Building Bridges

“Begin with the end in mind”?

By Sheree Galpert, guest blogger

“Begin with the end in mind.” That’s one of the key habits laid out by Stephen R. Covey in his best-selling book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. For instructional designers and trainers, that’s kind of a no-brainer: You have to know what you want your learners to get from your lessons before you can plan or deliver your curriculum. I’m an Applied Improv (AI) practitioner and trainer, which means that I use improvisation-based activities with my clients to develop skills, deliver content, and enhance work processes.

You might think that improvisation, which is so much about being in the moment and letting things unfold in completely unpredictable ways, wouldn’t be a particularly effective methodology for a trainer. Yes, and* sometimes you’d be exactly right: If you’re designing or delivering specific content that is highly technical, or if there’s no room in the curriculum for individuals to engage with the content in a way that is particularly meaningful and memorable for them, then, yeah, I’d probably advise not using AI to deliver your content.
(*See what I did there? “Yes, and” is one of improv’s core principles, and it means accept what has been offered and build on it.)

You’d still be well-advised, however, to use AI on yourself.

Say what?

Yes—on yourself! Stay with me on this. In addition to “yes, and,” two other fundamentals of improv are “be in the moment” and “make your partner look good.” In Learning and Development, your “partner” is the learner.

Think about the best trainers you’ve encountered. They are people who can:

  • meet their learners where they’re at, continuously identifying what participants need (“be in the moment”),
  • build effectively on their questions or suggestions, resistance or confusion (“yes, and”), and
  • help the participants meet their learning goals (“make your partner look good”).

The same goes for curriculum designers. You need to be able to:

  • assess how much your intended audiences know (“be in the moment”),
  • arrange your “building blocks” to sequence the content you’re designing (“yes, and”), and
  • stack the deck for success—develop a curriculum that will enhance your audiences’ skills, awareness, or knowledge (“make your partner look good”).

So, yeah, like I said—improv.

Now back to paragraph one. As for “beginning with the end in mind” when I do AI-based training with clients, first I identify what “takeaways” I want them to have. Am I focusing on deep listening, or creating mutually supportive environments, or giving effective feedback, or dealing with ambiguity and the unknown (we’ve all gotten a lot of practice with that since Covid hit, right?), or something else? I also need to have a solid understanding of what kinds of learnings the different activities in my inventory can yield—what interpersonal dynamics do they tend to evoke? How might perspectives shift? What do people typically become aware of in terms of their roles on a team?

So, yeah, I absolutely begin with the end in mind: I need to know what learning I want, and choose the activities that I think will best support their experience. And then I work (more like play, actually) with my participants to ground us all in “yes, and,” being in the moment, and making each other look good.

I’d like to thank Irene Stern Frielich for inviting me to be a guest blogger. Talk about amazing instructional design! She makes all her partners—and clients—look good!

Want to learn more about how to use Applied Improv?  The Improv Lab, run by Sheree Galpert, is open to trainers/facilitators in the Boston area on the second Saturday of every month from 2-3:30 ET. In person (outside) through summer; starting in the fall, it will be online and open to people who are anywhere! Private message Sheree via LinkedIn.