One decision that faces designers of learning experiences in organisations is how to integrate and include the leaders of the groups involved. Do I ignore the workplace hierarchy and simply integrate the leaders into the experience? Do I mirror the workplace and have the leaders continue in that role during the activity? Do I create a special place for the leaders as observers or co-facilitators? All these approaches have their place and you need to be aware that each will impact the experience of the employees who form the majority of the participant group. So how do I weigh-up the decision?
I guess the first question to ask is why are they there in the first place?
Is it that they themselves need the development that the intervention is designed to deliver? If so then it’s clear that they need to be fully involved in the activity, though their temporary status needs to be established with the other participants from the outset - “Manager X is, for the duration of this activity just one of the group…” (though you may also need to establish confidentiality as a groundrule).
Are they involved because it’s important that they see the group at work? If this is a major factor then you’ve got a decision to make. You can’t have them in there as ‘normal’ participants as this will affect the way the other participants work giving a false sense of their working methods and behaviours. You could have the leader fulfil their normal role and take the lead in the activity, but you’d have to question whether this would optimise the learning available for everybody involved. Alternatively you could put the leader in overtly as an observer. If this is your chosen option then it will need you to be very careful about role-definition, both with the leader in advance of the activity - establishing the specifics of their role and your expectations of their involvement. Then you will need to translate these discussions into a clear briefing for the other participants about what the leader is there to do, what benefit this offers, and what they are most definitely NOT there to do. A fourth option would be to include the leader as co-facilitator - provided they have the skills and discipline to fulfill that role and not be drawn back into a more directive leadership role.
This might sound like I’m sceptical about having leaders along on an experientially focused programme - and this is far from how I feel. There are so many benefits available in involving leaders in the experience.
I have been thinking about a document that a colleague sent my way recently - it’s from the Centre for Creative Leadership and it summarises the most popular leadership advice among their community in 2022. As ever I read material such as this with an eye to checking whether RSVP Design physical and ELT digital learning tools are supportive of what people feel they need to develop - in this case in terms of leadership capability. I checked each one and across the list of 12 areas on the CCL list I can confirm that each one is being effectively addressed by our learning tools. Obviously choosing the right tools, deploying them appropriately and, in particular, building the review / debrief structure to fit desired learning outcomes are all critical for success, but it’s good to know that there’s a fundamental congruency here.
Two areas of the CCL list jumped out for me as particularly important in developing effective leaders through experiential learning approaches.
The first is “Hone the Fundamental 4”
This refers to the four areas that, whatever their level in an organisation, every leader needs to be conscious of continually developing i.e.
For me, as a designer of experiential learning activities and programmes, these are the bottom line - everything that leaves my desk has to allow development against all four of these critical abilities. I’d assure you that every RSVP Design/ ELT tool has been designed to allow you to integrate them into programming with desired learning outcomes from this list.
Second on the CCL list was “Understand Social Identity to Lead in a Changing World”
This was a very thought provoking piece and I’d encourage you to follow up on the links to and from the CCL article linked below. Social identities are defined as “labels that people use to categorise or identify themselves and/or others as members of specific groups” and the paper offers a picture of people operating in the workplace with multiple social identities. Why this is important for leaders? A social identity lens offers a leader a perspective of what’s going on around them that simultaneously builds sensitivity to bias, stereotypes, prejudice, and favouritism, whilst offering a different approach to leveraging motivation and action.
In an experiential learning setting building an active awareness of these issues, by coaching the use of social identity lens, must be a powerful way of encouraging leaders who are working towards increasing diversity, equity and inclusion in their organisations.
You can read the CCL article here:
If you need our support in including any of the 12 CCL areas then please get in touch with us at RSVP Design.