Table changes—it’s a trainer thing, right? You’ve likely experienced them frequently in workshops you’ve instructed or attended. Table changes are an important instructional technique to have in your toolbox. Let’s take a look at the fundamentals of table changes:
Why table changes are important. There are many benefits for the learners when a table change occurs. It is an opportunity to work with, and get to know, the other people in the room. This networking opportunity can provide a wealth of information and opportunities for the learners. Using a good icebreaker after the table change provides an opportunity to get up and move at what may be a “low” or passive time of the day and can introduce a fun element in what may be a long training session.
From the instructor standpoint, a table change can be a very valuable instructional technique. Mixing or reshuffling the group sometimes helps with group dynamics. Often, when learners come into the room they sit and chat with their friends and co-workers just like they do at work. Not only will a table change give people an opportunity to meet new people, it also gives the facilitator a chance to better manage the group.
When to do a table change. In multiple-day training, the middle of day one is an optimum time for the first table change as learners haven’t gotten so comfortable with their groups that they’ll give a lot of resistance. Also, if you have identified a challenge in the classroom like a dominator or someone who doesn’t mesh with their table partners, this is a good time for a table change. Of course, don’t announce it as a way of fixing a problem!
How to do a table change. There are many techniques to facilitate a table change. “Who has the earliest birthday in the year at your table? OK, you stay, the others move.” “Count off, from one to five. OK, here is our number one table (and so forth).” Both of these techniques can be done on the fly. Naturally, you can pre-plan table changes to get the result you want. Break up the co-workers, separate the non-cohesive team members, isolate the dominator, etc. Colored dots on each tent card, different sports stickers, or a little colored slash on each tent card can be the basis for a table change. If you sense reluctance from the group to do a table change, have a benefit statement available. An example might be, “I know you’ve wanted to meet and work with some of the other people in the room, so here’s a chance to do that.”
What’s the bottom line? A table change is a powerful instructional technique or tool in the facilitator’s toolbox that can benefit both the trainer and the participants.