Q: My work group recently went through communication skills training that we all agreed could really improve how we work together. But almost immediately it was back to business as usual. We just haven't been very good at transferring what we learned in training to how we behave at work. Some have tried a few of the skills; others haven't done much at all. What can we do to kick-start our interest and actually change how we behave at work?
A: Your problem is a common one. You finish a training program fired up with good intentions to put into practice what you just learned. But then you get back to the reality of work. You get busy and put off trying to implement what you learned until too much time has passed to make the likelihood of doing anything new close to nil. But it doesn't have to be that way. Use these tools to transform your good intentions into behavioral changes.
Link training to values. Talk with your group about the values that go with learning and implementing the skills. For example, you want to work in an environment where people replace back-biting with honest dialogue and you want everyone to feel valued and respected. When you link behavior changes to the qualities you care about, you increase the likelihood that you'll actually implement what you learned.
Keep learning. At the end of the formal training, kick-start your informal and extended learning with practice and feedback. Assign members of your work group to practice a particular skill you learned. Meet to debrief their experience and to share feedback. Look for additional training where you can review the concepts learned, discuss applications, and hone skills.
Add to meeting agendas. If something is important, you talk about it. Add "Training Experience" to your work group's permanent agenda. In each team meeting, openly share what you're doing, what's working, what isn't, and ask for help from each other.
Link training to performance. Individually meet with your boss and lay out a plan for implementing what you learned at work. Make it clear that you want to bring the skills back to work where they can do you and your company some good. Review the skills you think will help the most, discuss them candidly with your boss, and then tie them into your formal performance review. You might as well get credit for making personal changes and adding to your skills.