Protocols with Adult Learners? Seriously?!

Christine H. Hoyos

Last month, I facilitated a learning meeting with a middle school staff. We only had an hour to learn and work together so a protocol seemed fitting. As always, I expected to hear a bit of grumbling about the need for a protocol, but participants tend to get over that initial reaction once engaged in the process. However, this time was different. A handful of staff shared in feedback that they felt the use of protocols with adults was inappropriate. In their opinion, the use of protocols treat adults as though they are not professionals, unable to have a meaningful discussion without a process.

In our work at Abeo, protocols and processes are the meat and potatoes of our facilitation of adult learners. They're a natural "go-to" when designing professional learning. Following my experience at this middle school though, it struck me that a small group of people would have such a strong negative reaction to the use of protocols - it caused me to pause. Maybe it was time for me to revisit the purpose of protocols and reflect on the role they play in adult learning. What do I believe about them? Are they really necessary? 

Using Protocols to Enhance, Not Inhibit, Adult Learning and Work

When we meet with others to collaborate, we expect to be productive and inclusive. We expect to be efficient with time and meet our goals. If you're lucky, the team you're with functions like clockwork, but what if it doesn't? Or what if your high-functioning team could be even more transformative in their work?

Protocols. What can they offer a team? Why do they matter?

  • Safety. A structure for collaboration allows for risk-taking amongst a team. A structure provides safety for members to challenge and push on each other's thinking respectfully. Parameters guide member participation in presenting and discussing work. If we want to ask each other challenging questions, we've got to be safe.
  • Equity. A structure for collaborative conversations ensures all voices are heard. Being intentional about contributions by each team member provides space for input, feedback and honesty. Let's face it, we can only go as far as our own heads so hearing what others are thinking is invaluable.
  • Efficiency. A structure to use time well is always welcome. Our time is valuable and limited so let's make the most of it. Intentional timings for sharing, discussing, reading or working can aid in productive collaboration. Working towards outcomes becomes a reality.
  • Community. A structure supports a team with their interactions. Delineated roles and steps guide individuals as a collaborative. Differing perspectives and insights become windows for understanding colleagues. Honest, open discussions bring our humanness to the team.  

I'm glad to have had this pause. My faith in protocols has been, again, renewed. From experience I've seen the impact of protocols with groups and teams. I've experienced protocols firsthand and have felt their power. My work now is to help others understand the purpose of protocols and their potential for structuring meaningful collaboration.

Abeo uses,Why Protocols?, to lay the foundation for the purpose of protocols in collaboration. Get it here.