It is timely that I found this article in Fast Company about jam sessions because I am planning a new hire on-boarding program for senior managers in which I am designing a jam session called “Product/Client Jam” to educate new managers on our products and client segments. According to the article, a jam session is defined as an
experience that is “designed to foster novel insights and accelerated learning,” not to mention they help people make “accidental discoveries.”
In June 2012, I created a product/client jam for a small group of new sales people. I had very little time to put together an on-boarding program, so I asked, “Why not just get these new sales folks in the room with our marketing, sales, and client management teams so they can 'kick around' ideas about our client segments, client problems we can help solve, products that are working and not working, opportunities for second and third products for existing clients, etc.
So we tried it. The jam session received positive feedback, so we are doing it again for a group of new senior managers. Here is how we designed the jam session.
Designing a Jam Session
Designing jam sessions into learning programs solves two problems. First, it solves the problem of not having enough time to create learning experiences that the business needs. Jam sessions can be designed quickly. Second, jam sessions naturally create an environment in which people learn from each other in a collaborative social learning experience.
To design the session I considered three things: 1) Determine the right people to get in the room; 2) Define the purpose of the jam session; and 3) Write good questions that would kick-off useful and valuable conversations.
The right people in the room: Considering that we wanted to on-board and socialize new sales professionals into our organization, so they could start reaching out to potential new clients as quickly as possible, I wanted to bring together a group of experienced people from our sales, marketing, and client service groups. These are the very people who know our clients well, what works for which client segments, and where we have struggled to build client relationships. Talking about successes and failures with experienced people is a great way to learn.
Define a purpose for the jam session: If I just called it a jam session, I would have been laughed out of the room. However, when I called the session a “Product/Client Jam” people seemed to get it. Then I created three different product/client jams, each with a slightly different purpose. The first one was to identify our biggest client who purchased our most obvious product. The purpose of this jam session was to talk about the client need and how our product satisfied that need and how the sales process worked. The second jam session was about an existing client and how we could get in with a second product, The third jam session was about a prospective client that has been a tough sell and talk about how we could position ourselves to help solve a problem and close a deal. Doing all of this in one session would not have been focused enough. The key to defining a purpose is to be narrow and clear.
Well-defined questions: Each session had its own set of questions because each session had it's own purpose. The questions need to be open-ended, written in such a way that there would be more than one answer, and written such that participants would try to achieve an ideal future state. For example, instead of asking, “What products would add value to this type of customer?” You might ask, “If we were doing a great job solving client problems, what would those problems be and how would our clients be better off?”
A Replacement for Training?
I am not suggesting jam sessions could or should replace training. However, if you don't have a lot of time to design a formal training class or program, why not create a jam session? Designing a jam session does not take a lot of time, and it leverages perfectly the idea that learning is a social process and that people learn from each other.
Tell us what you think? How would jam sessions work in your organization? Have you implemented similar programs? How did they work?
Bill Cushard, author, blogger, and head of learning at Allonhill, is a learning leader with extensive, in-the-trenches experience building learning organizations in start-up and hyper-growth organizations like E*TRADE, the Knowland Group, and Allonhill.