How many times has this happened to you?  Another division in your organization has contacted your department to develop training on a project they’ve been working on for months. They plan to roll out the project next month, so this seems like the right time to request training. Maybe they’ve even decided on the form the training should take, such as an online course.

On the positive side, a last-minute training request means that your stakeholders are thinking about their training needs. They’re just not thinking about those needs early enough in the process, and are unaware of how an earlier start would offer everyone a better chance to establish a shared vision of the training needs and the possibilities. Scenarios like this one are the reason so many training departments wish they had a seat at the table when projects are under development.

The building blocks

Forming strategic partnerships is a function we often expect management to perform. And while management support is critically important, there’s generally room at every level of an organization to build towards strategic partnerships. If your training group wants to partner with other areas in the organization, one way to accomplish that goal is to imagine what conditions would exist if the partnerships were already established, and any member of the partnership were able to bring ideas to the table.

Here are a few ways your team can begin to build those conditions, without stepping on anyone’s toes:

  • Express curiosity about the work other groups are doing. Most people like to talk about what they’re doing. You can ask them casually during a conversation in the cafeteria, or you can make a five-minute call to the project groups directly and ask for a quick description of their projects. You may be tempted, but don’t offer any solutions during this conversation unless you’re asked. The goal of this conversation is to express your interest, and to remind the other person that the training team exists and is willing to support their efforts. If an action item comes out of the conversation, make sure your next step is taken through the proper channels for your organization.
  • Keep track of the initiatives going on in other areas of the organization. As you have the conversations with the project groups, it’s helpful to track those projects in a central location, a dashboard where anyone on the training team can see all of the initiatives your team has heard about. Then make it a point to talk about those efforts in team meetings and brainstorm ways your team might contribute to the projects. It’s also worth considering whether anyone on the team has a particularly strong relationship with anyone on the projects.
  • Keep an eye on what you and your team have to offer. Some of the services the training team can offer might not fall into traditional training roles. If the project involves new software development, for example, your group might offer to run through test scripts. Doing so gives the trainers early exposure to the purpose and function of the software, and provides instant value for the software development team as well.
  • Offer resources that will assist other departments to create better training content on their own. Some project teams want to create their own training assets without the full involvement of the training staff. In that case, as a good strategic partner, your department’s role is to offer the best support and advice you can. If your department has an internal Web site, you can make templates available for PowerPoint presentations or rapid development tools, offer tips on how to make good audio and video recordings, provide information on which media are best for different types of training content, or compare how well different authoring tools interact with your LMS. Make it known that other areas can call you with questions, and they may end up using more of your services than they anticipated.
  • Finally, keep an eye on the goals you and the project teams have in common. Your team and the project team both have the common goal of supporting the project, so you have a great place to start building a partnership. You both have a vested interest in developing training that meets the needs of the project and the learners, and both reputations stand to gain or lose based on the quality of that training. If you keep that in mind as you frame conversations with your project teams, it’ll go a long way to building the relationship and making your next joint effort smoother.

The value of hindsight

None of these steps can ensure that you’ll never get another eleventh-hour training request. The next time it happens, though, take some time after meeting the challenge to think about how your team might have anticipated the demand, and how you could actively seek opportunities to partner with that project group in the future. It could lead to more opportunities for your department, better quality work products from project teams, and better internal relationships within the organization.