The Brian McLean Guide to Surviving OJT

Interested Reader starts here

The average OJT period is a 3-6 month learning process in which a potential Facilitator learns from his co-workers around him this trade that we call Facilitation to form the profitable product that we call Team-Building or Adventure-Learning programs. Less than half of these people will make it to the position of AFP. Those who do, learn to hone a variety of skills by learning or stealing from those who have come before them.

This article is a guide to surviving this challenging time.

During the approximate 5 month OJT period following the Basic Facilitator Course potential Facilitators will learn by supporting established Facilitators on their programs until they themselves are ready to begin leading their own programs. In the 5 months between BFC and the eventual Solo Check individuals have the opportunity to learn the so called “tricks of the trade” from several different Facilitators. I Solo Checked 20 months after my BFC, a fact that served me as both a blessing and a curse. A blessing because I had the good fortune of being part of programs led by 15 different Facilitators and I was able to gain a little bit of knowledge from each one of them. A curse because my OJT was broken into several parts, causing me to be ready to move on to different and more challenging alternatives to the scripted activities before I had formed the sound foundation of mastering the scripts. However this has given me the insight to feel that I can share my experiences and opinions to help future OJTs.

Casual Reader Starts Here

Future Facilitators must have the following qualities if they hope to continue in this career field: inherent intelligence, be proactive, perseverance, kleptomania, patience, optimism, foresight, adaptability, and confidence.

Inherent Intelligence:

Facilitators are constantly interacting with and being surrounded by professionals. Whether they are on program, in the office, or at a training session; Facilitators must be able to communicate with the same level of professionalism as those around them. They must be able to hold conversations with other intelligent individuals without making themselves look inferior. Luckily intelligence is not measured by how much knowledge we have already stored, but instead by our ability to absorb and store new information. Facilitators continue to improve and add to their store of knowledge by learning from their experiences, others, reading and writing articles or books, and attending additional training sessions. This may seem tedious and overwhelming at first as you will already have a large amount of literature from the scripts that you are memorizing, but to continue to develop it is essential.

Be Proactive:

When you first begin as an OJT your value to the team around you will be minimal. Eventually you become a great asset as you learn to run challenge stations, Low Elements, MAPs, attraction activities (rafting, geocaching, etc…) and eventually openings and closings. Most Facilitators are helpful and are happy to help you learn activities, but they are all also busy and will not have time to worry about scheduling you on programs. To do this you need to be as proactive as possible and attach yourself to as many programs as possible, on the occasions that you are not on program you need to be reading the literature or practicing activities. You also need to be proactive in the sense that you need to make yourself useful. Even before you can conduct activities you can prepare logistics, or help with program preparation. This is when you will learn the valuable knowledge of preparing Geocaching booklets or rollercoaster sets which will be essential for your development. Finally being proactive and having a greater role in the behind the scenes work will help you make a better rapport with the Facilitators, which will help you later.

Perseverance:

“If at first you don’t succeed try, try again” and trust me even if you get it right the first time, by the third time you will have screwed it up at least once. When you do you will here about it in your feedback. Don’t take this personally, every Facilitator has messed up at some point and has also had to hear it from his superiors. In a way this is a right of passage, but it is not intended to upset or anger you, it is designed to improve you in the most direct way possible. Some Facilitators are harsher than others but none of them would waste their time debriefing you just to give you and insult, so look for the lesson you can learn. The work load put on OJTs as they develop can also seem overwhelming to some, I cannot say that the workload will get smaller. But, you will get faster at completing it and eventually better compensated for it.

Kleptomania:

Yes Kleptomania, but do not start going through people’s desk, I mean start stealing people’s thoughts. You will slowly learn that a unique Facilitation style is actually just a combination of that Facilitator’s favorite parts of his coworkers’ styles stolen, slightly altered, and meshed together. Listen carefully to your lead Facilitators; they may have a different way of doing expectations, a different joke added during opening or an activity, or a different debrief point than you have heard before. Your job is to learn from them, therefore its all fair game. Just remember though, if you steal from one source its plagiarism, if you steal from multiple sources it’s an original idea. However I will warn you not to make the same mistakes that I did; if you steal every opening joke from all the Facilitators that you have heard than your opening will be over an hour and a half long and you will appear more like a struggling comedian than a Facilitator.

