Disruption is an incredible opportunity to shine in new areas and to help others bring forward previously unknown skills. As a learning professional, you have espoused the importance of the growth mindset. It is important that we use our own reaction to disruptions in work and training settings as a model to help others find the positive even in frustrating times. Let’s face it, no matter how wonderful a planner you may be, you cannot control every detail of a learning experience (or even every moment of your workday). For example, while reading this article, you might be disrupted by an email alert or text ping — or maybe you left for a coffee refill and this is your second time trying to focus on the article.

There is a high chance you just went to check your email because I just reminded you of it. However, now that you are back reading the article from that small disruption, you likely have focus because you are motivated to finish what you started. And with your renewed focus, let’s dive into disruption without further interruptions.

Understanding Disruption

Definitions of disruption tend to be negative. You will see words like “break,” “disturbance” and “interrupt” in many formal descriptions. And while those are the core meaning of disruption, there is a bias toward the assumption that what is being “disrupted” is always harmed by change. To deepen understanding of disruption, move beyond just “break” and embrace the idea of innovation. To maximize disruption as an instigator of good change, we need to acknowledge these elements:

  • Disruptions can be major (workforce shifting from office to virtual within three business days) or minor (call runs late, making the start of next meeting a few minutes late).
  • Disruptions can be self-induced (deciding to get that coffee refill) or externally triggered (weather causes power outage).
  • Disruptions can be purposeful (going on a walk to clear your head) or unexpected (person sends delegate to meeting requiring budget decision).

A disruption can of course be harmful, but in some settings, it can be exactly what is needed to spark much needed change in communication, process and workflow.

Disruption: The Show Must Go On

Look no further than late night TV for a recent example of widespread disruption. In March 2020, live “late night” TV shows across the major broadcast networks (i.e., The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, Late Night With Seth Meyers) all experienced disruption. Immediate safety protocols in response to the COVID-19 pandemic were enacted in their respective studio locations, including prohibiting large crowds. If your product is driven by a large, live studio audience and the use of customized broadcast equipment bolted to the studio floor … well, no audience and no equipment access is a disruption. These shows could have responded to the disruption by closing for good. Instead, living the mantra “the show must go on” they adjusted to the disruption with changes in environment, content and delivery

The shows were able to move from the disruption of leaving their studios to finding new ways to connect with their audiences in reduced-scope shows. The hosts themselves openly acknowledged the shared reality of changes due to public health regulations — speaking from their homes rather than their studios — and thus fostered community with their audience. And in different ways, each of those late-night shows took disruption and used it as a spark to find new ways to do their job. Were the shows the same coming from a host speaking to a lone camera guy while they sat in an attic versus a polished studio packed with adoring fans? No. However, the disruption of the norm was embraced and changes made to ensure a way to continue the work was found. Different is not always better, but it is not always completely bad either.

Disruption Is Your Friend

Whether you are a trainer in the classroom or a workforce consultant in the business, you know disruption will happen. You can react by giving up, or you can embrace the saying, “the show must go on,” and use disruption to find new ways to reach goals. The new ways can sometimes save money or spark renewed interest in the work. Let’s look at different scenarios to highlight how the learning professional can model the growth mindset in response to disruption.

Adapt to Training in Different Delivery Formats

For on-the-job training, on-site classrooms, virtual classes and hybrid learning settings, there will almost always be some level of disruption to your plan. The change can be dramatic — like moving from on-site to virtual with little turnaround time. Or, on a smaller scale, the disruption of someone coming to the session late.

To turn disruption based in training delivery into a growth mindset opportunity:

  • Focus your energy on being prepared for what you can change or influence and away from the pointless effort of preventing all disruption. For example, use breakout chat rooms instead of small groups for class discussions.
  • Acknowledge feelings of those being impacted by the disruption but with focus on benefits and moving forward. Ask others what they liked about things before the disruption and acknowledge those feelings instead of dismissing them as no longer relevant. You are modeling the approach of dealing with emotions but not dwelling too deeply in them.
  • Experiment with new tools, with a focus on desired outcomes, rather than just complaining about how you miss doing it the previous way. When moving from on-site to virtual, for example, saying you love the energy of a whiteboard session but are excited to try a new online version is a way to acknowledge disruption of the norm but not being bogged down by it.

As a trainer, help those who are resistant to different training delivery see possibilities and benefits.

Deepen Emotional Intelligence Skills

In 2020, when many office jobs suddenly shifted into home spaces across the country, decades-old, rigid office social protocols were disrupted. Work meetings (and some live news broadcasts) had kids walking into them, dogs barking in the background, cats walking in front of screens and roommates talking loudly on the phone nearby. How you reacted to the disruption of meeting settings and meeting environment is a wealth of lessons learned for growing emotional intelligence skills.

To turn disruption of meeting environment into an emotional intelligence skill opportunity:

  • Model a productive and adaptable mindset when disruption occurs. For example, do not spend the first 15 minutes of your virtual class talking about how you’d rather be in the office training room. Be present in the learning environment you are using in that moment. That will help your students focus on what they are learning instead of wishing it was different.
  • Address recurring issues in a confidential and respectful manner. Do not call someone out in front of the other team members regarding distractions due to home settings. Outside of the classroom or meeting, connect with that team member to address concerns and hopefully learn more about the cause of the disruption so that together you can find solutions for productivity. This approach demonstrates compassion and grace.
  • Continue to emphasize team culture even if you do it in new ways. Disrupt traditional office culture norms (pizza lunch, break room chat) to incorporate deliberate means to build connections. You may be able to connect with more people because you are being deliberate in what you want to achieve rather than leaving it to chance (or your extroverts).

The forced shift from strict office environment to work-at-home has the benefit of fostering more acceptance of disruption. With the return to office environments, do not lose the adaptable mindset or emotional intelligence needed to navigate disruption.

Disruption: Make Friends Not Foes

With these examples and tips, you can better recognize in yourself how to see disruption as an opportunity and thus empower others to do so. As that Charles Swindoll saying goes, “Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” Being able to adapt to change increases the positive impact the learning professional has on the organization.