Most of us have worked in training departments where everything is fairly coordinated and runs smoothly. But in some training departments, coordination and routine are foreign concepts.

Fixing this type of problem isn’t easy, but there is hope. Even the worst training department can be improved, as long as everyone helps with the solution.

The three major steps to organizing a training department are:

  1. Assessing the damage: Take a good look at your department and find out what areas need improvement or change to make the department run more efficiently.
  2. Designing a plan of action: Decide what to do to fix each problem, how much it will cost in time and money, and how to delegate responsibility for each correction.
  3. Implement the plan: Assess the corrections, see if they are working by monitoring performance, reassess any problems that need a second look, and make the final changes.

This article discusses the first step in turning a nightmare training department into a dream come true. I will explain the other two steps in the process in later articles.

Assessing the damage
To determine what needs repair in your training department, take a look at how the department currently handles communication, organization, and scheduling. Following are questions I would ask in a department assessment. You’ll probably have some questions of your own to add to make the needs analysis fit your own organization.

Communication within the department

  • Are your trainers’ offices close enough so that they can easily approach each other to exchange ideas? (Trading training ideas, dealing with difficult customers, sharing IT information, etc., is important in forming a cohesive training team.)
    If the trainers can’t be moved, is there software available on the network to facilitate private meetings, such as NetMeeting, etc.? Or, is there access to a chat room and a weekly scheduled chat so that training information can be shared?
  • Does the department manager have regular face-to-face meetings with the trainers to address ongoing problems and complaints? If problems and complaints are not addressed in a timely fashion, they can escalate into situations that make work uncomfortable and the worker unhappy. This is not conducive to effective training.
    If face-to-face meetings are not feasible, again, are online meetings or chats possible? Are these meetings or chats scheduled and posted so that everyone knows the time and place?
  • How is information shared within the department? Is there an assigned folder on the network? A bulletin board in a centralized area? An e-mail to the trainers each day? A message of the day that pops up as the training group users log in?
  • Is there a written policy for voicing ideas, complaints, and suggestions that is easy to follow and not intimidating? (An atmosphere that encourages trainers to share suggestions and information keeps fresh ideas flowing and your department aware of what’s new within the industry.)
  • Do you have student surveys for each instructor to distribute at the end of each class? Do you do the follow-up work, as well, and use student feedback to make changes and review performance? Are the surveys kept in a database form so those queries can be made?

Organization of materials and classroom

  • Are all training materials located in a centralized, easy-to-find place, and are they in order, properly labeled, and filed in an organizer that makes it easy to access materials? If materials are difficult to find, time and money are wasted, frustration levels increase, and effectiveness decreases.
  • Is someone (or more than one person) responsible for keeping materials in order, making copies, and putting them in the file organizer where they belong? Is there a written policy on this? Are there copies accessible on the network if they are needed quickly? Who is in charge of updating materials as changes are needed?
  • Is there a good cart available to transport training materials and is it available at all times?
    One training department I knew had to share its classroom with other departments, so all laptops, accessories, handouts, etc., had to be transported along with the hub and the cables each morning and taken down each evening. This made having the right cart a necessity.
  • Is there a standardized setup for classrooms that can be accessed by the trainers at all times? Keeping the computers and the classroom setup the same decreases the time spent in setup and cleanup.
  • Do you have a set format for designing and printing out training materials so that they are uniform in appearance and easy to follow?

Schedules of classes and trainers

  • Are all trainers cross-trained so that they can fill in for each other? Also, is there always someone kept out of the training schedule so that he or she can be available to fill in for someone who is ill or absent? If you don’t plan ahead, unexpected absences or a lack of knowledge by the fill-in trainer can cause major problems.
  • Does someone maintain and post the training schedule to keep track of who is teaching what class, when they are teaching it, and where?

A good start on the repairs
These questions will help you assess the state of your department and understand its strengths and weaknesses.

So, decide which questions pertain to your department, assign particular staff members to find answers to those questions, and make sure those answers are complete. In my next article I’ll talk about how to design a plan of action to address any problems you may uncover.
Are the lines of communication open? When was the last time you cast a critical eye over your organization? Tell us how and how often you review your own work to make sure everything is working as it should.