By Trina Rimmer

All too often, training teams are dusting off their superhero costumes in the quest to design and develop timely, relevant learning.

Has this happened to your team recently?

  • A request for a full-scale project with little time and almost no budget.
  • Rolling out a curriculum while new processes, systems, or products are still in development.
  • A change in business direction puts your training deliverables and deadlines into a tailspin.

I’m sure you’re nodding “yes” at all of the above. These business realities place pressure on training teams – not only must we advocate for learners while keeping the needs of the business in mind, we must do all these things with imperfect information and few resources.

It can be tough, and the easy reaction for team members may be to become frustrated and perhaps even indulge in certain behaviors that undermine our overall credibility as training business partners.  Below are three credibility-busting behaviors to look out for and avoid:

#1: Playing the Blame Game

I was working with my client’s cross-functional project team on some new product training recently when I spotted a snag.  The content we were writing instructed the learner to use the product in a way that was contradictory to the product’s use and care instructions. Despite having a team of multiple product experts overseeing and contributing to our training content, no one had caught the mistake and we were all taken by surprise.

When we met later that week to recap our progress with the rest of the project team, I was shocked to hear my training counterpart on the client’s side, throw a fellow team member’s department under the bus – “If Steve’s team had been on the ball, we could’ve spotted this several weeks ago and avoided these delays.

Aside from that situation being awkward, inappropriate, and unprofessional, playing the blame game sapped the team of its energy and focus, positioning everyone as adversaries instead of collaborators. It also made the training team look petty and desperate; not exactly the kind of reputation that engenders mutual respect.

Instead of giving in to petty temptation, here’s a good rule of thumb for conducting yourself in work and in life, courtesy of a poster in my son’s 2nd grade classroom:

#2: Demonstrating a Lack of Business Acumen

Good business acumen is a constant balancing act of dreams versus realities. Training teams need to understand and advocate for learners, but we must also weigh the needs and realities of the business our training solutions are intended to support.  That means our proposed training solutions must strike a thoughtful balance that encompasses performance-oriented solutions that are practical to implement and sustain.  Training experiences that are all style and no substance aren’t going to win you many fans on the business side when it comes time to examine training ROI. Likewise training experiences that neglect the needs of learners to be informed AND engaged don’t effectively demonstrate your training expertise to learners or business higher-ups. (Read more about one aspect of engagement, visual design, in this post.)

#3: Failure to Own Your Expertise

My husband and I aren’t very handy around the house so when the water dispenser on our refrigerator suddenly stopped working we turned to the experts for help. The first repair guy we called spent a few minutes examining the door and the dispenser mechanism before offering up his take on the problem. His explanation sounded pretty convincing but then he said something that almost instantaneously undermined his credibility…

“…Of course I’m no expert on water dispensers. I can keep looking into all the things that could be wrong, but it’s probably easier to just order you a replacement unit. It’s really up to you. What would you like me to do?”

Facing a $300+ repair bill and a guy who didn’t seem very confident in his grasp of our problem, we opted to go for a second opinion and give repair guy #2 a call.  When he arrived we went through much the same process of examination and explanation, only this time we got the business partner response we were looking for from someone who recognized that we were looking to him be the “expert”.

“…Based on the age of your unit and the frosted condition of the water line, I strongly recommend that we replace the thermostat to prevent freezing of the line. I’ll place that order today and we’ll have the new part in stock by Tuesday.”

To be clear, the new thermostat repair guy #2 proposed wasn’t much cheaper than the cost of replacing the entire unit through repair guy #1. However repair guy #2 spoke confidently and really owned his expertise. He gave us solid recommendations (and a plan) rather than more decisions we felt ill-equipped to make.

This analogy holds true for the training team as well. When we own our expertise with business partners by providing solid recommendations in a constructive manner, we’re demonstrating our professionalism, partnership, and business savvy.  And while it may be tempting to communicate partnership by expressing our humility (e.g. “You guys are the real experts…”), it’s a passive stance that erodes confidence over time.

For example:

Passive Constructive
I’m no expert on your ________ (training audience, product, process, system, etc.)…” Please tell me more about your _______ (training audience, product, process, system, etc.)…”
Are you sure this is what you want the learner to be able to do? If it is, that’s fine with us. I’m just wondering…” I’ve been giving this some thought and I think we need to revisit this topic to make sure we’ve got the right performance focus…”
I don’t want to make recommendations here since you guys are really the Subject Matter experts…” While I can’t speak to the accuracy of the content, I do have some recommendations for how we can present this information to maximize the impact with learners…”


Credibility is critical in any business. Regardless of your situation, it’s important to remember to be accountable, have good business acumen, and leverage your expertise. Keep in mind that you are on a team working towards a unified goal. Lead by example, be a positive and influential team member and work towards excellence in each and every project.

Ready to learn more?

Visit for more information about custom training solutions and professional development services offered by Impact Instruction Group.

© 2014 Impact Instruction Group

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