The best companies provide training opportunities for their employees on an ongoing basis, but despite their good intentions, traditional training methods usually don’t work. Many adults learn by doing, and if they don’t implement what they learn immediately, they will forget most of it, often within the hour.
In order to help employees develop new skills, some companies are looking beyond presentations and workshops to create experiences. From virtual reality scenarios to solving a problem in the dark, these methods are sure to have a lasting impact.
With its ability to develop a wide range of skills such as communication, leadership and adaptability, it’s not a surprise that improv comedy classes have become commonplace at business schools such as Columbia, Indiana and UCLA, as well as in the corporate world. Google, PepsiCo and American Express have all offered improv training to their employees to teach them how to communicate articulately, listen carefully and learn how to work as a team.
“Through improv, we can work on anything from leadership, to influence, to adaptability, to crisis management,” says Bob Kulhan, founder of Business Improv. “We can help people’s communication skills. We can show them how to stay focused, in the present moment, at a very high level.”
Part of what makes improv training so effective is that nothing is planned. Performers often act on suggestions from the audience, which forces them to be creative, think on their feet and come up with solutions. They also must listen carefully to their partners on the stage and always say “yes, and...” For example, if your stage partner says that you are traveling through space, you go along with the story and add to it where you can. This fosters a culture of agreement and collaboration, which follows the performers off the stage and into the office.
Improv also encourages employees to have fun, take risks and learn how to handle failure. “When I lead these sessions, typically people start out scared to make mistakes,” says Holly Mandel, founder of the performance school Improvolution. “They self-edit. Maybe there’s a hierarchy in the office where some people never get heard and some people squelch the conversation. Maybe the boss is scared to look stupid, so he acts too cool for the exercise. But over the course of the workshop, you see camaraderie build between co-workers. They start to hear each other. They gain the confidence to speak freely and take risks.”
2. Virtual Reality
With devices like the Oculus Rift and PlayStation VR, many people are excited to experience games in virtual reality, but some companies are using the technology to train their employees. Texas Mutual Insurance Company has developed an app for their employees to experience construction site accidents in virtual reality, in order to educate them on workplace safety in an engaging and fun way, free from distractions.
The app, called “Safety in a Box,” can be downloaded on your phone, and when the device is placed inside Google Cardboard, the viewer can witness accidents as a 360-degree experience. Accidents include being caught in a collapsing trench and touching an active electrical line.
“You really get the panicked reactions, you get the action of the fall, you get to look around and see it in every direction,” says Texas Mutual Insurance Company spokesperson Jeremiah Bentley. “It’s really an experience you can’t get any other way.”
Healthcare companies are also taking advantage of virtual reality to train their employees in a risk-free and cost-effective manner. Virtual reality company Next Galaxy has partnered with multiple hospitals, clinics, nursing homes, assisted care facilities and medical schools on educational VR projects.
“The level of understanding through VR is great because humans are primarily visual and VR is a visual format,” says Dr. Narendra Kini, CEO of Miami Children’s Health System. “We believe that there are numerous opportunities where repetitive training and skill set maintenance are critical for outcomes. Since there are not enough patients in many cases to maintain these skill sets, virtual reality is a real addition to the arsenal. Imagine also scenarios where we need to practice for accreditation and or compliance. In these situations virtual reality is a god-send.”
3. Escape Room
Many companies use games to train employees in a fun way, and Nashville-based technology company Asurion has taken this idea to the next level. The company has created an escape room that houses digital devices that are locked. In order to escape the room, the employees must learn how to unlock the devices so they work again. This hands-on training helps to develop employees’ tech capabilities, but it also strengthens other useful skills like patience, empathy and teamwork.
4. Overcoming Fear
In order for their employees to challenge themselves and grow, the Palo Alto-based software company Medallia encourages their new hires to overcome their fears and weaknesses when they come aboard. If you are afraid of snakes, you may be required to hold one. If it’s needles that make you squeamish, the company will encourage you to give blood. If being the center of attention is your greatest fear, you may have to sing in front of an audience. Whatever you are afraid of, the company will allow you to confront it in a safe environment.
Not only does this training help their employees to improve and succeed, it also helps form deep bonds. As David Galloreese writes on the company blog, “Relationships are formed as people get vulnerable together, hard truths are acknowledged through safe introspection and sharing, and deep-seated fears are conquered.”
5. Training in the Dark
Financial services company Allianz has found a unique way to get their employees to heighten their senses while in training: by taking away their sight. The company offers training sessions in a dark room, facilitated by blind and visually impaired trainers. These sessions involve the completion of a project which, without vision, encourages clear communication, listening and cooperation.
“When doing these exercises teams become aware of how best to cooperate and learn very fast how to best reach their project goals,” says Angelika Antz-Hieber, head of Allianz’s Dialogue Training Center. “Once participants experience this feeling of success, darkness is no longer something strange for them, but rather an opportunity to obtain a new perspective on their team and their own behavior.”