Onboarding, team building and engagement training share a common purpose: to connect people to work. Employees usually experience these trainings in that sequence: Onboarding orients them to a new organization, team building strengthens colleague bonds as work progresses and engagement delivers a boost when enthusiasm droops.
While these three types of training share a common purpose, they share a common failing, too: They no longer work.
Onboarding typically covers organizational structure, culture, policies and the day-to-day logistics of going to work. Those are important topics, to be sure. But to what extent do typical onboarding sessions explicitly illustrate how the new organization, division or team actually works and how each new employee fits in?
As work progresses, team-building exercises can make interpersonal relationships more explicit, leading to greater trust. That is important. But do such exercises make trainees confident that they and their colleagues share the same understanding of how their teams actually work and how each of them fits in?
Finally, falling engagement scores suggest that employees need a more powerful emotional connection to the enterprise. To recognize employees’ personal stake in the organization, employers offer flextime, manager training or other benefits. These actions may help, but do they give employees greater collective understanding and responsibility over the operations with which they have been entrusted?
There are two simple reasons why these types of training no longer work. First, organizations are systems. Few people can understand even the simplest system without the help of clear visual diagrams — plus a shared language for describing system components. Yet we explain systems using words alone, without teaching the needed vocabulary. The result is incomprehension; confusion; or, worst of all, disengagement.
Second, most training is passive and based on exhortation, the least effective form of teaching. Such training misses the opportunity to challenge and engage participants to collaboratively describe their personal and collective roles in the system that is their workplace.
Fortunately, there is an approach that overcomes these shortcomings and is appropriate for all three training applications. It is based on business models: the logic by which individuals, teams or enterprises create and deliver value and are compensated for doing so.
A business model uses a “canvas” tool to visually describe how an enterprise works using an agreed-upon vocabulary that describes each of nine system components. You can use the same tool to draw models at group or individual levels, clarifying how people fit into teams and how teams fit into the enterprise. Thousands of organizations around the world have discovered that when employees collaboratively construct the business models within which they operate, they become powerfully connected to their work.
Arnulv Rudman discovered this process for himself while onboarding a dozen hires for a new subsidiary on behalf of Atos Consulting. He started by sharing the enterprise model of the new firm and then asked trainees to draw their own personal business models as they related to the enterprise. The results, he says, were astonishing.
“It was like a party,” Rudman says. “People had terrific fun. In a single day, they got to know each other better than they might after two years of working together.” Rudman plans to repeat his business model-based onboardings with a dozen new hires each month until the unit has 100 employees.
Dennis Daems is another evangelist for business model-based training. Over the past five years, he has used the method with 500 employees for onboarding, team building and ongoing professional development. Since Daems began, his employer’s net promoter score, a measure of customer satisfaction, has improved 20 percent, and employee turnover has dropped six percent.
With the advent of the canvas tool, available free of charge under a Creative Commons license, the business model approach is accessible to all organizations. Now, enterprises as diverse as Google, HP, General Electric and EY are discovering three types of training that really work.