about it.  One was that I was an hour late because daylight saving time had taken effect overnight and I wasn’t aware of it.  So I missed the round-the-room introductions and started off at a disadvantage.  The second was that one participant stood out as different from the rest of us – much older, cheerful but not really engaged.  Over time I realized that he was someone’s personnel problem.  His supervisor was not satisfied with his performance and had sent him to this workshop in the hope that he would pick up some skills she wished he had.

This workshop came to mind recently when talking with a young colleague who had been sent to his first workshop for new supervisors.  He mentioned several participants who talked a lot but contributed little.  As our conversation progressed, we realized that these were probably also someone’s personnel problems, sent to the workshop in hopes of their performance improving.  As my young friend re-imagined the sessions, he could pull out those who – like him – were truly there to learn and who did learn.

And, I recognized myself – not as the young puzzled participant – but as the manager who had indeed sent more than one incorrigible employee out to be improved, often more than once, and with no results.  But dealing with the incorrigible is another story.  This post is about workshops.

My advice to younger staff is to take advantage of workshops offered.  I say, “If even ten percent of what you hear is useful, your time has been well spent.”  I have gained so much insight, picked up turns of phrase that I use every day, and become so much more effective that I really believe in staff development.

One day-long session on women as managers stands out particularly.  I was one of a group of the women brought together from across the campus administration.  The workshop leader challenged us with advice on how we should be comporting ourselves if we wanted to be effective managers.  All of us were a bit taken aback by some of the advice.  Some were shocked at “being told to be manipulative!”  The piece of advice that triggered that response was to never go into a meeting without knowing what you want to get out of it.  The discussion was lively.

Six months later the same group of women met with the same group leader.  What I remember from that session was that we had all internalized and had begun to practice the very things that we had found so shocking.

Self-knowledge is often the most useful long-term outcome of good workshops.  I still have a file of the results of various tests I have been given over the years – things like the Myers-Briggs tests.  The most comprehensive and sophisticated one I took twice.  The test measured both what your likely responses would be to certain challenges and how firmly you would hold to those responses.  The first time I took the test, my responses to the challenges were spot-on, but my sureness of myself was near the bottom of the scale.  Just two years later, taking the same test, my firmness of purpose was well advanced.  I had a paper confirmation of growing skill and strength.

Leave a Reply

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

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>