This post is part of a series on the 5 Keys to Building a Kick-Ass Team.
OK, you’ve got a collection of great people on your team. Now, what? Can you simply put them to work and expect to get the results you want? Many a manager has taken this approach, and then wondered why their newly-formed team was less than effective. That’s because you actually have to train them.
We can all agree that training can and should look a variety of ways based on factors like organizational culture, available resources, and the backgrounds and needs of the trainees themselves. There’s traditional classroom style training, which is often a good way to impart a large amount of information to a large group of people. On the other end of the spectrum, there’s the apprenticeship model, which provides hands-on learning and individualized coaching. During my time at Bain & Company, I was fortunate to have world-class training that spanned both approaches.
When I started as an Associate Consultant (AC), I was a newly minted graduate who had majored in anthropology, taken a couple of accounting courses, and summered in investment banking. I knew how to think critically and clearly communicate my ideas both verbally and in writing. But, that was far from enough to equip me to perform the kind of rigorous quantitative analysis that a Fortune 500 CEO could rely upon to make tough decisions.
That’s where training came in.
I started with a cohort of other new ACs. Two weeks of classroom training in the Atlanta office gave us the lay of the land — key terms and frameworks, the Bain approach to analyzing business challenges, and the branding and style that permeated everything from client meetings to font sizes in PowerPoint decks. These all-day sessions were a mix of lectures and exercises to practice what we’d learned in class.
While there was lots of new information and a short period of time to learn it, this initial classroom training was a walk in the park compared to what came next.
Take 100+ super bright 22-year olds from around the world and toss them in a seaside resort for a week and a half with their new laptops, a basic understanding of the job they’ve been hired into, amazing trainers, and high-octane case studies and you’d be surprised by what emerges on the other end. ACT (short for Associate Consultant Training) was that next level of intensive training that used small group case studies to simulate the long days and nights we ACs would spend with our case teams buried in research, Excel spreadsheets, and, of course, PowerPoint decks, all to crack a case and deliver actionable solutions to our client.
Simulations are the next best thing to reality, but when the training is done, what then? At this point, you’ve invested lots of time and resources into your new team members. Do you leave them to sink or swim on their own?
Better to have a lifeguard on duty than to potentially watch your new investment drown when the waters get rough. Even the most highly qualified and trained individuals will occasionally run into challenges they’re not completely prepared for. We all have those questions we feel we should definitely have the answer to, but don’t. It helps to have a go-to person who can show new team members the ropes and answer “stupid questions” in a low pressure way.
At the beginning of the economic downturn in 2008, my Bain case team was tasked with helping the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill cut costswithout negatively impacting the quality of education the University offered its students. As a part of my work, I needed to analyze huge amounts of budget data — far too much for an Excel spreadsheet. But, I’d never used Access or any other database technology. To this day, I remember how the Senior Associate Consultant I’d been paired up with sat me down for an Access tutorial. He shared with me how he hadn’t known how to use Access either when he’d started at Bain. Just as he was taking the time to show me what he knew, a more experienced AC had done the same for him a couple years earlier. That’s one of the awesome things about apprenticeship opportunities. Beyond just training new team members, you can create a culture of lifeguards all invested in helping the next group of swimmers stay afloat.
- Simply having the right people is not enough. You have to equip them to be successful within your organization. Train them.
- Use classroom-style training to transfer a lot of information in a short period of time.
- Incorporate hands-on simulations to give new team members a sense of what their work will be like on a day-to-day basis.
- Apprenticeship opportunities are a great way to provide long-term support for new team members as they acquire new skills and acclimate to your organization’s culture.
Would I have been well served with just one of these training approaches? Sure. But I was far better equipped by having all three.
What about you? What’s the best and worst training you’ve ever received? Share your comments below.
And, feel free to connect and shoot me a message if you’d like to talk more.