How to Effectively Structure Collaborative Team Professional Development Sessions

By:   |   Updated: 2023-10-03   |   Comments   |   Related: More > Professional Development Management


Problem

Below are questions and sentiments we've received from Managers/Directors who oversee technical teams.

"How can I help individuals strengthen their soft skills and technical knowledge base?"
"I know providing training opportunities is important, but I have limited time and no budget for team training."
"We are too behind on projects to spend time on training."
"How do I help my team grow together?"
"How do I impact employee engagement and effectively increase employee recognition for the millennial and GenZ audience?"
"What are some effective virtual team buildings when I have minimal to no budget?"
"How do I help my team be more productive?"

One of the follow-up questions we have asked in these cases is, "What do you do now in the area of collaborative, professional development in which the whole team can participate?" Most of the answers, which may or may not be surprising, have been "nothing," "not much," or "not enough."

Solution

As huge Simon Sinek enthusiasts, we were especially interested and excited to see the below poll he put out to his LinkedIn audience in 2023, which shows that "live, interactive workshops" are the most in-demand form of learning by teams! Followed by "online training courses," we were further excited because this is our preferred method of team professional development opportunities, i.e., team members watch a relevant online training course and then have a 30-90-minute interactive, collaborative discussion around it.

Simon Sinek poll results

Sidenote: We suggest you follow Simon, a leadership guru, on LinkedIn and/or Instagram if you aren't already!

In another interesting discovery, we asked ChatGPT to "please provide a list of the top ideas for cost-effective employee recognition for the GenZ population" after brainstorming with a manager who expressed concern that he wasn't doing enough to drive engagement and effectively recognize that audience, which makes up the majority of his team.

ChatGPT provided this input and guidance: "When it comes to cost-effective employee recognition for Gen Z, consider their preferences and values. Here are some ideas that align with their characteristics and are budget-friendly: 1.) Social Media Praise/Shoutouts, 2.) Personalized Thank You Notes, 3.) Flexible Work Arrangements, 4.) Professional Development Opportunities, 5.) Peer Recognition Programs, and 6.) Team Building Activities."

Hopefully, you are also pleasantly surprised at the multitude of benefits prioritizing professional development opportunities, ideally at least quarterly, can provide your team members, culture, performance/productivity, and even recruitment and retention across the board!

Let's discuss some best practices when structuring these quarterly professional development sessions!

Assign a Professional Development Committee

Most teams have at least one or two people doing upskilling or training on their own time, and they are often incredibly passionate about it. Identify them and either have them own organizing professional development for the team or collaborate with them on it. Many of our teams at Apex have dedicated professional development committees with one or more individuals, and it's built into their performance management goals to share relevant Apex training in their team meetings, plan T&D opportunities monthly or quarterly, and share any insightful articles, podcasts, conferences, etc.

Request Input from Team Members

When you provide people the opportunity to give input and involve them in the decision-making, they're much more likely to buy into a new initiative or change. Whether it's 1v1 conversations, sending out a survey, doing a poll, or posing a question in a team meeting, ensure you are soliciting feedback. You can explain the goal/s and then inquire around:

  • How often should we do workshops/trainings?
  • Would you prefer 30, 45, 60 or 90+ minutes?
  • What are some topics you'd focus on?
  • Which professional development channels/sites should we utilize?
  • Do you have any ideas on how to make these effective and engaging?
  • What else is important to you regarding your professional development goals?

The most popular soft skill and leadership topics we've done, based directly on employee requests, have included:

  • Overcoming distractions
  • Time management/organization
  • Thriving under pressure/in chaos
  • Workplace psychology and how to strengthen workplace relationships
  • Difficult conversations
  • Upskilling strategies/sites/tools
  • Public speaking
  • Self-management/self-motivation
  • Building confidence
  • How to communicate with senior leaders

Provide Choices

From experience, we've found that if you ask a question like, "What topics would you like training on?" you often get minimal responses. Often, it's not because they don't have input; they're just experiencing a moment of brain freeze. If you have a list of choices, it gets people talking and thinking more.

We often use polls inside Zoom/Teams. Here's an example of a recent poll we conducted with a technology leadership team to flush out their next few leadership development workshops.

poll example

Make Training/Workshops Interactive

Of the 75+ workshops we've facilitated with teams/groups, the most positive feedback we've heard is, "I really enjoy the small group breakouts/discussions!" A close second is around any exercises we do. Especially with larger groups, incorporate small breakouts with groups of 2-4 via breakout rooms to discuss open-ended questions you pose based on the training. Use your other tools, such as reactions, polls, the chat box, whiteboard, etc., to spark peer-to-peer collaboration and engagement opportunities every 10+ minutes.

