Teaching Gears to Be a Better Manager

In the Spring I run a weekly program called ‘Wheeleasy Wriders‘ which teaches newbie cyclists how to go from a painful 20KM ride to thinking that a 60KM ride is a breeze. Although this is a hobby, the techniques that I use are directly translatable into a work environment and the reverse as well – Wheeleasy Wriders makes me a better manager – last week is a good example.

How To Explain The Round Gizmos On a Bike

Many new riders are scared of their gears.  Although a marvel of engineering, they do require a small investment of time to learn how to use them properly.  But using gears effectively is not what this blog is about (however the blogs listed below DO talk about such things).  Last week I took a page out of my work environment and did the following:

  1. I broke the riders into groups of three composed of 2-newbies and 1-experienced rider.
  2. I separated married couples into different groups (more on this later).
  3. My request was that each newbie explain to the other newbie how their gears worked on their bike (as if the other explainee-newbie was going borrow the explainer’s bike).
  4. After a couple of minutes they switched roles and the explainer became the explainee.
  5. The experienced rider was there to listen and provide additional information, corrections and encouragement.

Teaching Focuses the Mind

The result was that most of the newbies self-assessed their gear knowledge higher after the explanation than before.  Why, for the following reasons:

  • They had to actively recall past explanations and externalize the content and concepts.
  • Based on the recall, they had to match the explanations to what they were seeing.
  • There was a small amount of anxiety to get the explanation right.  This anxiety actually helps to better form memories.
  • Anxiety notwithstanding, the experienced rider represented a safety net.
  • The experience rider had to compare their own mental-model of how gears work into two different newbie explanations.  This conversion strengthen their own understanding of the gears.
  • I separated the couples because people who know each other very well can have a harder time communicating.  They use codes, shortened forms of speech, etc. that takes away from the effort to externalize and codify a complex topic (such as how bike gears work).

Giving Training the Gears

I use similar teaching methods at work when I need to train people.  Rather than standing around in a parking lot explaining bike gears, at work this is done through webinars and conference calls.  One of my ‘rules’ is that I actively encourage cheating on my exams. Thus, other audience members are encouraged to help the ‘trainer’ out. Because the audience knows they be asked next to provide an explanation, there is better attention and retention for the content.  I have learned a few cautions/guidelines though:

  • Always Build Up: This is not about ridiculing or embarrassing the person. Before asking the question, be reasonably assured the person can answer the question or be guided to the answer. Only use this technique (or select the person) if the person can feel more positive about themselves after they have done the activity.
  • Be Ready to Move On … QUICKLY: You may discover that you asked a person who simply does not know or is getting flustered by the attention.  If so, quickly move on so that person is not social embarrassed.  Moving on could include: providing lots of clues, going to someone else or changing the subject.
  • Gentle Humour Lubricates: use gentle and positive humour to help the situation. Be careful that the humour is not caustic or ridicules the person. A bit of self-depreciation works for me.
  • Mix Up the Couples: mix and match people who don’t know each other well.  This forces different levels of communication effort.
  • Bit Size the Learning: if possible, focus on only one to two key concepts in each session.  More than this will overload the person and create too much anxiety.
  • Summarize, Crystallize and Repeat the Learning: be sure to repeat the 2-5 key messages from the learning so that the memories can quickly form around these kernels. Memory and learning works best when there are mnemonic devices or conceptual construct to hang the details on.

Good luck with your efforts to train and explain in your organization.  Also, if you want to learn more about riding or how to use your gears, be sure to read: