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An Easy Form of Low-cost, Immediately Applicable Team Development

Training teams are often compared to the cobbler's children who have no shoes (because they're often helping others learn, but rarely take time out for their own learning). In today's podcast we spotlight a team from Unifi that has adopted a book club approach to develop themselves as individuals and as a team.

A few weeks ago, a former colleague emailed me this note:

Today I introduced your book to my ID team at work and will be running through the exercises to define how we can advance the company’s training modalities.  Just want to say thank you for creating this valuable resource and for building an intuitive website that centralizes various resources along with the related podcast episodes. 

This has been helpful for some of our trainers who are really the department SMEs and for our instructional designers who are learning to incorporate different training elements in their projects.  Your book is a definite win for the team!

While I’m always happy to receive positive feedback from someone who has read my book, I was curious to hear a little more about her team book club, how they went about organizing it, and what specifically had changed. Last week I had an opportunity to get some answers from Dustin Cole, Carlos Merlo and Jessica Bailey, all people who are responsible for training at Unifi.


Brian Washburn: Welcome, everyone, to another episode of Train Like You Listen, a podcast about all things learning and development in bite-sized chunks. I’m Brian Washburn, I’m your host. I’m also the Co-founder of an instructional design company called Endurance Learning. And today, I am joined by three members of the training team at a company called Unifi. I’m joined by Dustin Cole, who is the Director of Aviation Services Training and Instructional Design. I’m also joined by Carlos Merlo, who is an Instructional Designer, as well as Jessica Bailey, who is an Instructional Designer. We’re gonna be talking about the value of having a team book club. 

But before we get into that, I do need to mention that we are brought to you by our sponsor Soapbox. Soapbox is an online tool that you can use for about 5 or 10 minutes, and you can take care of about 50 or 60% of the work when it comes to developing live, instructor-led training. So basically, you log in to, you tell the computer how long your presentation is, how many people are going to attend, whether it’s in-person or virtual, what your learning objectives are, and then Soapbox will instantly generate a training plan for you with clusters of training activities that are designed to help you get your learners where you think they need to go. So what are the learning outcomes? And then it gives you activities that are designed to achieve those. Don’t just listen to me babble on about it though. If you want to, you should try it out for free for two weeks, if you go to Okay. 

Now enough of that. I want to get into this conversation about a book club because rumor has it that the people I’m talking with today have read one of my absolutely favorite training books called What’s Your Formula? by an author named Brian Washburn. So we’re gonna get into that, but before we do, let’s meet the guests that we are talking with. 

Six-Word Biography

Brian Washburn: So we have Dustin, Carlos, and Jessica. And in the spirit of, kind of, this idea of introducing ourselves, keeping it quick, and talking about team book clubs, we always ask our guests to come up with a biography that they could use to introduce themselves in exactly six words. So for example, for me, especially if I think of today’s topic, I would introduce myself in six words by simply saying, “I love learning with my team.” How about you, Dustin? How would you introduce yourself in six-ish words? 

Dustin Cole: Thank you, Brian. I would have to say my six– could be six or seven words depending on if the “and” is a symbol or a word- but “I live and work for my team.” 

Brian Washburn: I love that. And we’re gonna get back to that in a few minutes. How about Jessica? How would you introduce yourself? 

Jessica Bailey: I would say “I love creating helpful learning experiences.” 

Brian Washburn: These are great. How about you, Carlos? 

Carlos Merlo: Mine’s a little bit out there, but “I enjoy taking things apart/repairing.” 

Brian Washburn: All right. Every single one of these I think really goes to the heart of instructional design, right? So the idea of there being a larger purpose than ourselves, the idea of experimentation. 

Copy of Copy of Nicole Reed Twitter Post

Biggest Takeaways From the Book, “What’s Your Formula?”

Brian Washburn: And speaking of experimentation, you all had a chance to read this book: What’s Your Formula? which is really based around this idea of a periodic table of elements that go into training programs. I would love to hear: what was one of your biggest takeaways from the book? We’ll start with Jessica. We’ll go to Carlos. We’ll come back to Dustin kind of towards the end of this conversation to jump back in as a supervisor of a team that has gone through this book club experience. But Jessica, why don’t you tell me what was one of your biggest takeaways from the book?

 There are so many different combinations of using tools that might be unexpected, but they could also be the best possible solution for your learning experience.

Jessica Bailey: Sure. There are so many different combinations of using tools that might be unexpected, but they could also be the best possible solution for your learning experience. I mean, you’ve suggested in your book as well – you don’t necessarily need to use the hottest or newest tool just to gain attention, but it’s more about creating those intentional designs and really, you know, thinking about the user and how it’s going to really help them to not only understand what you’re trying to portray to them but also how they’re going to apply it in their roles. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah, it’s really interesting though. When I first came out with the book and was asking some people to review it, one person said, “It’s a cool concept, but what’s the formula?” And he was looking for an answer. 

