If L&D Professionals Don’t Set Clear Expectations, Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt

Last week, as part of a teambuilding activity, I played paintball with some co-workers. Before we were allowed to fire away at each other, we were given a mandatory “briefing” during which the rules of engagement were explained.

  1. The goal was to capture the flag
  2. Wear protective masks at all time
  3. Do not aim for someone’s head
  4. If you’re hit, you’re “dead” and you need to run back to a specified area of the field to “seek medical attention” before you can re-engage in the paintball fight

As we got going, I spied two co-workers and I opened fire. I hit them both, then I made a break to capture the flag. When I ran into the open, I was stunned to see a co-worker, who had just been “killed”, pop up from his position. It was like a scene from The Walking Dead. He was “re-animated” without ever having sought medical attention. The dead guy opened fire on me.

And he hit me in the shoulder. And the bicep. And tricep. And the funny bone. And the rib cage. And the leg. And he practically blew my hand off when he hit me on the middle finger of my left hand. (Below is a photo of the real-life medical attention I needed in order to avoid amputation.)

Paintball

During the initial paintball briefing, the rules were clear to me. But they obviously weren’t clear to everyone. And blood was literally shed as a result. (To be fair, there were no clean hands in this matter… the “kill shot” that should have knocked my co-worker out was a shot to the head, right between the eyes… which was not only against the rules, but because he had yellow paint splattered across his face mask, he couldn’t see if he had hit me and therefore kept shooting.)

Implications for L&D Professionals

  1. Practice giving instructions before you get in front of your audience. There are times when we come up with an activity that we think will really make our point crystal clear. But when we try getting our audience to do the activity, chaos breaks out and it doesn’t quite go as neatly as it did in our imaginations. I’ve found that practicing the delivery of activity instructions in front of the mirror or in front of a few trusted co-workers can be very helpful in ensuring the instructions will make sense to the audience and lead to the intended results.
  2. Model what is expected. There are times that we’ll work with subject matter experts or people unaccustomed to effective presentation design. For example, I often work with colleagues and clients and ask them to create a lesson plan to organize their thoughts around their content. I’ve found that when I give them a completed sample lesson plan, it becomes much more clear about what the expectations are in terms of how to fill out the plan, how much detail to include, etc. The same can be said about activities or assignments we ask our audience to complete during a presentation. Modeling what is expected will give the audience a much better picture of what is expected of them.

If only our paintball guide had modelled the appropriate behavior of what to do once you got hit, I might still have the full range of motion in my middle finger!

2 thoughts on “If L&D Professionals Don’t Set Clear Expectations, Someone’s Gonna Get Hurt

  1. Here are a few rules that I have found helpful when giving directions:If it involves physical movement: Say “In just a moment I will ask you to…” this gives everyone a clear signal when to start so that everyone begins together. If the directions are complex, write them down on a flip chart, PPT slide, or handout. Always ask, “What may I clarify for you before we begin”?

    • Thanks Priscilla – the visual directions on PPT is very helpful. And I love that suggestion: “In just a moment…” because it helps keep everyone’s attention (once they break up and start doing the activity, it’s VERY difficult to bring the group back together to make a clarifying statement).

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