Intense Training is Important for Technical Teams - Here's How to Do It

There's a commonality amongst everyone who competes: they train. So we have to ask ourselves: Why aren't we training our teams the same way athletes train for competition? Why do we settle for just reading the manual during initial onboarding and maybe a weekly meeting to go over metrics and results?

The answer is: We shouldn't settle. We should train... and train as a team.

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I had some amazing colleagues who have the natural gift of confidence. They can walk into any client and become their trusted advisor in no time. However, not everyone in the PS space is naturally talented in that way, and even those who are they may find their skills dull over time. How do we train up our teams so we stay sharp and confident in front of our clients?

One of the ways is an exercise I shamelessly "borrowed" from our sales team called "Iron Sharpening Iron", or ISI for short. Think WWE tag-team wrestling, but instead of body slams we exercise our verbal sparring skills.

Here is how an ISI meeting works:

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  • The team gathers and sits around the conference room. Laptops are closed and phones are set on silent to prevent interruptions.
  • To start, Person A proposes a question or scenario that they encountered during a client interaction. The team member usually would enter into a roleplay and asks the question as if she were the client.
  • Person B attempts a response in character. 
  • The team would give the Person B about 10 seconds to start a response. If the answer is meandering or inaccurate, the team leader (or anyone in the room, really) would politely interrupt and propose another solution. If the team believes the solution is acceptable, Person B then re-answers the question.
  • If Person B's answer is "on-point", she continues with her answer
  • The team provides to Person B honest and critical feedback on content and delivery

Once feedback is complete, Person B becomes the questioner and proposes a scenario to Person C. Rinse and repeat until the team has run out of time or questions.

Looking from the outside, this entire exercise can seem very intense and exhausting, but the team often comes out of the meeting feeling positive and more ready to tackle the problems of the day. Why is that?

  • Everyone Participates, Everyone Learns - The person questioning and answering are not the only ones actively participating. The entire room is engaged because they're assessing every answer even though they aren't part of the active exercise. 
  • Build Confidence Amongst Ourselves - The snappy nature of the exercise provides a safe space for the team to trial their confidence-setting client responses in quick succession. Everyone can provide a quick and confident answer, it just takes practice. There's no better group of people to practice with than colleagues who have your back.
  • Build Confidence Amongst our Clients - Let's not be naive here: if one client has a problem, the rest of our client base probably has the same problem. Having a solid response to a problem at the ready generates a lot of confidence with our clients: It shows we're ready for any scenario they can throw at us.
  • A Diversity of Voices Improves Our Own Answers - Often we repeat our own answers so many times that we forget the fact that we may actually not have the best answer. I often remind myself: I'm probably the dumbest one in the group, so someone else will likely have a better answer than I. Working with our colleagues allows us to take advantage of the different perspectives across our team, and when we debate to come up with a better answer, we all improve as a result.
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So how do we get started?

  • Run the first ISI based on the basics of what your team does with your clients. It could be typical implementation questions or roadblocks that every client runs into at one point or another.
  • After the first couple of training sessions, start working current events into the question mix: have the team recall questions, problems, and scenarios from their recent client meetings
  • When a major rollout is coming up, train and sharpen your team with anticipated questions and problems. Bring in subject matter experts who can help vet answers and solutions

Consistency and frequency is the key. Run these training sessions at least once a week (the sales team ran 2 two-hour sessions every week) and encourage the team to train hard, get exhausted, and help build others to become stronger with every session.