I recently attended a talk by a well-known agile coach and author where he stated “training without coaching is irresponsible, and vice-versa.” This statement got me thinking about how we transform companies and the approach to training we take.

I like the premise of the statement above because it puts accountability for acting responsibly on the consulting firm.  Organizations that have not experienced an agile transition typically cannot anticipate exactly what training or coaching will be needed. It is our responsibility to share the path to agility with them through a mixture of theory and concrete examples of other organization’s agile journeys.  We have found that a mixture of training and coaching is indeed necessary.

On the training front I really started thinking: how can organizations make the most of the training?

The Institute for Healthcare Improvement (IHI) presents an interesting case study.  The IHI’s mission around improving healthcare is enacted chiefly through conferences and various training curriculums.  The former COO and now CEO, Maureen Bisognano, noticed something strange happening shortly after IHI launched training courses nationwide. Thousands of doctors, nurses, and healthcare professionals attended the training. Although it was popular and students thought it helpful, informative and game-changing training, there was largely no effect seen in healthcare organizations as a whole.

Bisognano reflects, “we’d get them all worked up, they’d go back to their hospitals, and nothing would happen.”

Changing tactics, IHI enrolled entire teams of doctors, nurses, and technicians in the training all at the same time. When the trained teams went back to their hospital, they were more effective in instituting change. Rates of infections started to decline, medical errors were reduced, costs were cut, lives were saved.  The IHI coined the slogan: “It’s a sin to send one changed man back to an unchanged organization.”

Organizations have inertia.  Change is hard.  Pick your cliché.  It is simply ineffective to get only a select few trained, and then expect them to retrain others and start transforming the organization. The critical mass for change simply isn’t present in these situations.

It’s extremely effective to get an entire team trained together, and send them back to work along with a coach to help them get started on the right track. The alternative: training only some people, training without coaching, coaching without training; is a recipe for waste.  Avoid it if you can.

*IHI case study and quotes from Practically Radical by William Taylor, 2012.