A training task force (TTF) consists of one or more employees who follow an organized plan for drafting training material, usually of a technical nature, that is obviously beyond the capability of in-house program developers. The desired training material is usually ex¬pected to meet a tight target date, be accurate and have credibility.
If managed according to the guidelines set forth in this article, a training task force can accomplish all these objectives. In return, TTF team members receive invaluable exposure to top-level management, thus facilitating their career development. Allstate’s training department frequently uses training task forces be-cause of its large, decentralized structure and because of its high quality standards.
About two years ago, for example, Allstate committed itself to designing and building a total train¬ing program for new employees in a major department throughout the country. The subject of the program was our complex work-processing system, which ties in extensively with a computer operation. We were responsible for developing a training program that would serve as an introduction to the system. The second phase of the program— on-the-job training administered locally by each branch office— was too localized to lend itself to the development of standardized training material for nationwide use.
Fortunately, people with appropriate technical backgrounds were al¬ready on the training department staff. The supervisor of the unit responsible for developing the program had extensive experience himself in the system. Unfortunately, just as final plans were being made to launch the development, the supervisor re¬signed, taking with him roughly 50% of the technical expertise available in the unit and all the advance planning done on the project so far. In other words, the unit would have to start from scratch.
Six people, who, with one exception, had no working experience with the subject of the program, would have to complete the training program by a specific deadline. Our solution to what seemed an insurmountable problem was to assemble a training task force.
Probably the most important requirement was the need to demon¬strate credibility, which is essential in our organization. We had to produce a program that could work in Allstate’s “real world” (field). If the final program was justifiably criticized for any reason, any future training programs and materials would be received with considerable skepticism. Of course, before we could convince the field of the credibility of this new program, we had to convince our in house clients at Allstate the department managers, usually company officers, who literally pay the production costs of any training material developed by the training department. The training department absorbs development costs in the form of compensation.
The next step, after charting our course and obtaining the necessary approvals, was to assemble the team. This process went very smoothly and, ultimately, paid handsome dividends. Fortunately, we were able to obtain exactly the kind of people the training department requested. The four participants, who represented each of Allstate’s four main segments eastern, midwestern, southern and western were experienced in the subject matter, highly motivated, able to follow directions well, cooperative and capable of productive teamwork. They embodied exactly the image we wanted our new program to have.
Each member of the TTF had both a thorough technical knowledge of the subject matter of the course and a specialist’s insight into a different aspect of the course content. For example, one was a data-processing expert, another knew accounting and the third and fourth members were operating professionals. Taken to-gether, their expertise represented a total working familiarity with every aspect of the subject matter. Thus, there was no need for extensive re¬search by members of the home office training department.
Of course, the training people still had to prepare for the arrival of the task force. Early on in the evolution of the project, the trainers thoroughly reviewed several of the “best” existing training programs on the same subject. Although none of these was appropriate for Allstate, the existing programs provided a clue as to what we might consider for countrywide adaptation.
In order to be at least conversant with the course content and to under¬stand the vocabulary of the field ex¬perts, the trainers took a basic course covering the workflow processing sys¬tem. They read updated copies of all available pertinent documentation. And, together, they brainstormed questions they intended to ask the field experts.
To facilitate the task-force operation, the trainers developed and mailed a personalized welcome letter, communicating specific instructions, to each task-force member. Included were objectives for the two weeks the task force would be in session, infor¬mation about motel accommodations and transportation arrangements and other pertinent details regarding the members’ assignment.
The objective of the two-week mis¬sion was to develop first drafts of a series of training modules that, to¬gether, would represent the course. These drafts were to be based on writ¬ten, approved behavioral objectives that the trainers had previously laid out. The field task force would provide the technical expertise and the train¬ing department the training exper¬tise. Then, after the task force left home office to return to their regular jobs, the trainers would construct final drafts from the task force’s submissions. The material then would be field tested, produced and distributed.
The two-week session began with a half-day orientation for all task-force members. The objectives were to ac¬quaint the TTF members with their new environment and to communicate the schedule of activities for the two weeks. In addition, the following topics were covered: overall project objectives, task-force member re¬sponsibilities, training department responsibilities, and questions and answers.
The next three days provided an opportunity for brainstorming the content of the proposed training ses¬sions. Each TTF member paired off with a training department staff per¬son to discuss the individual sessions for which he or she was responsible. For the remainder of the first work week, TTF members and all training department personnel working on the project reviewed the brainstorming sessions. The primary purpose of the reviews was to evaluate and, eventually, approve the technical accuracy and content completeness of each session. On the fifth day, upcoming activities for the second week were also reviewed.
Week two began with a le¬ture/workshop on session plans con¬ducted by the training department for TTF members. The next two and a half days were devoted to session plan development; one session plan was written for each subject on which training was to be provided. As the TTF wrote the session plans, the training department provided as¬sistance and spot-checking.
The final two days of the two-week stay were reserved for the TTF members to present the training sessions they had worked on. All task-force and training department members at¬tended these presentations.
The first post-task-force activity involved assigning responsibility to training department representatives for selecting the instructional method or technique for each of the 11 mod¬ules in the program. To develop pre-production modules, the trainers had to refine the session plans developed by the task-force members. They also had to develop first-draft scripts, self-study texts and so on.
The next post-task-force activity was to send the pre-production train¬ing modules to the task-force mem¬bers for their review and approval. Thus, the TTF could see its input in near-final form and provide addi¬tional comments and suggestions as required.
After receiving the modules, to¬gether with the feedback from the TTF, the training department began developing the final version of the training modules. After the self-checking training manual was printed, it was shipped air mail to the branch offices. Although it is still too soon to discuss program evaluation, initial reaction has been excellent.
The training task-force approach enabled us to produce a -complete training program in remarkably little time. Aside from research time, the guts of the program were available in about two weeks. If we hadn’t used a task-force approach, drafting the technical content alone would have taken considerably longer.
Furthermore, the program’s success was virtually guaranteed even before the manuals were sent to the field. The TTF infused credibility into the program. The application of the par¬ticipative management process sought and received the field employees’ sanction, ensuring that they will use the program as intended.
Third, the field testing process weeded out most, if not all, potential errors. Of course, there’s always the possibility of mistakes, but with a TTF, their likelihood is minimized.
Fourth and finally, the staff involved in the assignment, particu¬larly the TTF, benefited from expo¬sure to top management provided by the task force. And training depart¬ment members expanded their net¬work of contacts and advisers.
When weighed against these benefits, the cost of using a TTF appears insignificant. Divided by the number of trainees who will eventually go through the program and highlighted by the credibility factor, a TTF becomes extremely cost-effective.
So if you’re ever under the gun to develop a training program with a tight deadline, low-error ratio and high credibility and if you’re not an expert in the content of the proposed course, you do have an option. Instead of canceling or postponing the project, consider writing a proposal for using
a training task force.
Source : Training Magazine