Open Training: How To Teach and Learn Anything Together With Your Clients

Written by Matteo Cassese

Open Training

There’s a way to deliver training experiences for my clients that I wish to share with you. I call it open training. In a nutshell: I collaborate with my clients, creating personalized training just for them. In this process, we get to know each other, run experiments, and solve real business problems. The outcome is better group dynamics, higher individual satisfaction, and immediate business results.

Everyone in need of training should use this method. 

The one-on-one call

It all starts with getting to know each other. I plan at least a 30 minutes call with each participant. This often translates into multiple hours spent one-on-one with the participants. These calls are free-flowing conversations, but I make sure to address these crucial points:

Roles: what is their role in the company or team.

Contributions: where do they feel they add the most value.

Outcomes: what is the expected training outcome for them as individuals and for the team at large.

Blockers: what are the main issues that are in the way of getting to the desired outcomes. 

These initial calls are already part of the training. It’s a phase of the process where the trainer learns about the trainee. 

I know many consultants and trainers will create a free training project as part of their commercial proposal. With this approach, rather than surfacing at the proposal stage, the training ideas become part of the actual work. 

That’s why the one-on-one calls only start once the project has been budgeted, approved and kicked off by the client.

After these calls, I know exactly what materials to use for the first module of open training: The Who.

The Who

In this first group session, I bring to the table methods and materials to understand who we are. As a company, as a team, as individuals. 

This process of self-recognition often includes very practical materials like case studies. A sales team, for instance, can learn from the sales practices of a company in a different sector. A group of marketers can benefit from a refresher on the principles of their specific branch of marketing. A group of communicators can benefit from a reminder of storytelling techniques

I don’t deliver lessons. Instead, during The Who, I rarely speak. I usually ask questions and let the group educate themselves through their own knowledge. 

Once I notice that the group has good chemistry and that much knowledge has surfaced, I only add my two cents by drawing from my toolbox of communication, marketing, and technology techniques and cases. 

This first session is lots of fun. But it’s just a teaser for the work to come. The following session is much more challenging.

The Problem

To solve problems, you have to get your hands dirty. In the second session, we dig into the muck. 

Some Blockers already surfaced during the one-on-one calls. Now is the team’s time to be vulnerable and brave: they need to speak out about their shortcomings. 

Here the trainer is nudging the client to open up and reveal the real issue. When needed, they will step up and tell what they have observed.

It’s not a matter of finger-pointing. The trainer can help by framing the issue with the right words. These words need to contain already the seeds of the solution that they are going to bring. 

The session ends with a teaser: the group needs to transition from Blockers and Problems to Questions. What question would lead to the most significant amount of learning in the context of the Problem?

The Question

During The Question, the group needs to summarize the abstract issue into a question that we can answer together. 

The question finds an answer in data and figures. The trainer asks the client to surface any insight that might be buried in data. 

During this phase, we often encounter gaps in what we know. Not all knowledge gaps are equally important. Asking all the questions (and filling all the gaps) is not the point. 

The objective is to find the Question that will enable the most learning. The trainer already has a hunch what this Question may be. The client needs to get to the Question on their own, gently nudged by the trainer. 

The salespeople in the previous example might need to verify how a particular type of prospect reacts to their sales pitch. The marketers may need to make changes in their funnel or run a new sort of campaign. The communicators may need to present a new story in front of a new audience. 

The Toolbox

Once the Question is clear, the group needs to find a way to answer it. 

They need to express or acquire the necessary skills to find a way to answer the Question successfully and in good time. The Who will have informed the trainer about all the skills available in the group. 

The trainer’s role will be to integrate the group’s knowledge with the skills needed to answer the Question in the least possible time, at the least cost, while assuring the best result. 

Learning is hands-on and purposeful when new techniques need to be applied immediately. The trainer can take advantage of the learners’ excitement and accelerate the pedagogical intervention’s pace and intensity.  

The Experiment

It’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work. We know Who we are, we know the Problem, asked the Question. Now it’s time to use the Toolbox and get us some answers.

Under the caring eye of the trainer, the group will set to run the Experiment. They will find the necessary resources, configure the tools, and start working. 

If the team needs support, the trainer will collaborate with them. They are a team-member like any other and need to work just as hard. 

During The Experiment, there will be much communication going on.

The group will share many small doubts, several blockers, a few missteps, and some breakthroughs. 

The goal of The Experiment is to gather fresh insights and answers through data. What will we do with all this data? 

The Answer

Answers come in all forms: Yes. No. Profit. Loss. 2,345 $. 3 feet. Cerulean. 42.

The purpose of the training is to learn something new from the Answer. The Answer needs interpretation. Once again, the group comes together for a big call. Everyone expresses their opinion and shares their view on the data. 

A single number can be seen from different perspectives, compared to various benchmarks, and reduced to different percentages. If we expressed the Question in the right way, we would have an unambiguous answer.

Our sales group will know that a set percentage of their prospects are ready to buy their product. Our marketers will learn that reaching a specific audience costs a certain amount of Euros. Our communicators’ group will know that their story has been liked and shared by a specific portion of their audience.

The Process

There is no time for a formal wrap up. During the last meeting of an open training we set the stage for a new cycle. 

Our Answer will always create new opportunities. A new aspect of the Problem has probably emerged. This calls for the group to ask and answer a new Question. 

This training is a process. Each time you get an Answer, you gain access to a new set of Questions

Something has changed: your group now owns a process. They know precisely how to proceed. 

They can decide to continue on their own or keep their trainer in the loop for another cycle. Either way, they are not alone. They have open training to support them. 

Conclusions

I hope you start using this method in all your training. There is no other way I would create a pedagogical environment inside a company. 

Here are a few advantages that persuaded me that this is the way to go:

Team Building & Collaboration: individuals need to work together for the success of this training by opening to each other and creating new connections.

Constant Learning: the concept comes to life as the group learns how to fill their knowledge gaps and transfer knowledge horizontally between team members.

Goal Orientation: by setting and reaching goals, the training provides a strong sense of accomplishment and satisfaction.

Business Results: by intervening directly in the business processes, the training is not something other than work. It’s just better work. 

Finally, from the trainer’s point of view, this process provides the client with a much higher level of satisfaction. Their trust in the trainer will increase. Moreover, they will see the benefit of repeated engagements to solve even more issues. 

What are the drawbacks? There are a few, but they are on the trainer’s shoulders. Creating custom training environments for each client is time-consuming and does not scale. But trainers love two things: their material and the look of understanding and empowerment they see in their client’s eyes. And you would do anything to see that look, wouldn’t you? 

Thanks for accompanying me this far. If you want to read more articles like this one, the best way is to subscribe to my newsletter.

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