How to get the most out of your team training budget

career development communication at work d&i strategies inclusive leadership Sep 17, 2019

With the last quarter of the financial year coming up for many organisations here in Switzerland, it’s time for leaders to take a look at how well they utilised their training and team training budgets. 

If you’re reading this in September - you have under 10 weeks to utilise this budget before it disappears.

Over the last 4 months, we have been busy interviewing leaders in Switzerland about flexibility at work, and two surprising but consistent themes emerged.

Theme #1 

They all have a budget for training and team development or training but over 90% of them are neglecting to use it. These same leaders complained that competing projects and demands are keeping everyone in the team busy delivering, and not enough time is being spent on professional or team development. Many are concerned about emerging tensions in the team, resulting in further stress and headaches for the leader to manage.

Theme #2 

This is probably just as surprising as the first theme. When we asked them how they would go about investing the budget they had, over 80% claimed they would choose to invest it all in the team - and they would not take the opportunity to develop themselves.

Often, training and team building budgets come with little direction. This affords managers the benefit of being able to apply the money at their discretion. But it can also result in overwhelming them with options. All too often, these dollars go unused because of analysis paralysis.

So, today, I'll offer some ideas for how you can spend this money most effectively, getting the most out of it.

In this article, we will answer two questions:

  • Why should I pay attention to team building?
  • How can you do more with less?

Why should I pay attention to team training and development?

An organization’s goals are achieved through its employees, the company’s most valuable asset. Employees need ongoing training to ensure that they are learning new and best practices while contributing to the success of the company. 

Everyone has a learning need - always - including CEOs. 

The ones we have to pay attention to are the ones which offer opportunities to our potential and perform at a higher level. Whether you need to develop human skills (a.k.a behavioural competencies such as leadership, influencing or communication) or technical skills, everyone has something to develop.

Ask yourself these questions: 

How does investing in my own or my team member’s development benefit me?

How does it benefit the wider team?

If you’re struggling to see the value then consider this. Our research has shown that Fortune 100 “Best Companies to Work For” list provide almost double the number of training hours for employees compared to companies that aren’t on the list. 

Those Fortune 100 organizations saw their ROI manifested in increased employee retention; they had 65 percent lower staff turnover than other businesses in the same sector.

In a recent Dale Carnegie survey, teams with engaged employees outperformed those without by up to 202%. That’s just staggering.

This activity should be an ongoing process, often being a priority in bigger group meeting or event agendas throughout the year. The focus here is no group or team potential and performance. 

Team-building should be focussed on: 

  • building trust and getting to know each other’s strengths
  • creating a strong team culture (the rules and behaviours you define to collaborate and team effectively)
  • helping the team to get clear on your purpose, priorities and goals
  • helping the team to align on the tactics and actions that will help you reach your goals
  • facilitating knowledge sharing
  • building team skills such as feedback sharing and having constructive conversations

Think about the last time you felt part of a high performing team…

These instances are rare and few for many who consider this question. And if you do remember an example, then reflect on what team-building routines and skills where in place that enabled the team to be high performing.

You should also be actively considering your own development needs as a manager and leader. 

A recent Bersin report stated that “Great leaders attract, hire, and inspire great people. A mediocre manager will never attract or retain high-performing employees. Developing, coaching, and promoting people internally is significantly less expensive than the costs typically required to hire someone externally.”

Ask yourself the following:

What critical business or team challenges am I currently struggling with?

When was the last time we came together as a team to focus on team spirit and engagement?

What are my career aspirations? 

How can I benefit from developing my skills as a leader?

Before getting into specifics on how you can do more with less, I'll offer a general philosophical framework for spending this money. And, since the amount of the budget you'll get can vary widely by organization, you should bear this general approach in mind.

How you can do more with less - a helpful metaphor

A teacher stood in front of a room full of students and brought out an empty mason jar. He asked whether the jar was full or not and, predictably, the students replied that it wasn't. He then filled the jar with some rocks and asked the same question. The students replied that, yes, now the jar was full.

In response to this, the teacher brought out a bag filled with pebbles and emptied it into the jar. The pebbles distributed themselves among the larger rocks. The students laughed and took the point. "Okay, now it's full." But the teacher hadn't finished. He removed a bag of sand and emptied that into the jar.

Again, the students felt a little silly, but now they could not possibly imagine cramming anything else into this jar filled with rocks, pebbles, and sand. As a coup de grace, however, the teacher took out a cup of water and poured that into the jar as well, and so ended the demonstration.

Had the teacher filled the jar first with sand or water, nothing else would have fit. Making the most of the space required a specific strategy. 

And so it goes with your approach to your team development budget. You need to identify your rocks, pebbles, sand, and water, or else you risk not getting all you can out of it.

The Rocks: Team coaching and training

With team coaching or training, you and your team members receive individualized attention and the ability to ask as many questions as you need. You can also benefit from ad hoc collaboration with your peers as well as the fact that you're a lot less prone to distraction when you assemble in a place specifically to discuss, learn and practice. And this is a great way to do a deep dive into something that will be important for your work and team in the future.

Team coaching and training requires significant investment. So you have to treat it as your "rocks" and plan for it first. 

Each year, identify the critical goal or challenge that the team share and what will help your company. Then, go find some deep-dive training or team development activities on the subject.