Patience:

As you start to progress as an OJT you will begin to feel like you have mastered the more simple parts of the job. You are probably giving yourself too much credit by saying mastering because we are all still learning. However there may come a time when you are competent with your logistics, lights and music, challenge stations, and even MAP; but must continue doing these activities for maybe even months without progressing any further. This is the nature of the business; we do not decide when programs will be or what will be done in them. Therefore when you are given the opportunity to do High E, rafting, opening, or closing; take it. If these options do not come up continue doing your MAPs and Low E’s, but start paying more attention to the planning part of programs. Helping other Facilitators plan is the best way to prepare yourself for eventually leading programs.

Optimism:

Don’t let it get you down. You will hit many bumps in the road when you first start out, but since you will be given less responsibility these mistakes will not hurt the program too badly. Later in your OJT period when you are leading your own programs you will have much more responsibility, and there will still be little bumps. After all we are learning by doing here and nobody learns to ride a bike without getting a scraped knee or two. Nobody plans to make mistakes, but when you do stay positive, getting down on yourself will not help anything. This is especially true when you are leading a program and trying to project your energy and confidence to participants. You will have plenty of time to brood after your co-Faci scolds you during debrief, but even then you need to try to stay positive and learn from your mistakes.

Foresight:

One of the more advanced skills that OJTs learn, and probably the trait I struggle the most with is foresight. Good Facilitators do not just plan the activities and meals for a program, they plan for any possible problems there may be along the way. This goes beyond planning wet weather activities and moves into the never ending world of “what ifs.” For example: what if a participant sprains an ankle while geocaching, what if the bus is late, what if the food is late, what if the participants are late, what if the participants refuse to do an activity, what if the participants have done the activity already, etc…I think you get the idea. So how do you learn this skill? One thing that helps is to make check list, one thing that helps more is to work with experienced facilitators. Tag yourself on programs with the AFFs and higher, most of the eventualities have happened to them before and they can best prepare you for them.

Adaptability:

Talking about eventualities and inevitabilities, they happen. Buses are late, participants get hurt/sick, things don’t go as planned. As a Facilitator the program must go on no matter what. I have seen guys frantically replacing safety straps on the TCH minutes before the participants arrived while the lead used a number of energizers and brain teasers to keep them occupied. Moral of the story is that sometimes stuff happens, you just have to deal with it. The only constant on Earth is change, if you haven’t accepted that yet, now is the time.

Confidence:

In the Final stages of your OJT period your coworkers will start to feel less like supporters and more like testers. It is common for an OJT leading a program to constantly be questioned about their decisions. To combat this, always have an answer. If you have properly planned a program you have a reason for all of the things that you do and therefore should have confidence in your work. Even if your decision turns out not to be the best one at that time, it was still your decision to make and you should have confidence in it. If you do not show confidence in your work you will never be able to control a program and lead the team around you.

So far this paper has analyzed you the OJT and has passed on one person’s advice to help you better yourself during this trying period. The following paragraph analyzes the facilitators you will be working with during this time.

Facilitators:

All Facilitators are different and have different strengths. Some will show great “stage presence” and will have very high energy programs. Others will take a less flamboyant approach but may have the best debriefs. While the rest may specialize in program preparation and development and be able to produce a much higher calibre program. In truth Facilitators will show all of these traits in differing and varying degrees so you should do your best to work with all of them (even the ones you may not like).

I will further break Facilitators down based on their approach to OJTs. Some will be very nurturing, helping you with your progress and providing positive feedback. Enjoy your time with and try to learn something from these Facilitators. However try not to become complacent just because you’re not being yelled at. Some will be indifferent, putting you where they need you and providing little feedback. These people may seem too busy to worry about you, but still they will be providing feedback about you when it comes time for the solo check decision so you better be proactive on their programs. The final group is critical. They will expect you to take on more responsibility in their programs and they will provide you plenty of feedback no matter how negative it may be. I like to think that this group is of the mindset “you don’t know the quality of your tea until you put it in hot water.” Whereas they might not be the best for your morale, this group is the best at preparing you for the next level; especially in the weeks leading up to your solo check. Try to find a nice balance of these three groups to work with throughout the entire OJT process if you want to be fully prepared on the morning of your solo check.

Well that’s it, and take it for what it is. One person’s opinion and advice about the process. If you find that your experience is or was different, please put down your name and continue the story