And there’s a reason why the title is a question because different people might actually have the same problem but approach it with different elements, right? So based on the audience, based on the learners, based on the person who’s designing the training program and their own style, finding a formula that works for all of those factors – you’re never going to have an answer that will just be given to you. It’s something that you have to come up with. Carlos, I’d love to hear from you, you know, what was one of your big takeaways from the book? 

Carlos Merlo: I would say my biggest takeaway would have to be chapter seven, towards the end. It just made me think about several different things. What got me was how you describe that there’s gas elements that surround us every day, but we don’t notice them, right? 

Brian Washburn: Mhm. 

Carlos Merlo: I was– I just started thinking, I was like, “Oh my goodness. Bing!” And then you started– and then I believe that was chapter one. Chapter two was like the liquid elements and how you described that they’re very flexible, but they can also be frozen. And we know, like, in the business platform, nobody likes to be frozen, right? Nobody likes to freeze anything or put a hold on anything. And then, you went on – chapter three, radioactive elements, and that also touched me in a way that I never thought of it was: can the course survive on its own long-term? So that was amazing. Chapter four, you start talking about the more physical elements, and then chapter five the interactive, like social media, everything like that. 

We should be able to tweak our learning because, as we know, people learn differently...This book has helped me to think outside the box and to find the answers, to dig deep. 

So it was very helpful for me to think outside the box and to actually say, “Hey, my formula might not be the best formula out there.” So we should be able to tweak our learning because, as we know, people learn differently. People are very different. Some people might say, “Hey, I get it,” but other people might say, “I don’t get it. I need facts.” But this book has helped me to think outside the box and to find the answers, to dig deep. 

Brian Washburn: I love that. And it kind of goes back to what you’re saying about, you know, kind of breaking things apart and putting things back together and figuring that out. 

Carlos Merlo: Mhm.

Brian Washburn: And I’m gonna get into this idea of a team book club in just a second, but before I even get into that, something that I forgot to even prepare you– a question I forgot to even prepare you on. So I’m gonna toss it at you, so it might be a little bit of a curveball. But what made you all want to do a book club as a team in the first place? 

Reasons For Doing a Team Book Club

Trying to see where we could each grow and bring us all, you know, to reach that goal together, we started looking at different articles and just pooling our resources together. And then, ultimately, that ended up in a book club of seeing "what can we do now?" 

Jessica Bailey: I’ll take a stab at it, Carlos. We started looking at our different skill sets when we all started. Carlos and I joined the team almost a year ago, and we each have different areas of specialty. So as a way to sort of bring us all together and, you know, start a baseline of where we are in our role, we looked at, you know, different elements of our skills and what sort of resources we gravitate to, to sort of level up as a team, so that we could each, you know, tackle all of the goals that we had as far as the job to–you know, get a new LMS launch, to do loads of course conversions to get us there by the end of the year, to get there. So trying to see where we could each grow and bring us all, you know, to reach that goal together, we started looking at different articles and just pooling our resources together. And then, ultimately, that ended up in a book club of seeing “what can we do now?” 

Brian Washburn: And that makes so much sense which– and it goes into my next question. And maybe we’ll start with Carlos and come back to you, Jessica, is I’d love to hear from you in terms of what’s different between reading a book on your own, especially like a business book, and reading a book and discussing it with your colleagues.

The Difference Between Reading On Your Own and Reading it with Colleagues

Carlos Merlo: Well, the first thing is like when you read a book by yourself, like there’s some times that you’ll read like five minutes here, 10 minutes here, 15 minutes, and things will come up. But when you have a book club, it kind of keeps you honest, right? It kind of gives you that element that, “Hey, I need to read this because I don’t wanna be the person that doesn’t have answers or didn’t read it and kind of, like, delay the progression of the team.” 

It's just a better learning experience, in my opinion. 

So, I mean, it doesn’t matter how big the team or how small the team – you will learn. Because you might take something from the book or the page or the passage, but there’s things in there that you probably didn’t think about that your teammate will say, “Hey, this is what I thought of it.” And it’s just a better learning experience, in my opinion. 

Brian Washburn: I love that. Both of those things that you mentioned just in terms of it’s an accountability piece, right? 

Carlos Merlo: Yeah. 

Brian Washburn: So when other people are– it’s almost like being in college again. 

Carlos Merlo: Exactly.

