4 Skills for Thriving as a One-Person Training Department

Being a one-person training department comes with a lot of responsibilities—and more than a few nice perks. It’s a bit like planning an international trip just for yourself. On the one hand, you have a lot more autonomy to choose where you’re going and how you’ll get there. On the other hand, you’re the only one around to carry your bags, navigate foreign airports, and deal with the consequences when some aspect of your trip is interrupted.

To best experience this freedom to go your own way in your work world, you do have to develop some skills. You need to be able to determine not only the destination but the best route from A to B.  And you must become more efficient and productive with day-to-day tasks, so you can free up time to do all of the incredible work that your solo role demands of you.

Sounds like a big challenge, doesn’t it? Well, I’ve boiled it down to four essential skills you’ll want to develop to help manage your workload, embrace your independence, and thrive as a one-person training department.

Skill #1: Good Time Management

When you’re responsible for everything from leading workshops to troubleshooting the LMS, it can feel like you’re being pulled in a million different directions. It can be exhausting. So how do you take control of your time?

Track Your Time

It takes discipline to track all of your activities over an extended period of time, but doing so pays off in increased awareness of what it really takes to do your job. You can use whatever mechanism works best for you, but I’ve found that online time and task trackers like Toggl and MyHours (both of which offer free plans) can be helpful. You can also keep track using good old-fashioned pen and paper.

You’ll want to log as much of your day as possible, including meetings, phone calls, hallway conversations, and the time it takes you to complete project-related tasks, like sourcing images and resolving conflicting feedback. Eventually, you should start to see some trends pointing to how much time you’re spending on producing results … and how much time you’re wasting on unproductive tasks and conversations.

Schedule "Office Hours"

Nothing throws off your best-laid plans faster than constant interruptions. That open-door policy may seem like a nice way to demonstrate your spirit of collaboration, but it doesn’t do you or your clients any good if you can’t actually produce the work!

If your office or cubicle feels like Grand Central Station, it may be time to set up some office hours—times during the day where you’re “open” for business and can take in requests.

Manage Distractions

Tools like email, phones, and social media can be great productivity enablers, but they can also be huge productivity killers. One thing that mentally exhausts soloists is the feeling that they need to “drop everything” to give people their full attention. You may feel like being constantly connected demonstrates your value to the organization and shows everyone how responsive you are to their needs, but giving everyone in your org instant access to you makes it hard to manage priorities and even harder to manage expectations.

In addition to setting up office hours, earmark time each day to turn off the phone (voicemail can be a wonderful thing), disconnect from email, and schedule down-time for yourself to do the work of thinking, planning, and organizing. Then, schedule some time back into your day for returning phone calls, answering email, and responding to last-minute requests.

Skill #2: The Ability to Streamline Your Workflow

Being a one-person training department requires a lot of flexibility and creativity from you. You’re constantly adapting to shifting needs and priorities and everyone expects the same level of care and detail from you. That’s why streamlining your workflow is an absolute necessity for soloists.

Use Templates

One of my favorite time-savers is templates. Not only is E-Learning Heroes chock-full of free templates, but it’s also easy to save your own projects as templates for quick and easy repurposing in new projects. Here’s an article and video that walk you through how to create and use templates in Articulate Storyline (the same steps apply in Storyline 2).

Use Style Guides

Ever work on a large project that required a lot of consistency from deliverable to deliverable? If so, you may have found it frustrating to complete one deliverable (usually a course) only to have to go back and tweak it to look or act like the ones you developed later on down the line.

One way to streamline your work and avoid this kind of time-consuming re-work is to create a style guide right at the start of a project. A style guide allows you to front-load the design decision-making process, create more visual cohesion in your projects, and, most important, protect yourself from decision fatigue. When you and your stakeholders agree on how screens should look and how certain types of interactions should behave, you can be a lot more methodical in how you assemble e-learning projects.

Be sure to check out this excellent guest post from Ashley Chiasson, which walks through the why and how to creating an e-learning style guide, and this article from Nicole Legault, which talks about what you should include in a style guide.

Skill #3: Strong Communicator

When you’re a one-person training department a big part of your job is to lead conversations with stakeholders and managers. They, like you, are busy people. They need their time to be used productively. What can you do to make sure your time together is well spent?

Do Your Homework

Come to meetings prepared with questions—and answers when necessary. Anticipate decision-making sticking points that could bog down your momentum, and brainstorm some other options.

Help Decision-Makers Make Informed Choices

It’s helpful and important to discuss trade-offs with project stakeholders: It’s not that you can’t do X or Y by the deadline, it’s that there’s a cost or impact for doing X or Y.

Skill #4: Be Your Own Champion

When you’re a soloist, it can seem to others that the work just magically gets done. Without someone who’s familiar with the day-to-day mechanics of your job, the entire process of course creation may not be appreciated by outsiders. Even your direct manager may have no clue what it is that you actually do. Here are some ideas to consider that may help elevate your profile and paint a clearer picture of your role in the organization.

Make Your Process More Transparent

Your internal (or external) clients may not have the faintest idea what’s involved in creating an e-learning course. When it’s still early in the project timeline, walk them through your design and development process. Use an existing course as a case study to help them visualize what you do. You can even walk them through the project timeline and highlight parallels between the example project and the new project.

Toot Your Own Horn

Whether you realize it or not, the impact of your work on the organization is being measured. Remember that sales training course you created last quarter? That may have had a positive impact on this quarter’s sales numbers. And remember that workplace safety project you worked on last year? I’ll bet you someone is keeping track of the number of reported safety incidents.

When you’re a one-person training department, you may not have someone who advocates for you or champions the important impact of training on the organization. What to do? Be your own champion! Don’t be afraid to shamelessly seek out opportunities to correlate your work with concrete performance outcomes—and then to share those wins.

More Learning

It’s not easy being a one-person department—no matter your area of focus. But hopefully these tips will set you on the path to solo success.

If you’re looking for even more tips and ideas on how to succeed as an e-learning pro, check out some of these articles from the archives.

5 Skills You Need to Create Better E-Learning

How to Improve Your E-Learning Skills

10 Tips for Becoming a Better Designer

What skills are helping you thrive as a one-person training department? What skills do you wish you’d had when you first started in your role? Jump into the conversation and share your ideas with us! And we’d love for you to follow us on Twitter, where we post the latest and greatest news about everything e-learning.

Want to try something you learned here, but don't have Articulate software? Download a free trial, and come back to E-Learning Heroes regularly for more helpful advice on everything related to e-learning.

Tracy Parish

Thanks for this article Trina, you've captured my work life perfectly all in one article. In the past I have had to capture each minute of the day to "prove" just what and how much I was accomplishing. More so the reason for this was to approximate the same cost if they were to bill the same work out. That proved to be a big eye opener to many, including myself. Scheduling "office hours" really helps. As you said, there are times you do need to just shut the door, turn off the phone, close down email, and just plain concentrate on work. I'm in this mode currenlty as a large project is due end of the month. The last and perhaps most important is Communication for me. Knowing how to approach your clients and assess truly what they need and what you then require from them will a... Expand