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Should I use internal or external trainers?

This is not an uncommon debate for businesses. Why and when should I use internal trainers and when should I bring in external trainers or use external training courses? Let’s consider some of the key issues as part of that debate...

If you have skills that need to be widely taught throughout your organisation then it often makes sense practically and financially to have this training resource in house. Areas like systems training and product training all sit well on an in house team because of the specialist knowledge involved, but what about areas like management and leadership development?

How you source this kind of training depends in some respect on your internal capability and knowledge base. Some businesses have whole teams dedicated to delivering management and leadership development programmes. Internal training can work well for training internal management processes like delivering appraisals and dealing with performance issues for example. If they need to understand a process or gain some knowledge then internal training is probably the best way if you have the capabilities in house.

For us this question is a key one in deciding which way to go:

‘What requirement is there for personal development or behavioural change as part of this training?’

Where there is any personal development or behavioural change required as part of the training, this is where external trainers really come into their own. This kind of training can be a bumpy ride for delegates and an external trainer will challenge and stretch a delegate in a way that internal trainers can’t do.

This is partly due to the psychological contract between delegate and trainer, which for internal trainers is a struggle to keep boundaries clean and reassure delegates around confidentiality.

It is also partly to do with the in-depth knowledge and experience required to bring about long-term behavioural change that, unless you train this day in day out, have a sound knowledge of learning psychology and train in different industries and environments, is difficult to achieve.

It’s often argued that the advantage of internal training is that the trainers understand the business, but this can be a disadvantage in this kind of training. It can lead to ‘group think’ or ‘us versus them’ discussions which can be unhelpful and does not challenge thinking.

There is also the issue of mistrust and confidentiality. Even the most highly trained, skilled internal trainer is on a hiding to nothing if the group suspect their contributions might be reported back to HR or their managers. Internal trainers often tell us how they assure people this won’t happen, but it makes no difference: if you’re internal, you’re internal and the perception is there. Internal trainers may also work with these people in other contexts (for example HR) which blurs boundaries and makes developmental training nigh on impossible.

External trainers have none of this baggage, they can elicit issues and cultural norms from delegates with genuine curiosity and challenge them where appropriate. They can form a clearer psychological contract with delegates:

‘This is what we are here to do, nothing else, and we will do whatever it takes to get you there.’

This means that delegates will take more risks (as there is no fear of repercussions) and share more openly the real problems they have within the organisation and with themselves.

We’ve seen people achieve a deep level of behavioural change in as little as four days of leadership training with this set up.

Choosing an external trainer

Selecting a training provider can be a challenge, so how do you know if a training provider is going to be effective?

Neuroscience (and experience) tells us that people learn best when they feel safe and are not running fear chemicals round their brain. They also need to challenge their existing thinking. This is not an easy balance to achieve. A good trainer should be able to create a safe environment for people to learn, be in charge of the training room, challenge thinking and bring about behavioural change.

How will you know if a trainer can do this if you can’t experience them training beforehand? Notice how you react to them when you meet them; do you feel open and that you can express yourself and your ideas without feeling threatened? Do you feel listened to and understood? Did you enjoy the meeting whilst feeling that it gave you something useful to think about (rather than just a nice chat)? These are all good indications. If a trainer can create that with you, it is likely they will also do that with their delegates. If you feel pushed around, intimidated, patronised or that they were ‘just nice’ this will also happen in the training room.

Are we a good fit for you? 
This short video below will give you a sense of that


Can leaders be trained or are they born that way? 
Find out the results of the study we conducted as part of our research for our book, Real Leaders for the Real World in this short video below:


Blog Photo by Raw Pixel on Unsplash

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