Brian Washburn: I remember going to a college class one time and the professor asked, “All right. So what did people think about this chapter? And everyone looked around. Nobody had read the week’s reading assignments and she just sent us all home. She’s like, “There’s no reason for this class. Everybody go, and make sure you read before you come back to class next time.” And it’s the same thing with this, right? It’s no longer “I need to do this for my teacher,” it’s “I need to do this for everyone else, everyone who I’m working–. I don’t wanna let people down.” 

Carlos Merlo: Mhm.

Brian Washburn: And so that is such an important piece. And then the other thing that you mentioned, and this is why I love reading books with other people, this is why I love watching movies with other people because afterwards we can be talking, and people would be like, “Oh, you know, I read this. Or, you know, I liked it when he said this, or when– in the TV show or in the movie, when they said this.” I’m like, “Oh, I didn’t even catch that.” 

Carlos Merlo: Yeah. (CHUCKLES)

Brian Washburn: And it’s so helpful to hear others’ perspectives. Jessica, what would you add to this? 

Jessica Bailey: I mean, exactly what he said. But also being able to fit those different components together as a team, to see which of the puzzle pieces we thought versus them. Because we each will get something different, a different perspective from, you know, the scenario breakouts that you have in the book, or even the descriptions for how things are laid out and like, “Oh, I hadn’t even considered that for how they fit together.” But definitely keeps you more accountable and more intentional in how you plan out when you want to read the book and set aside time for that.

Brian Washburn: And so I’m gonna stay with you Jessica for this next question, I’ll go to Carlos, and then I’m gonna bring Dustin into the conversation. I had a conversation maybe a year or so ago with somebody who, kind of, the thing that she promoted was not necessarily reading for information or for entertainment, but reading for learning, reading for change. And so I’m kind of curious from your own perspectives, is there anything that you’ve actually changed as a result of reading or discussing this book with your colleagues? 

Making Change As a Result of Reading 

Jessica Bailey: Yeah. You know, I’d like to think that as an active instructional designer that I think of all the possible design combinations when I approach a new project, but we all know sometimes it’s easier to gravitate towards what we know works.

Brian Washburn: Mhm.

Using the book sort of as a recipe guide in my mind when considering different alternatives has been really helpful to inspire different combinations and options for projects.

Jessica Bailey: Or we know we can complete really quick. But using the book sort of as a recipe guide in my mind when considering different alternatives has been really helpful to inspire different combinations and options for projects. So, you know, thinking through what each thing is going to be in different phases of the design rather than just, “This is what’s gonna work. I know these pieces fit together. Let’s just roll it out and see how it would work.” But really digging down into the different scenario of “If we pick this, this could be the outcome. Or if we combine these, this might be the best approach for the audience.” So really, you know, scaling back and looking at it from an overall perspective more often, rather than just “Let’s push this out because we know that this is going to work for this one element.”

Brian Washburn: Yep. Yeah. And, it’s fascinating when you’re reading things and being exposed to new thinking, sometimes it can be uncomfortable to go away from the familiar.

Carlos Merlo: Mhm.

Brian Washburn: But it’s also sometimes how we get better. Carlos, what would you say you’ve started to do newer differently or better as a result?

Next time when I'm trying to describe something or I'm trying to get a concept out, I can use that or use those things I learned in the book club to better demonstrate." And it makes me a better instructional designer.

Carlos Merlo: Well, since we were a new team and we hadn’t– I mean, we did take classes together like here and there- I think this book club has made us a stronger team because now we understand– or that’s me. I understand how Jessica learns, like I’ve seen it through her eyes as far as, like, things that she gets quicker versus things she doesn’t. But it’s not a bad thing. It’s just like– everyone’s different. The same thing with Veronica is I can see things through her eyes and say like, “Oh, okay. So next time when I’m trying to describe something or I’m trying to get a concept out, I can use that or use those things I learned in the book club to better demonstrate.” And it makes me a better instructional designer because we know that we’re always preaching that, “Okay. Know your audience, do different persona work.” Well, I mean, I kind of took it as, “How does Jessica learn? How does Veronica learn? How do I become better at what I’m doing?” 

Brian Washburn: Yeah. I love the idea that beyond just what you find between the covers, right, from, you know, in the pages, this experience was a team building experience which makes the team better as well.

Carlos Merlo: Exactly.

Brian Washburn: Dustin, I’d love to turn to you. I know that you weren’t part of reading the book, but you have the opportunity to supervise everybody who was reading the book. Have you noticed anything that has changed as a result of this book club experience? 

Dustin Cole: Yeah, thank you. I would have to say, you know, the approach that the team’s taking – looking at the holistic view. I mean, as Jessica mentioned, they all have very different skill sets, and I’m very happy that they’re a well-rounded team and all of those skill sets meld very well together. But then to Carlos’ point, also understanding other people’s perspective and their thought process to get from A to Z for the full instructional design process. Seeing that morph over the last several months has really helped them come together. 

