"Hey, George, I want to talk to you about training for my group," Andrea said.
"Don't start with that again," George said. “I know you have a group of developers who need training. Two years ago, when you ran testing, you had a group of testers who needed training. Why do all your groups need training?"
"Everyone needs training. Even you and I need training."
"I don't need training. I listen to books on tape—abridged books, at that. I get all I need in seven minutes a day while I drive."
Andrea was unable to hold in her reaction and doubled over in laughter. "George, did you just hear yourself? You listen to abridged summaries of business books? On your drive into work? No wonder you didn't understand my argument last week against forced ranking. You need to listen to the entire books, my friend. You are missing significant pieces.
"But let's get back to my problem," Andrea said. “I want to train everyone in engineering in hiring and influence skills."
"You have an engineering group of technical people," George said. "What the heck do they need soft skills for?"
"They are great at designing and testing. They are pretty good at feedback. But, they are not good at interviewing. They are lousy at the follow-up meeting and discussing how they can make a decision about a candidate. And, when they want to influence me or each other, they think the loudest person wins. Nope, they need better influencing skills.
"I know exactly the books and workshops I need, and I know when I want to bring them in. I want to start with a book study group, to set the stage. I don't want to go in cold to the training. I want to challenge the trainers. We have really sharp people, and I want to turn them loose on these problems. Once they understand the technical challenges of interviewing and influence, they will be like dogs with a favorite bone. Can't you just see it?" Andrea grinned and gave George a sheet of paper. "Here's what I need."
“When will your folks have time for training?” George said.
“Ah, that's the beauty of the book study group," Andrea said. "First, we study the book at lunch. We do a chapter or two a week. We get through the book in a quarter and post the discussion on our wiki. Then, people will have the discussion on the wiki so they can refer to it during the entire quarter. Some people won't read the book and may go into the training cold, but maybe they will talk to other people during the quarter and receive some informal training to get them going. Then, I have people sign up for training. Each training is only one or two days, so it won't impact the project much."
"But, what if we train them and they leave?" George said.
“George, what if we don't train them and they stay?”
George sighed and said, “Andrea, you drive a hard bargain. Where do I sign?”
Training Is a Necessary Part of Technical Work
It's never easy to schedule training. It always seems to interfere with "real" work— project work. But, if you want people to learn a new language, a new tool, or a new skill, whether it's an interpersonal skill such as Andrea described or some other skill, then you need to create training time. I like to schedule training time every single week.
You can schedule a lunch-and-learn every week and discuss a chapter in a book. You can have someone from another group present something she does at work. Every so often, at least once a year, you need to step back and take a strategic look at your team or group and ask yourself, "Is there something people should be learning?" Even better, ask the people in your group, "What do you need to learn?" They will tell you.