Never Have I Ever Enjoyed a Training This Much
Hired as a new Foreign Service Officer (FSO) in 2010, I’ve attended more than my fair share of trainings throughout the years. Some good, some bad, but none that were what one would call... enjoyable. That is until I attended the CLA training this past March. And that’s including the time I got married during the lunch break of a training I was attending in Washington, DC (while posted overseas), but that’s another story. (And yes, I returned to the training for the afternoon session.)
So, what exactly made for such a successful experience? I credit the extensive planning work, inexhaustible technical skills of the presenters and planners, and excellent facilitation that went into the development of this training. It’s obvious that adult learning methods and activities that are designed to keep participants stimulated and interested were taken into consideration. Limited PowerPoint and lecture left space for interactive training methods that incorporated a fair amount of movement and physical interaction along with traditional small group exercises and large group readouts. At the end of the day, the training was actually fun. And while there were tons of little nuggets I’ll be incorporating into my work, these three stood out the most:
- Anything can be a learning moment… a site visit, a portfolio review, a design meeting, a staff meeting. If we take a moment to pause and reflect on what we’ve just done and ask questions, there are always lessons to be learned and ways to improve ourselves and our organizations. I can think of dozens of times when I could have benefited from stopping and asking myself or the group a few questions to clarify our thinking and chart a path forward. In our process-heavy Agency, there are already absurdly long timelines to complete any action, so it can seem counterintuitive to take a step back to reflect. I think back to the very first activity design meeting that I attended as a new FSO at my first post. Presumably, the drafter(s) had been working on this concept for months, if not longer. So when questions were posed during the meeting, they were seen as distracting and there was an air of annoyance at any presumed delay in the process. This is not a best practice and most, if not all, design meetings since then have been better. I think we could still improve our process with intentional pause and reflect moments built in, even in process heavy tasks, such as project design.
- Keyword: “Strategery.” Well, almost. More accurately, strategic collaboration…how often have we sat through meetings where EVERYONE was invited and EVERYONE wants to have a say in what’s going on, but no decisions are ever made, no analysis happens and so we have another meeting a week or two later and go through the whole thing again? I experienced this with almost all Health Office meetings (both internal and external) at both of my posts. Some of the external meetings could have been opportunities for co-creation, but the over-collaboration, with too many voices and not enough decision makers, prevented us from moving forward together. The smaller health meetings could have been chances to take an analytical lens to current or future programming, but it never happened because we never moved from sharing information to actual collaboration. It may take some trial and error to make sure the right people (and not the wrong people) are involved, but if it would lead to more efficient and ultimately less meetings, I’m all for it!
- Adaptive-what? Adaptive management has really piqued my interest and I need to learn more. Adaptive management and adaptive mechanisms seem to be on the forefront of really embracing the concepts of collaborating, learning, and adapting (CLA) where it counts: in implementation. When I arrived in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), they had just closed down an agriculture activity after a little more than a year of implementation. There were many reasons for the failure, but I can’t help but wonder if adaptive management (or even pause and reflect) had been taken into consideration if the intervention could have been saved. We (USAID) spend the majority of our time planning and designing, but rarely think about how we organize ourselves to manage for results. I’m completely bought into the concept but, like many others, I want to delve deeper into the “how” behind adaptive management. The CLA training was a great opportunity to learn about some of what others have done.
Starting in June, I’ll be joining the CLA team at USAID as a Program Officer. As a product of the Uganda Mission (my first tour with USAID), I had a front row seat seeing CLA emerge from a vague concept to an actual practice that helped us get better development results. Upon leaving Uganda, I went to the DRC where we used CLA concepts to implement our cross-cutting integrated strategy. Though we may not have used the CLA terminology, many of our techniques and management approaches definitely fell into the category of CLA practice. I’ve been in Bureau for Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance (DCHA) for the last year and have been dabbling in CLA on the side, staying involved in the community of practice, attending CLA events and trainings to keep myself up to date on the practice. I can’t wait until I can devote my full-time job to exploring and learning with the CLA community.
We all want to find ways to do our jobs better, right? I firmly believe that applying the concepts taught in the CLA course can lead to those improved outcomes. This training not only provides a framework from which to view both our individual and operating units’ work, but also a way to analyze that work. There are distinct opportunities to identify our own workplaces challenges and have the chance to think through them with the CLA lens, with the added benefit of a room full of your peers to help troubleshoot those challenges. Use your brain, learn new skills, be on the forefront of development, spend a week learning, interacting, and networking…I know you’re all now saying, sign me up!! If you have any questions about this training, feel free to contact me for more information.