A good teacher must be able to put himself in the place of those who find learning hard.
-Eliphas Levi, French educator 1810-1875
One of a leader’s most important jobs is to help develop the skills of their team members. For many of us, this is why we became managers or leaders in the first place: we love helping others learn and succeed. But remote working relationships create some unique challenges for us.
Monsieur Levi’s quote above suggests one of the challenges (and it’s common to all of us who became leaders because we were good individual contributors). Very often the thing you are trying to teach, or the skill you’re hoping they learn, comes so simply to you that you underestimate the challenge to the other person. When you are across a desk, or standing on the shop floor with the other person, body language, non-verbal communication, and other verbal and vocal cues tell us whether or not they are understanding, buying in, and able to perform the new skill.
When we work remotely, we don’t get all of that information. We are often reduced to checking for understanding by asking, “Do you understand?” If they say yes, we assume that they get it, because they just told us they did. That’s not always a safe assumption. Sometimes people say yes just so you’ll go away and we usually oblige them. We don’t know something hasn’t been learned until much later.
So what are some other things we need to think about when doing training, coaching, and skill development on a remote team? Glad you asked.
Have them prove they understand.
Telling someone the easiest way to find an online order can be frustrating at the best of times. If you’ve ever tried to walk someone through a process like that on the telephone, you know it can be annoying for both parties, and when they tell you they get it, you sometimes just hope for the best. Fortunately, tools like Microsoft Teams/Skype for Business, Zoom, WebEx and others allow you to do more than just ask if they have learned the new skill. By using screen sharing and passing control of the meeting to them, they can show you what they’ve learned, and you can see for yourself if they’ve gained the knowledge you tried to share. This is a good practice for anyone trying to pass skills on, but online it’s critical because you may not have additional chances to coach or assist them like you do when they are within shouting distance.
Peer coaching is a win-win-win.
Just because you need an employee to learn how to do something, doesn’t mean you have to be the teacher. Delegating the training to others on your team has multiple benefits. You are free to do other things, the team members get a chance to strengthen their relationship by working together and seeing how competent their teammates are, and people get a sense of pride in teaching others (just like you do.) Besides, when it comes to some of the technical skills or best practices, you probably have folks in your circle who are better at whatever it is than you are. Why have the blind lead the blind?
Checking in isn’t a sign you don’t trust people- plan for it.
Once the learning event is over, whether it’s a training, e-learning or just a coaching session, schedule how and when you’re going to check in. Yes, you want to make sure the person is employing the new skill. You also want to answer any questions that come up and reinforce the learning. Maybe most importantly, if the desire is to change behavior, people need to know that someone will notice if they do the task differently and better. Too much training is “spray and pray”: you tell them something and assume (more likely hope) that they apply it, but you’re not really sure. If you’re not going to expect them to use the new skill, why bother?
What are some of the best practices you and your team have used to help teach others?
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Co-Founder and Product Line Manager
Wayne Turmel is the co-founder and Product Line Manager for the Remote Leadership Institute. For twenty years he’s been obsessed with helping managers communicate more effectively with their teams, bosses and customers. Wayne is the author of several books that demystify communicating through technology including Meet Like You Mean It – a Leader’s Guide to Painless & Productive Virtual Meetings, 10 Steps to Successful Virtual Presentations and 6 Weeks to a Great Webinar. His work appears frequently in Management-Issues.com.
Wayne, along with Kevin Eikenberry, has co-authored the definitive book on leading remotely, The Long-Distance Leader: Rules for Remarkable Remote Leadership.