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Learning To Share

Thoughts On Co-Training

01/03/2011 by Geoff Watts

“Share everything. Don't take things that aren't yours. Put things back where you found them” - Robert Fulghum

So another wonderful Christmas has just passed and my two children had more new toys than they knew what to do with. Of course that didn’t stop them wanting what their sibling had, nor did it stop them from being very protective of their new possessions; even the ones they weren’t playing with. Learning to share is a very useful skill that all humans need to acquire at some point in their lives, opening up as it does the possibility of a greater than zero sum game; and, for me, it seems to come into ever greater focus around this time of year. 

I am one of a group of trainers who likes to do a lot of co-training when teaching Scrum (and other things). I know many trainers who are not so much in favour of co-teaching and some that, although in favour of the principle, are a little worried by the prospect. There seems to have been a fair amount of talk about the merits or not of co-teaching for a long time now. For example, should prospective Certified Scrum Trainers be mandated to run a number of co-trainings with existing CST’s before applying? Certainly the evidence shows that those that have done so are more likely to be looked upon favourably.

Despite the majority of my co-training experiences being incredibly positive - both for me and the class (I can’t really speak for my colleagues although I believe it was good for them) - I have also had a few less than excellent experiences. As with most things there seems to be a number of patterns that can be drawn from these sessions that I thought might be useful to people who are considering co-training or perhaps want to find ways to improve their upcoming co-trainings

“Success always comes when preparation meets opportunity” - Henry Hartman

There is the obvious implication here that if you spend some time with the other trainer to prepare the course, it is more likely the course will be a success. Course preparation will consist of a number of factors:

  1. What material will you use? (You will both undoubtedly have material. Do you pick and mix or go with one person’s course for consistency and flow?)
  2. Will one person be the lead for the course? For certain parts of the course?
  3. If so, who will lead which part?
  4. What role will the person who is not leading play in those sections?
  5. How will you handle any follow-up work that might come from the training?

I suspect most people would do this anyway but don’t underestimate the importance of having that conversation (or multiple iterations of it). I have known people be very precious about whose name comes first on the slides/handouts and also logo placement etc. 

I also use the word “prepare” in a couple of additional contexts. I have found it very useful to remind myself to “prepare to let go” because, it is impossible to expect a course taught by two people to run the same way as a course taught solely by yourself. Indeed even when teaching on my own, the class dynamics will often lead to me needing to change the course on-the-fly but when you add the extra variable of another trainer this is almost inevitable. Two trainers allows you to cover material in greater depth (two lots of experience and two sets of stories to tell) but there is the inevitable downside that you will actually cover less material (breadth). You should prepare yourself for this as well.

Having two people chipping in can really help people engaged as the focus, tone and pace changes. Use this to your advantage though and don’t change presenters too frequently or you may find your attendees heads moving from side to side as if watching a tennis match. 

“Individual glory is insignificant when compared to achieving victory as a team.” - Dot Richardson

Two trainers trying to score points off each other in an attempt to look the cleverest or have the last word can look, from an attendees point of view, like Mum and Dad fighting in front of the children. While you don’t have to show a united front all of the time (that can be sickening too) and a certain amount of constructive disagreement can be extremely valuable for the class (and yourselves), always try to remember that your focus should always be on your class “winning”. The best way to do this is to explain why you have a difference of opinion when you have one and regularly pick up on something important that your co-trainer said earlier on.

As with most things in life, it takes a little time, practice and effort to get good and co-training is no different. Just training with person A will prepare you for co-training with persons B and C in the future and co-training with person B a number of times will improve the chemistry the two of you have. Sometimes the chemistry just isn’t there and in those cases that class can look quite staccato, forced and uncomfortable. In these (rare) cases, professionalism and the focus of ensuring the class wins should see you both through. It also helps to try even harder to identify each others strengths and play to them. For example, does one person like presenting the theory while the other likes adding the context through story-telling? Does one person like facilitating the exercises while one person likes facilitating the debriefs?

“Our best thoughts come from others” - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Personally I believe that good co-training leads to a richer experience for the trainers as well as the attendees, it increases the attention and retention of the participants and opens up the option of facilitating larger groups and, in some cases, opens up the possibility of running exercises that just couldn’t be run with one trainer. It doesn’t come easy though and needs to be worked at. Regular debriefs with your co-trainer are a must (a number of times throughout the course as well as after the course has finished) and honest reflection on your own performance.