Fledgling trainers are taught about the importance of using icebreakers to start a class. Many icebreakers are characterized as team-building methods, get acquainted activities, or just plain fun tasks. They are facilitation exercises, often involving the sharing of personal information. Instructors are told to use these techniques to break down barriers and open individuals up to the training process.
What would your CEO or shareholders think if they stopped to greet the class and found them playing the “M & M’s Game”, though? [This involves having students stand six feet a part and toss M&M’s at their partner’s mouth, with questions and a prize for the winner.] Traditional icebreakers are not appropriate for most workplace training programs. Why?
- In workplace training, time is valuable. Work flow may be slowed or stopped. The company may be paying for coverage or overtime.
- Even in large companies, many of the training attendees already know each other. They may share information on a social network, or live in the same neighborhood.
- Respect for a student’s time and attention. They respect instructors who they perceive as “not wasting their time”.
Here are three ways to start a workplace class. These methods won’t be embarrassing if your CEO walks in, yet are just as engaging and are functional.
1. I Rely On
This exercise is a great way to start those dreaded “required” training classes. Have each student identify (and possibly thank) a person in the room who he or she relies on; to really tie it together have them comment on why the training is important to the person being relied on. This helps create a very real link between training and the work environment. The exercise is brief and requires no resources.
Example: Jim and Jean work on a manufacturing line together, and are attending a required CPR/First Aid class. “I’m Jim, and I rely on Jean to monitor the product put out by my machine. It’s important for her to know first aid because if anything happens to four of us operating machines, she would be the person most available to provide immediate assistance.”
2. We Made This
This exercise is useful if you have individuals from unlike departments (i.e., marketing and manufacturing). Bring a sample or two of the company’s product. Each student states how he or she contributed to the customer’s purchase of the product. Note that you shouldn’t focus on the manufacture of the product itself; focus on the end result – a sold product. Similar to the first exercise, have the student provide a direct link between the training and his or her job responsibility. Again, this activity takes very little time and requires only a product sample.
Example: Jose works in accounting for a furniture manufacturing company. A small table made by the company is on display at the front of the room. “I’m Jose, and I am responsible for paying the bills to our wood supplier and ensuring we get our materials at the most favorable pricing.”
3. I Want To Teach
Every company has a river of institutional knowledge that runs through the employee base. Although the training center may tap into these resources from time to time, many of them go unnoticed. Each student should identify a topic and explain how classes would benefit the company. Ask a follow-up question or two if needed so that you understand why the topic is important both to the individual and the company. This information should be captured and considered as part of the training center’s needs assessment. An individual that presents a thorough articulate picture may be a great future instructor.
Example: Gina works as an administrative assistant and travel coordinator. “I’m Gina, and if I want to teach a class in our timeclock procedures for managers. This class is really needed, because I spend five hours each week fixing the same set of errors. I know our system isn’t the most efficient, but there are some tips I’ve learned that will actually make their the process simpler for them.”
The First 5 Minutes of Class
Today’s instructor can easily get sidetracked by spurious activities and information; especially during the first few minutes of class. House rules, instructor introductions, the day’s agenda – all these take up valuable time. Using an effective technique can engage the class and bridge barriers while respecting the company’s time and money.