Giving Instruction

Giving Instructions
By Adam Chan

Giving instruction is almost like the routine of unclothing before showering as in any teambuilding activities must have in order to be successful.

Probably the first thing any rookie facilitator would learn is giving proper instructions. With proficient instructional skills, conducting a good teambuilding program is 50% achieved, right?
Instruction is briefing defined as follows;
Instructions; A message describing how something is to be done, or the activities of educating or instructing; activities that impart knowledge or skill.

If I want to be the best guitarist, I play only guitar and listen to guitar pieces, and nothing else. Would you agree? You may learn that many great jazz guitarists get their major influences not from other jazz guitarist but from other forms of music. Imagine when jazz was yet to be invented, where would those guitarists who later became jazz greats get their musical inspiration and influences from? E.g. the late Joe Pass, touted as one of the best jazz guitarist in the way he improvised. At the time his style was evolving, there were not other guitarists who played with such style. It turned out that his primary influence was from Art Datum’s playing who was a progressive jazz pianist in the 60s. Joe Pass skillfully translated Art Datum’s piano work onto his guitar, overcoming the difficulties in playing piano styled music on guitar that later grew into a genre by itself known as finger-style jazz.

Facilitators commonly discuss methods of facilitation in great depth. They will spare no effort in learning the art of facilitation, even pursuing it to personal mastery. In the book of Fifth Discipline, it focuses on connectivity of all things by some huge complex systems. To become a better facilitator should not mean focusing solely on facilitation methods. Those who isolate themselves to only facilitation skill may miss out a great deal of other complimentary skills. The toddler probably took for granted that mobility is second nature, hence. Guitarists who isolate their learning process may not achieve personal mastery. What about facilitators?

The Art of Instructing
When facilitators give instructions, they were actually making deliberate attempts to solicit expected behaviors from the participants. The instructions were meant to influence the participants to response in certain ways as structured by the facilitator. It is common for many inexperienced facilitators to view giving instructions as a routine to the whole of running any teambuilding activity. This erroneous view of giving instructions lies in not understanding its potential. When a facilitator views giving instruction as a routine, its importance will inevitably be relegated to the standing of auxiliary. What facilitation cannot achieve may be achievable by giving instructions appropriately.

Example one: if a client wishes to promote stronger collaboration among the members through teambuilding activities; a good way to deliver the learning objective is to inject unspoken competition to create greater contrast between the competitive paradigm and collaborative paradigm. The greater the contrast, the higher the visibility in observable behaviors which would be used as discussion points thus leading to deeper learning.

Would the participant naturally engage into a competition without any intervention?
Sure chances can make it happen but for the paying client to accommodate this uncertainty will not be possible by any common industry standard. Creating the intervention starts from delivering the activity instructions. However with some careful thinking, facilitator could deliver a set of instructions to implicitly drive competitive subtlety. If they ended up competing, the facilitator gains, if they collaborated, the facilitator gains too.

Example two: a client may wish to surface some underlying assumptions at the workplace as a mean to diffuse tension between colleagues. Assumption is tacit and there is no good way to demonstrate the effects of underlying assumptions other than inducing them to make some assumptions that result in diminishing of results. To do so, the instructions need to deliberately crafted, using the right words, right tone and right demonstration. Imagine if the activity is left to its natural evolvement and making assumption was not illuminated in anyway. Even with good debriefing ability, the task of achieving the learning outcome through facilitation alone will not be easy.

Instructing and Debriefing
From the behavioral school, carefully crafted instructions are able to condition the participants to act in the way as structured by the design of the activity.




Ensuring success in any debriefing session definitely has a lot to do with the questioning skill of the facilitator. Without a doubt, asking the right question is the key to unlock the reservation in participants’ sharing but the overall success should not be solely linked to questioning alone. What make debrief rich are the learnable moments that occur during the activities. One should not take for granted that any teambuilding activity will deliver the right amount of learnable moments all the time. When facilitators intervene, essentially they are creating those learnable moments. However, interventions like this are active and highly visible. Only when giving instructions is given its fair share of attention would the facilitators craft the instructions carefully. While interventions are explicit, the art of giving instructions that influence is implicit. Doing so will create the right amount of contrasting behaviors / assumptions thus providing sufficient learnable moments for the participants to infer upon. When the facilitator is able to identify these moments, the debrief session will have adequate and relevant topics to be worthy and meaningful.

Facilitators have ample of opportunities to give instructions. If the facilitators overlooked the importance of giving instructions, it is easy to imagine how many potential opportunities can be lost. The art of integrating the principles of conditioning into giving instructions is done by giving instructions explicitly but carrying implicit meanings. As a result, influencing is being achieved unobtrusively.

Let’s look at the types of instructions commonly used by facilitators.

Explicit instructions – the aim is to achieve clarity for the participants, usually it emphasize the A to Z of the activity. It covers safety pointers, duration, requirements and learning objectives.

Implicit instructions – usually being weaved into the explicit instructions to induced cognitive ambiguities to the participants’ interpretation of the activity. While ambiguities are deliberately induced, it should not affect the clarity built up by the explicit instructions.

Let’s use the classic trolley as example;

The facilitator started with inviting the participants to stand on their respective skis without emphasizing the different ski’s colors. The briefing went on to cover some safety tips on handling the ropes on proper skiing posture. When the participants started to exhibit signs of eagerness to start, the facilitator can commence instructing them the essence of the colored plastic balls in the field. Here is an extract of the instructions of trolley;

Facilitator: (point to one team at a time) What color balls do you think your team is in-charged of?

Amazingly, they will assume the ski’s color to be consistent with the plastic balls’ color.

Participants: Blue! (if you point a team standing on blue skis)

Facilitator: Your team is required to collect all the colored plastic balls you have mentioned. However, if anyone makes contact with the yellow ball, the entire team must get off the ski and carry the ski back to the start!

Take note of the participants’ immediate interpretations of the yellow balls.

Participants: (some participants may say) Remember guys, don’t touch the yellow balls.

If the given instructions are able to induce the participants in saying above, it would be considered as successful. After all, the purpose is to get the participant to make assumptions that later turned into inhibitions or obstacles during the trolley activities as a result in competitive behaviors and only to found out later there was little gain to compete at all.

Next Time
Use the below rule of thumb the help you in crafting the instructions the next time you are planning for a program.

- Always know the desire outcomes of the activity
- Be familiar with the activity flow
- Giving instructions can be achieved in parts or at a single attempt
- Get an unsuspecting victim to test the instructions

The next time when you give instructions or training another rookie facilitator, place the needed emphasis in giving instructions as like stripping before shower. We should probably not take stripping properly for granted if we wish to successfully take a shower. Cheers.