Contracting in Learning and Development

In the podcast The secrets of accelerated learning; create the right environment with Krystyna Gadd, we talked about the process of “contracting” in training sessions and other learning and development activities.

I haven’t found a definitive definition of exactly what contracting is in this context, indeed the word doesn’t seem to even exist!

The best I could do was this from, as a definition for “contract”:

[noun, adjective, verb 15–17, 21, 22 kon-trakt; verb kuh n-trakt]
1. an agreement between two or more parties for the doing or not doing of something specified

So, we can assume “contracting” is the act of doing that.

A reasonably good definition is this one from where they discuss various teaching strategies:

Contracting is the process of openly discussing with your students expectations about how classroom members will treat each other

I might change the words a bit for adult L&D, and include “… and agreeing” after the word “discussing”, but I think it’s good enough.

Is it worth doing?

Most people I speak to in L&D would say that it’s invaluable if done well.: it sets the scene, establishes the boundaries and gets people talking.

I suppose this is probably true, but I also wonder just how much impact they have as oftentimes they seem to be stuck on the wall and swiftly forgotten?

For it to be anything other than a paper exercise that provides more value as wallpaper than anything else, the facilitator must dig deep for useful stuff and the meaning behind it, and keep referring back to it so that the agreed rules act as a constant guide.

In the podcast, Krys talked about three questions she asked which acted as her contracting process.

The questions might be sent beforehand as prework, or – more probably – used to frame a discussion at the start of the session or programme.

  1. In order for this to be of value to you, it has to be like what?
  2. In order for it to be like that, you have to be like what?
  3. In order for you to be like that, others have to be like what?

During the discussion, the facilitator captures all responses – without changing any words – and does not comment or interpret*.

The facilitator can ask for clarification, and should be encouraging to participants, thanking them for their contribution.

These are then displayed on the wall throughout the session(s).

Krys credits Clean Language as her source for these questions.



* I don’t entirely agree with this, I think the Facilitator can add more value by digging to help people think through the consequences of what people come up with, potentially expanding on what they might say.

For example, a common one is that people must be open to challenge and feedback, but the Facilitator can prompt a discussion that then expands this to include the responsibility to challenge and provide honest and constructive feedback, not just receive it.

Similarly for the obvious one about mobile phones – someone often says that they must be banished! – but this can be tempered to be more realistic and allow for people to make their own decisions if they need to be plugged in for any reason.



Top Five Mistakes by a Learning and Development Professional Trainer Tools

We all make mistakes, and when we're forced to suddenly start working entirely online after a lifetime of facilitating training in training rooms, we might make a lot more of them! No problem, mistakes are learning opportunities, and so in this podcast John Tomlinson talks to Caroline Black about five mistakes she's made since the Covid pandemic and moving her learning and development sessions into the virtual world. Caroline Black is a specialist in leadership development and communication skills. She is a Fellow and Chartered Member of the Chartered Institute of Public Relations. Caroline designs and delivers bespoke online and face to face training courses, workshops and webinars. She is also a corporate event facilitator (online and face to face) and conference chair. Her clients in the public, private, and not-for-profit sectors include the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, Cabinet Office, The Royal Navy, ACCA and Lloyds Banking Group. Caroline is a published author of The PR Professionals handbook (Kogan Page 2014) and The PR Practitioner’s Desk Top Guide (Thorogood second edition 2009). In her spare time, she runs baby namings, weddings and funerals on behalf of Humanists UK. Visit her website here or follow her on Twitter (@caroblack) or visit her profile on LinkedIn.    
  1. Top Five Mistakes by a Learning and Development Professional
  2. Leadership training in the virtual world
  3. From inclusion to belonging in Learning and Development
  4. Information design in learning: tips for making great visuals
  5. The Dos and Don'ts of Coaching Skills Training

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