By Ricky Spears, Senior Instructor and Director of Training, SharePoint Solutions
Organizations of all sizes are implementing software and systems to improve how information is created, shared, and discovered. Some organizations may use a single collaborative portal software product that does almost everything (such as Microsoft SharePoint, IBM WebSphere, or Oracle WebCenter), or they may use a variety and mixture of individual tools (such as Evernote, Basecamp/Backpack, Wikimedia, Yammer, and/or Google Sites). Regardless of the platforms and features selected, employees still must be trained to use them.
Traditionally, software trainers have focused on how a particular software package works. For example, an employee learning to use a spreadsheet program just needs to learn how to enter information, how to utilize formulas, or how to create a chart. After learning how to do things, the employee is prepared to utilize those skills to solve business problems he or she encounters. However, the problems that collaborative software solves are typically much broader, deeper, and less obvious than ones most desktop software address, so different training methods are required.
To be effective, training for collaborative software must extend beyond the how to also incorporate the who, what, when, where, and why. If employees are taught only how to perform common collaborative tasks, it’s unlikely they will see the benefits of doing things in a new way—especially if they think the current way they are doing things is working just fine. Training that goes beyond the why aspects of collaborative software can greatly increase employee usage and reap huge organizational benefits.
Here are some best practices I use to make collaborative software training effective:
Choosing Effective Instructors to Teach Collaborative Software
In addition to knowing how to use the software proficiently, instructors must understand the organization’s business, the role the software will play in its overall productivity, and each student’s role. Trainers become “champions” of both the software and the strategic plan for the software. Therefore, the more familiar an instructor is with various areas of the business, the better she will understand how the strategic plan affects and interacts with it. The more the instructor understands her student’s individual roles within the business, the better she will be at explaining the benefits of the software to those employees.
Instructors in public classes should have a broad understanding of business; a variety of general and specific practices that exist in most businesses; and an understanding of common organizational strategic plans for the software. At the beginning of a public training class, instructors need to spend some time learning about the student’s company, the challenges it faces and the student’s role.
Lab Environment and Courseware for Teaching Collaborative Software
When employees begin learning to use a new collaborative platform, they need access to a software environment similar to the production environment in which they will be working. The more similar the two environments, the easier it will be for employees to adapt the skills they learn in class and put them to practical use in their jobs. It’s especially helpful for students to work in a test environment after class where they can experiment without fear of messing something up.
Instruction should focus on solving real-world business problems rather than just teaching software features. After instructors demonstrate how to perform a particular task using the software (along with explaining how that task benefits both the organization and the student), it’s important that students perform similar tasks on their own.
In public training classes, using a fictional case study company can be a helpful tool to facilitate learning. Students should receive printed manuals containing detailed instructions, along with individual sandbox (test) environments where they can work and explore.
Teach Collaboration from Many Perspectives
Most of the benefits individuals receive from using collaboration software come from the information others put into the platform. This is true for all collaborative tools, both inside and outside the enterprise. For example, consider Facebook—it’s a collaborative platform for creating, sharing, and discovering information. Each user benefits most from the information others put into Facebook, rather than the information the user puts into it himself. A user may not get much personal benefit from sharing pictures, his opinion about a movie or restaurant, or answering questions posed to a group, but he reaps benefits when others do these things. The more each user contributes information, the more valuable Facebook becomes to all users.
Students need to understand the mindset of the other people who will be consuming and using the information they create, and experience the environment as others will. This is best accomplished by giving students tasks users in other roles might do, and then having the student log into the lab environment as these different users to accomplish those tasks. Students often are surprised to see the ways others use the information they create, and to discover this information can appear differently to others.
Teaching Advanced Concepts and Usage
After users have become proficient at the basics of using collaborative software, they likely can learn more advanced concepts through traditional how to instructional methods. At this point, students probably have identified specific business problems to solve and want to utilize the collaborative platform in the solution.
Moving from “Have to” to “Get to”
The same employees who spend hours each evening on Facebook are often hesitant to do similar things in the collaborative environment at work. Facebook is something they “get to do,” while the new enterprise software adds more work they “have to do.” At the end of the SharePoint classes I teach, most students are excited about the possibilities of the software and leave the classroom looking forward to using it. Some of them even tell me later how much fun they have “playing SharePoint.” I believe that if you follow the principles I’ve shared when you are training employees to use collaborative software, they will be far less resistant to using it and will expand its application far beyond what you taught them in class.
Ricky Spears is senior instructor and director of Training for Nashville, TN-based SharePoint Solutions, a Microsoft Certified Partner, and a nationwide leader in expert-led public and private classes on SharePoint products and technologies. The company’s software division professionally develops high-quality commercial add-ons for SharePoint. Spears can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 336.259.2956.end_of_the_skype_highlighting