Example #1

If your team objectives are routine and do not digress wildly from previous years, then your focus might be more on developing a better culture of feedback or recognition. From having coached and trained hundreds of teams, we have found this to be a typical development need that many teams struggle with. 

For example, you might be struggling to create a culture of feedback in your team, or team members are constantly avoiding difficult conversations, or there’s a lack of creativity in team discussions, that if managed well, would boost the performance of the team. 

Our Courageous Team Conversations training helps the team achieve just this. It gives a shared language and toolkit for teams to use to better manage team disagreements and conflict constructively. It also equips teams to make sure all voices are heard and helps them to practice being open to new ideas. 

As Brené Brown puts is, “It involves the ability to lean into messy and hard conversations with a commitment to own your part and listen well to others. This is the difficult, awkward soil from which healthy teams, families, and relationships grow. Our ability to rumble with others is a call to stay engaged when we would rather check out.”

Example #2

You may have realised that you need to invest in building a more inclusive culture, where diverse teams with diverse needs can thrive. However, to do this you will need to define:

  • what an inclusive culture looks and feels like for your organisation; and 
  • what you need from your leaders and team to drive this change, in order to achieve long term and sustainable progress.

You could hold a one or two day workshop to dig into this subject to life, so that there is a clearly defined vision, strategy and plan to be able to drive this change. This helps you and the team to make sure that “inclusion” has become a new way of working, rather than a meaningless word or concept.

Example #3

Your team has many new members or has been recently reorganised and needs to adjust to a new operating model, then the priority might lie in helping the team move from the forming or storming stage to norming.

Our team facilitators use collaborative exercises and techniques to help teams build trust, learn to appreciate and leverage strengths and practice effective team collaboration processes to real business challenges and goals.

These types of events can help teams feel better aligned, focused and motivated to deliver results.

Before deciding on the level of investment, leaders can begin by asking these questions:

  • What does my team need to learn to improve performance?
  • What specific individual or team skills will give us the greatest return on investment?
  • How can working with a provider augment or supplement our internal learning systems?
  • What’s the best delivery method for developing my team? 

The answer to these questions will also help you make some decisions on where to prioritise your budget for an in-person intervention.

If you are struggling to decide where the priority lies, you might have a trusted HR business partner or training colleague you can turn to for advice. You can also book some time to talk to us and get some free advice - click here to book a 30-minute strategy call.

The Pebbles: Lunch and Learns

Maybe your budget doesn't allow you to have any rocks at all, or maybe you've already picked one. In-person development can mean a good bit of expense, some of which comes in the form of travel and lodging if required. But you do have a similar option with a bit less expense and commitment.

Presenting the lunch and learn with experts.

Invite internal or external experts to a catered lunchtime event to talk to your team about skills, competencies, experiences, mindset - the world is your oyster!

With these short events, you completely lose the high-touch, individualized attention. But, on the flip side, they offer a great deal of variety. Whereas in-person team coaching or training focus on a specific topic, the pebbles of lunch and learns allows you to dabble in many different ones. You can focus on some that you need to help inform your team on best practices directions and on others simply because they interest you or the team.

The Sand: Knowledge sharing events

Once you've picked the centrepiece rock(s) and complementary pebble(s), it's time to move onto the sand with your remaining swiss francs. I recommend that you do so with a nice, complementary offering at a lower price point (if not free).

There is likely a wealth of knowledge that lies within your team or even within the wider business. Facilitating and promoting knowledge sharing sessions benefits your team in two ways. 

Firstly, you save precious money for other training or team development initiatives. Secondly, at the same time, you give your team an opportunity to show their skills and expertise to their colleagues. 

Another way to achieve this is to train one, teach many.

This process involves sending one staff member to a training course and holding knowledge sharing or training sessions when they return. This way, the lessons learned by one staff member can be amplified to your entire team. It’s a lot more cost-effective than sending everyone on the same course.

One final way is to hold regular post-mortems with the wider team on critical goals or projects the team have been responsible for. This involves a level of vulnerability within the team (trust is a key substance for this) and provides opportunities to reflect on achievements, and more importantly, failures to ensure the learning is captured by the whole team.

The Water: Team recognition

I'm talking here about regular moments of team and individual recognition. 

What has the team achieved or learnt that is worth recognising?

Who in the team has gone over and above the call of duty?

What critical milestones have the team accomplished en route to a bigger goal?

These events do not need to be fancy or expenses. They generally have a recurring and low monthly cost. 

Whether you are treating your team to breakfast, lunch or dinner, or sharing your appreciation with a sincere statement of thanks, team recognition goes a long long way for building team trust and engagement.

If you are curious to know more then click here to find out the tangible ROI of team recognition.

Don't Neglect Your Training Budget

Whenever leaders ask me for career advice, I emphasize the importance of owning your career and investing in your team. You work from 9 to 5 (or even later) each day, leading projects and processes that add value to your organization. You and your team will naturally learn some things as part of that effort, but I wouldn't settle just for that.

If your company offers you a budget to develop yourself and your team -  it’s an absolute no-brainer. Use the jar metaphor to spend every penny of your training budget.

.Still Not Sure Where to Start? Let Us Help! 

Thriving Talent provides blended and strategic team development solutions to help teams build a high-performance culture, solve problems, create efficiencies and reduce waste. 

Let us partner with you to training and coaching strategies that enable your team to grow, develop your employees, and exceed goals. Contact us today and we can help you move your team forward.

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