The article you are about to read raises the issue of creating safety and connection in a training group. We present two simple activities that you can start your training with, and we will focus on the following questions:
- How to build safety in a training group?
- What should participants know about each other? If anything.
- How to design training exercises to create a safe space during the training?
Usually, at the beginning of training, the trainer gives out sticky notes or name tags and asks participants to write their names on it. Usually, he also offers an activity in which everyone has the chance to learn the names of other participants. The purpose of these activities is to bridge the gap between the trainer and participants and between the participants. It makes the atmosphere of the training friendlier, closer and safer.
What happens, however, if, after introducing the name games, the trainer neglects the rules set at the very beginning and
- addresses the participant impersonally,
- does not react when participants address themselves impersonally,
- does not pay attention to the fact that the participants lost the name tags during the following training days and they do not remember their names?
When starting the training, before handing out name tags, ask yourself the following questions:
- How will I remember the participants’ names, especially if I struggle with memorizing them?
- Is it important to me that the participants address each other by name?
- How will I remind about this form of communication?
True, trivial questions. Yes. But what will happen if you encourage participants to stick to these rules and as a trainer stop obeying them at some point in the training? Your words are just words. They become powerful when they are supported by your actions. A trainer who says something and does something completely different becomes unreliable, distant and might be taken as disrespectful. As a trainer, you are supposed to be a consistent and credible leader. And you are responsible for the training you create.
Of course, a lot can justify you: working under stress, new participants and their expectations, names that are difficult to remember, especially if you work with international participants, too much focus dedicated to the tasks. As you become aware of these challenges, think about what you can do to prevent difficulties or conflicts in the training room.
Before you introduce any rule to the participants, think whether you as a trainer will be able to stick to it. Perhaps at the very beginning of the training, it would be useful to arrange more games helping people remember names and bringing them closer? Or it might be helpful to ask participants to say their name before they share something with the group.
The most important step is to embrace your weaknesses instead of creating a false image of yours, and thus a low sense of trust and safety of participants. Although it may seem trivial, be yourself instead of playing someone you can't be at the moment. YOU are the main tool during training.
You can build safety and create connections in a group by providing games in which participants get to know each other. One example game is called AUTOGRAPHS. A simple tool that we recommend.
The goal of this game is to find in the group people who meet certain criteria, for example, speak 5 languages or know someone famous. Each participant receives a card with questions and mingles with others, looking for people who fulfill specific criteria.
This is one of the games that, when introduced improperly, can hinder the learning process of the group and lead to a situation where participants start judging themselves or comparing to others. This might happen if you do not present the goal of this game or do not summarise it. By neglecting to do so, you can unintentionally create a situation similar to the stock exchange. Participants will simply lie not be worse than others. Instead of sharing information about themselves they will build false images and detach from each other.
But with this game you can also build a safe space where it turns out that no one can speak five languages, no one has ever been to the desert or greeted Obama with a handshake. By using this game you can also create a feeling of belonging of everyone to the group.
Do you want the activity you introduce to build safety in the group? You need to bear two things in mind. First is being aware of the goal of the activity. Second, are the questions you will ask. Make sure they do not lead to competition, judgments or comparisons. Each activity is good, it is crucial to ask yourself questions that will make it a good tool:
- How will I present the purpose of the exercise? What is the goal of this activity? Is it getting to know each other? Is it spotting the diversity of the group? Is it becoming aware of the group's potential?
- How do I intend to react in a situation of participants’ withdrawal or feeling judged or worse? Are you responsible as a trainer for the well-being of participants who lack self-esteem? What are your competencies? How do you set limits on your responsibility? Do you play a lifeguard, mentor, mother or coach? Or maybe just a person who is fully present during the training and openly responds to what you observe? You notice and describe the difficulties, thus reducing the tension that most often results from communication errors.
- How will I summarize the information collected by the group? How will I use them?
Do you remember what it is like when in the first scene of the film the main hero nails a nail into the wall? It immediately raises expectations and questions, what will happen next? What will hang on the nail? Or who? And why has it been nailed?
If you want the participants of your training to feel fulfilled and satisfied, on leaving the training, always think about what your nail is for. Refer to previous exercises, summarize the learning outcomes. Constant refreshing and referring to previous assignments and their outcomes is a solid foundation of the group process.
Be aware of what you are doing. Otherwise, at the end of the training, you will end up with a nail in the wall. Without the content, you intended to bring there.
Remember that before you offer any assignment, you must know its purpose.
The destination is the key to every journey, otherwise, you will end up somewhere you did not plan, but where your uncertainty and lack of awareness led you. At the same time, you will create tension and conflict in the group that you will have to face during the training.
Authors: Maja Wąsała, Monika Grzesiak-Chmura
This article was produced as a result of the “Elevate”, implemented by the Innovation Development Foundation and co-financed by the European Union Erasmus + Action 1. Educational Mobility, Mobility of Adult Education Staff (Agreement number 2018-1-PL01-KA104-049658).
This project has been funded with support from the European Commission. This publication reflects the views only of the author, and the Commission cannot be held responsible for any use which may be made of the information contained therein.
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