Best Practices in Train-the-Trainer Initiatives

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Best Practices in Train-the-Trainer Initiatives

In a world where technology is changing constantly and new apps and tech solutions emerge daily, R&D pros need to be as efficient and effective as possible in ensuring that their staff has the training they need to perform their job duties. That can take a toll on even the most experienced and well-staffed R&D teams.

Couple a department that may already be stretched thin with employees who may bristle when their specialized training is provided by generalists, and it’s clear that creative solutions may be necessary. While not a new solution, train-the-trainer initiatives can prove to both address productivity and efficiency needs as well as the tendency for people to like to be trained by those who are “like them.”

Big Benefits from Train-the-Trainer Initiatives

“Too many R&D people suffer from the Dunning-Kruger effect when it comes to training,” says Mike Schultz, president at RAIN Group and the author of Insight Selling. In the field of psychology, the Dunning-Kruger effect is a cognitive bias wherein people with little experience in the area mistakenly think that succeeding in that area will be easy, says Schultz. R&D people, says Schultz, need to realize that training will most likely succeed when five conditions are met:

  • Goals and objectives are clearly defined in terms of how training will affect skills, behavior, and results.
  • Improvements in the performance environment—such as process, management, and performance support—are developed to support the training effort. “If you provide the training, but leave the structure, process, and tools the same, you may transfer knowledge, but you won’t get behavior change,” says Schultz.
  • Training is blended with strong reinforcement that is well-received by participants and immediately applicable to their jobs. “If the training, or the trainer, is not accepted by the participants, they will not apply it,” Schultz says.
  • Training is translated into the desired behavioral change. This may require coaching, performance support tools, technology, leadership support, etc.
  • The effectiveness of the training effort is measured in terms of its impact on skills, behavior, and results.

These factors can be positively impacted by utilizing a trainer that is part of the work team and who understands the processes, structure and support trainees will require to effectively apply what they learn on the job.

Best Practices

It’s not enough simply to designate an individual or team of individuals to “go out and train the masses.” Effective train-the-trainer initiatives require some key best practices to be optimally effective.

1. Selecting the right people to serve as trainers

Just because an employee is an exceptional developer, for instance, doesn’t make them the right choice to train others. In fact, one significant challenge that those with expertise in a particular topic most often face is a lack of awareness of the basics—the things they take for granted that others know. The best trainers will have the right combination of subject matter expertise and the ability to train and coach others.

According to Stephen Ibaraki, FCIPS, I.S.P., writing for Microsoft’s TechNet blog, some critical skills for trainers include:

  • The ability to establish a rapport with an audience
  • Expertise in the field and thorough understanding of the material
  • Ability to think on their feet
  • Ability to draw from an assortment of examples and analogies
  • Ability to express the content in terms students can relate to

Employees with a background in education are an obvious choice, but simply observing those employees who excel at teaching or showing others how to perform elements of their jobs may help to pinpoint those who might serve as effective trainers.

In considering employees who are likely to serve as effective trainers, consider opening up the opportunity to “apply” to serve in this role as you would with any job opening. Identify the knowledge, skills, and abilities that you seek in trainers and evaluate applicants based on their ability to meet these requirements. Offering employees an opportunity to volunteer in this way serves as a development opportunity for them and helps the R&D department better identify those who may be effective in this role.

2. Providing useful training materials

In any training initiative, it’s important that training content is developed based on specific learning objectives and desired training outcomes. Those learning objectives, then, serve as the framework for developing training materials. Trainers will benefit from being provided with the foundational training materials needed to deliver content to trainees—presentation materials, handouts, exercises, etc.—along with the ability to modify elements of the program to best meet their individual preferences if the key concepts are conveyed consistently across all learners.

Engaging trainers in the development of these materials, particularly if you’ve selected trainers from the group of employees to be trained, as recommended, will help to ensure they are on target for learners’ needs. In addition, seeking feedback from trainers—and trainees—on an ongoing basis will provide insights into how the training, and training materials, could be modified and improved over time.

3. Creating feedback loops

Trainers need support on an ongoing basis and clear channels of communication to allow them to seek information and provide input to continually improve the training process, content and delivery. R&D leaders and staff should make themselves available to receive input and convey an open, transparent and non-defensive posture as they interact with trainers.

Don’t forget that trainers also need training and support to help them serve in a training role. Offer training opportunities and support materials for them, as well as the ability to easily get answers and information from R&D staff.

4. Measuring, monitoring and working together for continuous improvement

Particularly in situations where a group of trainers is training employees in various locations or settings, gathering information on how well the training is received—and to what extent training impacts back-on-the-job performance—can help to identify best practices that can be shared and adopted by others.


Developing a cadre of trainers who can work directly with their peers to boost their knowledge, skills, and competencies in areas of importance to your organization is a win-win-win-win—for employees being trained, employees serving as trainers, the R&D department and the organization. Following the best practice tips presented above can help you ensure that your efforts achieve real results.