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February 2, 2017

Making Pitt Work

02.02.17-UT-Lazar photo7Maureen Lazar, who teaches up to eight faculty and staff development program (FSDP) courses annually for the University, says the 1,200-2,000 participants who take these workshops each year may not realize how much preparation goes into these workshops, which last just an hour or two.

“There is a deliberate design behind trainings,” Lazar says. “If the design is good, it looks effortless and that’s how participants should experience it.

“People just don’t show up and start talking,” she says of the ever-evolving list of FSDP instructors. “They’re very deliberate in the content that is provided, the activities that are planned.” Development of new seminars can take two-eight months from conception to execution, since the instructors devise their own course materials. Her office provides guidance as requested.

Lazar prefers that FSDP instructors be “facilitators”: “Facilitators are helping participants learn from one another. Facilitators are engaging participants and asking questions to help them move the conversation forward.”

On the other hand, she says, “Instructors are very much telling information and it’s very lecture-based.”

Beginning in 2007 as manager of learning and development and an organization development consultant, Lazar has been overseeing and providing training classes herself, including department-specific courses and 140-150 FSDP workshops annually.

Some FSDP facilitators are content experts or experienced teachers. Other potential facilitators “know what they want to teach,” she says, “but they may not know how to put the whole program together,” and her department then helps them to create their FSDP workshop.

The slate of FSDP courses offered each spring and fall is determined by University-wide need. Sometimes a new course will be suggested on a participant’s evaluation of a current course; at other times Pitt staff will call to suggest a new topic, which has suddenly become relevant or required for employees to understand, following a policy and procedure change or a brand new campus initiative. The current Year of Diversity, for instance, prompted a new diversity and inclusion certificate offered through FSDP.

Lazar’s own expertise is leadership development, inspiring her classes this semester on training trainers, engaging employees, offering effective feedback, strategies for resolving conflict and influential leadership. Some of her other courses have focused on getting started as a new leader, understanding how your personality functions in the workplace, problem solving, email management, making meetings work and performance management.

She designs her workshops based on the expected audience, she explains. Are they all supervisors, for instance?

“The first thing is to identify your audience, because that is going to help you identify what content you are selecting,” Lazar says.

The content, she adds, is based on an experiential learning approach — helping participants acquire each new skill offered by the workshop, to practice it, and finally to apply it to situations in their own departments. “The most important piece is that, throughout those components, people have a chance to experience the content of what they are learning,” she says.

She plans her workshops from opening to close: “You want to start any workshop off with some kind of hook, to get people engaged in the workshop really quickly.”

For instance, when Lazar is teaching a workshop designed to help supervisors increase employee engagement with their work and department, she’ll start by presenting statistics to show the current situation: how many employees feel engaged with their organization’s work, for instance, or how engagement might improve productivity or morale.

Next she’ll ask participants what engagement looks like in their own workplaces, then outline different levels of engagement that are possible. After that, she’ll help participants practice ways to increase engagement during different scenarios.

Finally, Lazar may talk about how workshop attendees can apply the workshop’s lessons in their particular offices, how to measure engagement levels and how to move employees to new levels.

Of course, she allows, not every FSDP class participant learns in the same manner. “It’s the responsibility of the facilitator to adapt their material to the abilities of the participants,” she says. She builds in activities that let people work alone, in pairs, and in small and large groups. “If you build those four in, you’re going to grab everyone,” she says.

Than again, she adds, “you sometimes need to adapt your style in the moment” — if, say, she has planned to start with an activity to engage the entire group and too few people are participating.

As in any classroom today, FSDP instructors can find their students distracted by social media in class. She doesn’t see a lot of people on their phones, she says, “but it certainly has happened.”

FSDP facilitators also pay attention to the evaluations that come in after each workshop. Sometimes these evaluations prompt substantive changes to a class, such as adding more case studies, or an additional workshop that expands on the current topic. Sometimes they tell an instructor what to cut out — or simply to hike the thermostat next time.

Lazar says that, nearly a decade into doing this job, running workshops is still her passion. “The most beneficial or exciting experiences I have are at the close of a workshop when someone says ‘Maureen, I want to integrate something from the workshop into my department.’

“Those are really the most rewarding,” Lazar says, “where they not only want to apply the information to their department, but they want to educate everyone in their department about the information.”


—Marty Levine

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