And then also, the consistency and the flow of the process, right? Where we’re starting in the fact-finding phase and getting to the full development phase and QA, and just how everyone works together and also can understand, “Okay, well, I knew what this person meant when they did this, and here’s why.” Because it’s just bringing that whole experience together. So I think it’s been a wonderful opportunity for them all as a team. But then for me as the leader of the group to see it all come to fruition has been a great experience. 

Brian Washburn: Yeah, that’s fantastic. And so, Dustin, I’m gonna stay with you here with this last question, then we’ll go over to Carlos, and end with Jessica here. From a supervisor’s perspective, I’d be curious to know if you find value in a team doing, kind of, a book club and, I guess, if so, what advice would you give to other team leads when it comes to trying to organize something like this? Is there anything that you saw your team do that they did well? Or is there anything you would change about the experience either for your team? Or advice you’d give for somebody else who’s a team lead trying to put something like this together?

Advice for Putting Together a Team Book Club 

 I think there's so much value in expanding this beyond what my team has already done. 

Dustin Cole: Yeah, thank you. I actually think there’s a value in looking at expanding this to other components of my team. So, you know, not only from the instructional design perspective but from the instruction perspective. And, you know, leading a team of 14 instructors that’s continuing to grow from a corporate perspective, and then also touching the lives of station trainers, you know, in 180 different locations., so much of understanding other people’s perspective and understanding the full process of learning, and incorporating adult learning principles and different modalities. And so I think there’s so much value in expanding this beyond what my team has already done. 

I’m, well, I know I’m very grateful that this team has had this initiative and, you know, encourage other leaders to take this opportunity to learn from this and expand your entire team, expand not just the instructional design phase, but also on the instruction phase. So I’m looking at doing that within my organization for the entire team. So very excited about that. 

Brian Washburn: I love it. That’s super cool. How about you, Carlos? As somebody who is part of the book club, the discussions, and for people who are listening, thinking, “I’d like to do something similar with my team at work.” What advice would you give them when it comes to organizing a team book club? What worked for you? What might you do differently next time? 

Carlos Merlo: Yeah, I think when it comes to that is I think if you want to make a book club or have any ideas, just take them with an open mind, right? Be open-minded. And it’s just, like, I have come from a teaching background – I taught for like 10 years. And one thing that we always went over was personal development. It was personal development. You have to take this many hours, this many courses. So to me, this book club was my personal development so that way I stayed sharp, right?

Brian Washburn: Yeah, that actually makes a ton of sense in terms of why– as people who are trainers, oftentimes the metaphor of the cobbler’s children who have no shoes is applied to trainers because we’re constantly helping other people improve, we’re constantly helping other people learn new things, and when is the last time that we got to learn something new? And so, a book club is a really good opportunity, low cost, for teams to be able to come together. Jessica, you get the last word for people who are listening, thinking “I’d love to do something similar. How do I get something like this started?” What advice would you give to them?

Jessica Bailey: Start small. We started with a list of all of the different books that each of us had in our own professional book libraries and started from there, really. And if you don’t wanna start with a book necessarily, maybe a series of articles or topics that coincide with your current workload. That’s also a really good step. We’ve been trying to do that as well as we’ve been going through. 

But definitely don’t bite off more of a book than you can chew in the sense that you have, you know, multiple deadlines approaching, or you already feel overwhelmed before you even crack open the book. But trying to carve out, you know, recurring meeting cadences so that you can meet and go over the sections together in those weeks, I think, is a good way to start. That way you can get into the rhythm of not only improving yourself, but like Carlos said, seeing how your team, you know, reads the book as a whole, and learning from each other. 

Brian Washburn: Well, the team at Unifi, I really appreciate your willingness to come here to talk a little bit more about your experiences with this. So Jessica, Carlos, Dustin, thank you so much for giving me some time, and thank you everyone else for listening to another episode of Train Like You Listen. If you know of somebody who might find today’s conversation about the value of a team book club to be important, go ahead and pass along a link to this podcast. If you want to make sure that you are notified anytime there is a new podcast when it’s hot off the press, go ahead and subscribe at Apple or Spotify or wherever you listen to your podcast. Even better would be if you could give us a like or a review because that’s how other people find out about us. It just takes you a minute, and it would mean a ton to us. Again, the book that this team had a chance to read was called What’s Your Formula? Combine Learning Elements for Impactful Training, written by a clever author by the name of Brian Washburn


Brian Washburn: Until next time, thank you everyone for listening, and happy training.

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