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Elevating Team Performance with Scenario Training

Frank Blecha
Frank Blecha
5 min read
Elevating Team Performance with Scenario Training

Table of Contents

Scenario training is an easy way to level up your team and help develop future leaders and managers. When you're starting, you can walk through experiences you've gone through in your career and talk about how it played out. The whole "hindsight is 20/20" works in your favor because you know how the scenario occurred. Use it and discuss the ways it could have gone better or worse.

The Power of a Personal Touch

Rooting the discussion in your experience makes it a lot easier to be specific and comes across as more sincere because it's real. That makes the discussion the opposite of most corporate training, which is so generic that it's hard to relate to, besides knowing you're not supposed to do the thing the training is covering.

I've always found the one-on-one discussion more effective for managers you're coaching. How you train your team and your leads or managers should be different. In a team setting, it's good to walk through scenarios that are likely to occur in the future as part of the delivery. New managers don't want to look bad in front of a team, so walking through it with them lets them fail privately. You must emphasize that walking through the scenarios isn't part of an assessment. If they always treat it as a test, they will give you their best "test answer" only. You want them to provide you with their first answer and then discuss the scenario from other perspectives because things rarely go as you would like them in the real world.

Team Scenarios

For team scenarios, walk them through any of the following:

  • Issues you've encountered on previous deliveries that would slow or increase the risk for the delivery.
  • Anything requiring overtime to avoid as much unnecessary work as possible.

If you're wondering why you need to run the team through scenarios, there are two significant reasons. First, anything you learn or coach via a scenario will save you money or time. Talking through what happens when the supplies don't show up and how you will deal with it will help you immensely when the supplies get stuck at the dock and don't make the truck shipment.

Second, you're using it to see who's thinking and how they can riff on the possible futures. Some people are naturally good about coming up with scenarios and how to deal with them, even when they aren't identified as having leadership potential. Those who can peer into the future and develop various options are worth their weight in gold because of how much money they can save you and the company in the long run. Please encourage them to think about the scenarios and build a culture of documenting the options and how we, as a team, would handle them.

Tailoring Training for Teams and Managers

Some managers will treat scenario training as low value and part of a malarkey coaching method. It typically stems from needing more experience or avoiding a lousy scenario assessment. They're too focused on the evaluation and not enough on the learning aspects. They may need to respect you more as a manager to accept any coaching. Still, in these cases, your teaching can be precious as a lesson of what not to do when you talk them through a bad scenario from your past.

For these managers, you have to focus on the amount they can learn from someone else's mistakes (yours), but don't go too far, or they'll think you only make mistakes. Over a career, everyone has situations they would have handled differently, especially if they knew more than they did during the event. Scenarios based on your experiences come across as the most sincere. Discuss what you did and didn't know, how you acted, and how that would be different now. This discussion is the most valuable form of coaching you can offer them.

The other aspect of manager coaching is that you have to treat it as a confessional. People don't like to make mistakes and don't want to make mistakes in front of their boss. But they hate it if their boss publicly calls out their mistake. If you're going to coach them, then you've got to treat them with respect and keep these discussions private.

How to walk through a scenario

Scenarios should help you cover the cases you think your manager will experience. If you need help brainstorming, use these four cases as starters:

1. The worst thing that could happen

2. A bad thing that could happen, but not the worst

3. A good thing that could happen

4. The best thing that could happen

Start with 1 & 4 because it's easy for managers to see two opposites. I'll use hiring as an example and walk through each of the four cases.

Worst Case Example Scenarios:

  • You spent all the time recruiting them, arguing for the proper compensation, finding the right team, and then they ghost you.
  • You hire them, but you are informed that their social media profile shows them as someone who reflects poorly on the company.

Bad Case Example Scenarios:

  • You're all set to have them start, and they fail the drug test.
  • They're all set to start but fail the background check.
  • They accept your offer, but the day before they start work, they turn it down and take a job with another firm.

Good Case Example Scenarios:

They have the skills you want, demonstrate in the interview that they're pretty good with them, and are a good fit for the team. This is an easy hiring decision.

They had an okay technical interview (how to do the job) but an excellent personality interview. The candidate shows they're motivated and would bolster the team's dynamic. Again, this is an easy hiring decision unless the technical skills can't be trained.

Best Case Example Scenarios:

  • They are suitable for the job, seem like leaders, and will enable the team to accomplish more.
  • They have deep expertise in your industry, have excellent references, and will quickly be able to take on more responsibility.

Review Scenario Decisions

After you conduct a scenario walkthrough, have a review after it. The military would call this an after-action review to learn what went right and wrong and use the review as a learning mechanism. Treat it as a writer's workshop rather than a pass/fail mechanism. After all, your goal is to help your manager get better, not to diminish them. Use the review to build confidence and self-esteem because they can handle a situation.

Adapting Scenarios Over Time

I worked for the military for over a decade, building systems and studying decision-making in combat. During that time, I worked with two highly senior officers (many years in the service, multiple commands, combat deployments, etc.). Everything was viewed through a lens from a specific moment in time (years past), with little change. One of them stayed fixed and employed the same tactics repeatedly. They'd been successful with those tactics, and they felt no need to change them based on their knowledge.

I remember meeting with one of them one day, and they walked me through a scenario that had happened to them when they were deployed. After getting through the details, he said, "But that wouldn't work now. The tactics have changed. You need to bring in someone more recent than me to really understand." This officer recognized that what he knew was applicable at one point but was outdated.

Conclusion: Unlocking Potential Through Scenario-Based Learning

Scenario training is more than just a preparatory exercise; it's a strategic tool for enhancing team capabilities and leadership skills. Managers can significantly impact their team's growth and readiness by grounding these scenarios in authentic experiences and fostering an environment of open discussion and reflection. As we navigate the complexities of the modern workplace, scenario training offers a practical, engaging way to prepare for the future, adapt to change, and drive success.


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