What’s your training room mindset?

I ran a workshop recently where many of the participants didn’t want to be in the room. While it is my job to set up the room, run the training, engage the group and manage the session for the best possible outcome, there are other factors that can influence how successful I am.

More often than not, when a participant is a reluctant one, it is because they:

  • Haven’t been briefed or were simply told to attend training;
  • Haven’t done the pre-work or wasn’t aware they needed to;
  • Have been asked to attend training on a rostered day off;
  • Are a casual or part time team member who is out of the loop.

On the day concerned, it turned out to be a mixture of all of these and, with smartphones in laps and the lure of the good weather outside, it proved to be a long day for all concerned. Broadly speaking, participants will fall into one of four types that most facilitators will be familiar with.


Hostages are those who see training as a trial of resistance and endurance. They see themselves as captives, subject to cruel punishments by a person they’ve never met in a place they don’t want to be. A hostage is often a victim of poor communication or none at all. Without a clear message from their training coordinator, the context and importance is missed. Without a line manager’s coaching to prepare them for the session, an opportunity is lost.


Holidaymakers come along to get a break from their normal work. Away from their workspace, they have no intention of taking part in the training. Some see training sessions as a time to tackle their email backlog, chat with colleagues or check social media every ten minutes. While they might enjoy an easy day, they can distract others and sabotage the class.

Bargain Hunter

Bargain hunters appear more engaged than hostages and holidaymakers. They will listen and take the training on board – but only up to a point. Once they’ve heard enough to note a few key points and ideas for later, their attention wanders. They’re looking for quick fixes and soundbites, rather than a combination of tools and methods they can apply to their work.


Explorers look forward to training and see the benefits of learning something new or different. They are more likely to be well prepared, engaged and self-directed. Most training or workshop participants try to be explorers. Keen and well informed, they’re eager to ask questions, debate principles, wrestle with new ideas and contribute.

If I am truthful, I have probably been each of these myself at some point in the past. As such, I have some ideas on how to prepare with success in mind. Good course design and session planning can go a long way to engaging participants and maximising the number of explorers in a training session. Similarly, where possible, smart training coordination can help by ensuring a good mix of ages and roles among participants, along with plenty of notice and punchy, informative communication beforehand.

Another way trainers and facilitators might address the issue in the room is to tackle it up front. Draw four quadrants on a whiteboard or flip chart and write one of the four mindsets in each before turning it to face the wall, Ask each participant to share their own prevailing attitude by placing a blank Post It or tick in the relevant quadrant. Share and acknowledge the resulting histogram. Discuss what the results might mean for the day and what might be done to move more people to the explorer headspace.

How do you gauge the engagement of those attending your meetings, workshops and brainstorming sessions? Leave an comment or drop me a line to let me know.

  • Dan

    Fantastic article John. I think this is a great thing to incorporate at the start of a Design Sprint when you are setting the ‘house rules’. Calling it out up front and using the opportunity to reset everyone to make them present should be a critical step for any facilitator.

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