Thoughts on Training

I am not a trainer. I stopped using that term a while ago. Some partners I work with still bill me as a trainer. I tolerate it, but am considering standing my ground a little more firmly. I wrote in an earlier post, “training is for circus animals, pet dogs and HR folk.” While this is a little tongue-in-cheek, it also carries great truth. Training is about teaching people (or other animals) to follow a process. It is about seeking compliance, and obedience. It is about adhering to standards. I don’t care about any of those things, so calling myself a trainer would be nonsense.

I was once a Certified Scrum Trainer (CST). Now the very phrase is anathema to me. I detest certification in creative industries, I don’t believe in pushing Scrum onto organizations, and I am finally questioning the value of training as an approach to learning. Whether it’s powerpoint-delivered, or the recently popular “training from the back of the room” it all ends up as a coercive approach to helping people learn. It is manipulative, and I believe it is ultimately doomed.

People don’t learn new ideas by being trained. They learn through exploration, through engagement, through experience, through dialog, even through argument. And they learn through failure. Learning is about figuring things out for oneself, through dialog, critical thinking and research. The training approach is incompatible with true learning. I’d go so far as to say the two are enemies.

Of course, it is much easier to sell a training—especially a training that comes with a certificate—than it is to engage people in a meaningful learning workshop. And so we keep doing it, too often without qualm or question. Do the many CSTs and other “Agile Trainers” even stop to consider the negative connotation of the term training? Do they even question why they do what they do, or what their goals are? I wonder.

People can be trained in process and practice, so it may be appropriate to run, say, a TDD training, but interestingly enough most TDD trainings are called workshops. Perhaps because there are no certificates. Perhaps because people who teach these are deeply engaged in creative practice themselves, and actually understand that even within process and practice what is really required is engagement and exploration, otherwise we become mere coding machines.

So the question I’m pondering is this: Why do we want to train people to be Agile, or to do Scrum? What is the goal here. I struggle to get past the idea of compliance. Hard-core Agilists, and organizations like the Scrum Alliance, and the host of new Agile certification boards have a vested interest in getting people to think the way they do. That they are failing miserably, and getting not thinking at all, but dumb obedience on the one hand, and venomous hatred of Agile on the other, doesn’t seem to deter them.

So, my friends, take a stand. Start questioning what you are really offering, and if it is more akin to real learning, please call it by its true name. Offer adventures, explorations, workshops, or learning labs, and call yourself by your true name, perhaps guide, or facilitator—or if you want to get all new-age about this, try sherpa 😉

Training is a hangover from the command-and-control days. I’d love to see the terms training and trainer eliminated from the Agile vocabulary, and the compliance mindset cast from our collective psyche.

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