Insightful Ideas

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An Open Letter to Our Participants

From Your Friendly, if Quiet, Producer


Dear Participant:

I want to compliment you. You may not know it, but I’ve been attending leadership development programs with you all year, and you have done a lot to impress me.

I have seen you in action, because one of my roles at Insight Experience is that of a producer. Producers work behind the scenes in virtual programs to ensure that everything runs smoothly. Doing our best to emulate the 360-degree vision of chameleons, we watch a lot of things at once. We keep our eye on attendance. We watch the chat in case any of you have questions about content but don’t want to interrupt anyone else or are perhaps feeling shy about speaking up. (Introverts, we’ve got your backs.) We work to build teams so that we can send you off into virtual break-out rooms to engage in rich discussions about strategic thinking and balanced leadership. We address any questions that might arise and/or direct your questions to the facilitator. And we manage the software that runs our simulations. We do all of this so that our colleagues who are teaching can facilitate your learning and focus on you.

If we producers are doing our jobs well, we are rather phantom-like. That is, if things are going smoothly, you may forget that we are there at all. As stage managers are to theatrical productions, producers are to virtual programming. We even call our agenda for a virtual program the “run of show.”

For nearly two years now, we at Insight Experience have relied on virtual sessions to deliver our programming in leadership development — all because of COVID-19 and its devious best friends, the multiple variants we've seen since 2020. This means I’ve produced many programs for clients across the globe, and I’ve handled a tall stack of run-of-show documents. I’ve seen a lot that has impressed me. My colleagues, for one, inspire me with their depth of knowledge and their ability to warmly welcome participants into these virtual spaces.

But I’ve also been immensely impressed by what I — as the always-present stage manager of your program — have seen from you, the participant.

I’ve seen curiosity and an eagerness to learn. The pandemic disrupted the work lives of people all over the world in a long list of ways. You may not have had virtual learning on your 2020 to 2022 bingo cards — and the case may even be that you would much rather meet in person — but you show up, listen, engage in thoughtful conversations about leadership and how it affects business results, dive right into the business simulation experience, and make connections with those in your cohort and with your facilitator. I see you gamely prepare for and participate in decision-making role-plays and cheer you on when, even though you aren’t sure what to expect in the role-playing scenario, you nail it. And because your facilitator asks you to put your screen in gallery view and share what you’ve learned, or list in the chat your take-aways from your virtual session, I see that you garner forward-thinking insights and best practices that you can take back to your real-world work to drive company performance in compelling ways.

I’ve seen flexibility. Virtual learning can be messy, as our facilitators often point out. Yes, as you pipe up to make a comment or ask a question, your dog might have an impromptu bout of separation anxiety and start barking. Or your toddler might come begging for a snack in that emphatic way children tend to do. You may scramble to locate the mute button, but as our facilitators like to say, we are in this together. No need to worry or apologize. We may even ask to see your beloved pet or momentarily wave to your misty-eyed child. I’ve witnessed many a cat slink across a participant’s shoulders in recent months, and it only makes me smile. (And kittens! O! To my great delight, I HAVE SEEN KITTENS.)

I’ve seen abundant patience. In the past year, I’ve produced leadership development programs with participants who live in every continent on the globe but one. (Sorry, Antarctica.) This has resulted in some creative hours for me and my colleagues. (It’s good to be a night owl.) But given that sometimes we might even have a program with participants on multiple continents — an aspect of a program that can provide myriad perspectives, which can be an invaluable benefit of virtual learning — this means it’s morning for some of you and late afternoon for others. I see your patience and resilience with the occasionally odd hours of virtual programming. I see you making the most of this brave new world of virtual learning. Well, it’s no longer “new,” but we all had no choice but to explore and embrace it, and you all have done it with a sense of adventure.

I’ve seen that you make it fun. Our facilitators like to remind participants that our business simulations are about learning, not winning. It’s true: Our simulations accommodate (and are a safe space for) learning by doing, learning from each other, and learning from results. But! I see your party-hat or handclapping or smiley-face emoji when you learn that your team had the best numbers around increasing employee performance and engagement or customer satisfaction; successfully increased revenue in ways that align to your company’s strategies; or managed to achieve the desired EBITDA. You are gaining insights and having a good time doing it. I like your spunk.

This virtual world is here to stay, even as some portion of leadership development moves back to in-person activities. Making it work will mean continuing to bring the learning mindset I’ve seen over the last year — the adaptability, patience, and enthusiasm I have seen from you. And your kittens.

- Julie, your friendly neighborhood producer