Delivering effective group training in Asia Pacific

Over the last 20 years I have developed and delivered professional training programmes all over the world. During the last 10 years, the focus of my programmes has been throughout the Asia Pacific region. This experience has given me the opportunity to acquire invaluable learning that supports me to develop and deliver ‘best practice’ training in the (re)insurance industry in this part of the world.

It is no surprise that the attendees within a typical training group (often around 30 people and training formats anywhere from 1 to 5 days) will vary in terms of experience, knowledge, language, motivation, learning style and seniority. So, how do we get the most out of training when the attendee mix and learning styles are constantly changing?

The typical challenges to overcome are:

1. Language barriers

2. Maintaining engagement

3. Encouraging interaction

4. Managing the mix of the group

Language Barriers

In most cases, the native language of the attendees is unlikely to be English. From the outset, I make clear that a good level of English is required. In the (re)insurance industry, it is widely accepted that the international language is English. That said, the list of attendees can often be out of your control and you can’t assume that everyone has the same, good level of English comprehension. Furthermore, different people might have different perspectives as to what constitutes a good level of English.

In order to deal with the language challenge, I believe that some common sense must prevail – speak slowly, speak clearly and avoid using acronyms, jargon or overly technical words. At the very least, be prepared to explain the meaning of technical terms, don’t hide behind them. And, of course, break the training down in to segments, giving regular breaks. If you are learning a technical subject in a foreign language, you will need these breaks.

Maintaining Engagement

Many subject matters do require a lecture approach. But how do we ensure that the attendees are engaged? We need to be aware of body language and some obvious signs, such as:

Playing with mobile phones;

Drawing pictures on notepads;

Randomly leaving the training room;

Always being late for the start of each training section;

Not engaging in exercises, case studies and team discussions.

As my experience as a professional trainer has grown, so too has my ability to manage disengaged attendees swiftly and effectively. The way I approach this is to talk to these people to see if I can pick up any clues, to try and engage them and find out what interests them. You can’t cater for everyone in a training room and, sometimes, you just have to accept that some people might not be engaged. My rule is not to spend too much time on such people and to focus on the greater majority of the attendees who actually want to be there. Mobile phones are often one of the biggest distractions in training today. My approach is to strongly discourage attendees from using mobile phones in training sessions, sometimes this is with success and other times with more limited success!

There are some people who may bring work issues into the training room and this is where you need to tread carefully. Firstly, I ask that such matters are discussed during breaks, outside of the training session. Secondly, I ensure that any response that I give is framed in the following ways:

I can only give my personal opinion, which does not constitute advice;

If you work with an advisor, such as a broker or consultant, you need to obtain their advice;

I am unlikely to have all the facts at my disposal, so my opinion may not be valid.

To drive engagement and improve learning outcomes I introduce in-class exercises and case studies into each segment of the training. I let the attendees know in advance that this will be happening which typically increases the odds of holding their attention! The exercises and case studies give the attendees a break from the lecturing and help to reinforce key learning points – i.e. ‘learning by doing’. I have found that in many territories, attendees relish the opportunity to try something themselves, rather than just listening to a constant lecture.

Encouraging Interaction

Everyone is different and so are their cultures. Some people thrive on interaction, some people prefer to avoid this. With a group of attendees, you are likely to have one or two individuals who will ask the majority of questions and who will also respond to questions. I don’t want to discourage such individuals from being interactive. But when faced with such situations I do my best to circulate around the training room to encourage other individuals to participate.

I also divide the attendees into groups to promote more equal interaction. I then encourage the groups to work on exercises and case studies together and I ask them to discuss certain key points. I don’t think you can avoid each group having a natural spokesperson, but at least you’re giving the attendees the best opportunity to interact in as non-threatening environment as possible. This works better than trying to push certain less-willing individuals to share their thoughts in front of an entire class.

Introducing healthy competition into the training room is another approach that I use to encourage interaction. This can be done by using competitive case studies, such as asking the groups to design a reinsurance programme and selecting a winning solution. I also make use of insurance and reinsurance business simulations where the groups are competing against one another to produce the best overall results.

My experience has shown me that the group approach – combined with exercises and case studies – produces the most effective interactive environment. And interaction doesn’t just mean people talking, it also means people ‘doing’. We have to remember that learning styles differ between different territories and cultures.

Managing the mix of the group

All groups will have attendees with varied knowledge, experience and seniority. You have to start from the point that no knowledge is assumed. I explain to the people with greater knowledge, experience and seniority that the early stages of the training might be more simplistic for them. But I try to encourage their involvement by suggesting that they assist the less knowledgeable and experienced attendees, especially with the exercises and case studies. In fact, I try to ensure that each group has a range of knowledge, experience and seniority. The more experienced and knowledgeable individuals will tend to assume the role of group spokesperson, but this keeps them involved, especially during the more basic sections of the training.

Preparation, experience and adaptability is key. Some key recommendations are:

Divide the attendees into groups, each constituting a range of knowledge, experience and seniority;

Be prepared to speak slowly, clearly and without jargon and acronyms;

Maintain engagement by using in-class exercises and case studies – encourage the groups to work on them together to give yourself the best chance of achieving maximum interaction in a non-threatening way;

Try not to embarrass the more senior people by focusing questions on them – encourage them to naturally participate, just like the other attendees;

Don’t waste too much time on people who clearly don’t want to be at the training session – try to engage them, but focus on the majority of willing attendees;

Don’t let one or two people dominate the training session – circulate around the training room to encourage other people to participate.

The diversity and cultural differences in the Asia Pacific region keep me passionate, learning and motivated. Every situation is different which gives me the opportunity to apply different learning styles. Preparations are underway for the inuRE 2020 training programmes. The continued success of inuRE demands that I am always learning and applying these learnings to drive continual improvement. We are looking forward to delivering more great outcomes for our clients in 2020 and beyond!

Author: Gabriel Manoughian