Ask for a Commitment at the End

At the end of each monthly virtual 'Leadership Development Workshop' Erica facilitates with internal leaders, she asks, "What's the one action you'll take over the next month related to the best practices and tips we discussed today?" Then, they kick off the next workshop reviewing the action items/commitments, who did what, and how it went. An example poll/action item from a recent leadership development workshop focused on employee recognition ideas:

Poll Question: What employee recognition idea will you try in the next month?

Poll question
Next Steps

Start a conversation with your team members. How important is professional development to them? What would they like to see, how often, and how would they structure it?

You are welcome to use one of the below sessions with your team.

Want an example?

Here are two examples 1.) one of our leadership development workshops and 2.) a session we've successfully done with 5+ internal and external teams on overcoming distractions and improving your productivity. It has all the materials you need, so try one or both!


EXAMPLE #1: 'Purple Cow Leadership' Workshop

Scheduling:

Add a 60-minute 'Interactive Professional Development Workshop: Purple Cow Leadership' to the team's calendar 2+ weeks in advance, including the prep work in the invite.

Email Team:

One+ week before the session, send out the prep work!

Prep Work:

We're excited for our collaborative discussion next week about how to stand out as a "purple cow leader" with leadership SME, Saby! Prior to our discussion, please watch this 30-minute on-demand leadership training https://www.apexsystems.com/event/toolbox-talk/purple-cow-leadership-75-leadership-pdu and give some thought to these questions:

  1. Of the 6 strategies, which do you feel you're the strongest in? Which do you have the biggest opportunity for growth/improvement?
  2. How have you gotten to know yourself better? Your team? Have you done any personality assessments, individual or team exercises, etc.?
  3. How do you stay positive and solution-oriented when things get tough?

Workshop:

Two team members, or one team member and the leader/manager, will facilitate a conversation around the key concepts from the training. You can have a slide deck or just discussion points. Here's our 'Purple Cow Leadership' Lunch n' Learn Guide!'

Post Workshop:

Collect any feedback from the team, especially early on with Workshops, and also discuss in the next round of employee 1v1s.


EXAMPLE #2: 'Mind Over Matter' Workshop – Overcoming Distractions & Improving Productivity

Prep Work:

Watch this one-hour 'Mind Over Matter' recording https://www.apexsystems.com/event/toolbox-talk/mind-over-matter-tips-driving-focus-and-productivity and think about 1.) Were you alarmed by any of the statistics the speaker shared? Do you agree/disagree? & 2.) What were your 2-3 favorite tips/takeaways from her advice?

During Workshop:

Discussion #1: Distractions (10 minutes)

A key point is that distractions and "duel task interference" / "continual partial attention" are killing our productivity and performance. 2.1 hours daily consumed by distractions, takes 33% longer to complete tasks when distracted

Discussion or Poll:

Do we agree? Excluding the reactive parts of our job, like helping put out a serious fire, are distractions impacting us?

Breakout / Discussion:

Let's outline 3 key things in our 1st breakout room (8-10 minutes):

  1. What distractions do we face?
  2. What distractions are impacting our teams?
  3. What are we doing to remove and mitigate distractions and promote focus and productivity? Or, what could we be doing?

Discussion #2: Key Advice (20 minutes)

Discussion:

Lisa hit on 9-10 major areas of advice. What was your favorite?

Breakout / Discussion:

Share your favorite 2-3 takeaways from Lisa's advice. How do you do this now? What actions can you take to apply?

Discussion #3: Email Best Practices

Lisa addressed how our inboxes and the constant pings of emails are a major distraction.

Breakout / Discussion:

Is your inbox overwhelming? What tips do you follow for managing your emails so they're less overwhelming?

Wrap Up

Everyone shares their 1-2 biggest "aha" moments of the session and/or 1-2 actions they'll take moving forward to minimize distractions, focus better, get more organized, and/or improve productivity!



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About the author
MSSQLTips author Erica Woods Erica Woods has nearly a decade in the IT staffing world, an MBA, and is a member of the Professional Association of Resume Writers and Career Coaches.

This author pledges the content of this article is based on professional experience and not AI generated.

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Article Last Updated: 2023-10-03

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