We use exercises a great deal in our business training – they are essential because they help practice and embed learning. But there are two key things that make the difference between an exercise being effective or not: how you plan it in the design stage and how you facilitate it.
It is also important to acknowledge that exercises often take longer to complete than anticipated in the design. Our experience has taught us that the logistics of organising the group, the need to repeat instructions and give time for an overrun and an effective debrief all add up. So during your design stage be as realistic as you can when considering the time required as rushing an exercise can reduce the learning from it and overrunning can compromise the delivery of other content.
The Importance of set-up: The way in which exercises are set-up is crucial to their success. Mistakes are all too common, even in the simplest of exercises so here are some tips that can be used in the design phase to avoid them:
1. Remember to build in time to arrange the exercise – this will take longer than you think! When you are asking a group or individual to participate in a task, they will need to feel clear about it. Setting up takes time.
- How will they work; individually, in groups, how big are the groups?
- What is the exercise objective; what will success look like, what are you trying to achieve as a result of the exercise?
- What is the process; make sure each step is articulated clearly
- What are your expectations of them; stretching their thinking, being authentic?
- What are the timings; how long should be spent on each step or the exercise as a whole?
3. Repeat the instructions: as part of the set-up it is necessary to repeat instructions to the participants. What may seem a simple exercise to you as the designer of the programme will be new to the participants who might have been in ‘listening mode’ and will need to swing into ‘action mode’.
4. Show them the process: where appropriate use a flipchart or hand-outs to visually show the process and methods required for the exercise. This will give the participants further clarity and will enable the groups and individuals to refer to it throughout the exercise.
5. Plan the debrief: this is an important part of the exercise because it is where the learning comes together. You need to plan the debrief using some reflective and open questions to get some interaction and make the participants realise what they have learnt. Often it is the simpler questions that are most effective: what did you find? What worked well? What surprised you? Etc.
Finally, remember that often when someone does something for the first time they may feel uncomfortable. Be aware of this in the debrief and acknowledge it as part of the learning process. We often emphasise to participants that the most important skills you learn begin with some level of discomfort – it is a required stage on the way to securing a new skill and embedding it in your practice.