In my initial Training of Trainer by the International Union of Socialist Youth, our trainers put a bunch of cards on the ground. On these cards, they had written titles like ‘mother’, ‘football coach’, and ‘teacher’. They told us to choose one of them and that it would represent our identity as a trainer.
Picking one thing that defines me as a trainer? I broke a sweat and started to restlessly sort through the cards. I was looking for the title that would promise me the most diverse ways of working and approaching education. The last thing that I wanted was to be backed into the restrictive boundaries of the formal educational teacher thinking.
It did not dawn on me at that moment, was that any title would be what I made of it. I was the one deciding how to fill any role. Back then, I picked ‘older sister’ as my card. I envisioned my trainer identity to be one that cares for their participants but does not control their learning, that embraces them both lovingly and challenging.
This idea of me as a facilitator and trainer did not change a lot since 2016. What changed is that today I have a better understanding of how different each and every one of us approach their practice. Over the years, I have met and worked with many very different trainers. Thanks to their diversity, I was able to identify eleven trainer or facilitator archetypes. Each of the archetypes expanse around one aspect of the trainer-participant relationship. Once you have read through the different profiles, I show you my way of defining my very own trainer identity using these archetypes.
The Coach guides the participants through the process. They are incredible in finding the right question to ask to challenge a participant’s assumption. Their high awareness for the process and its flow makes it easy for them to adjust and think on their feet.
But the Coach can also get into too deep. They risk focussing their attention too much on one or a few participants. They can also lose track of themselves as they are so tuned into the participants. Self-care is not their most vigorous pursuit.
The Expert trainer is in love with their topic or approach. They often come from the field or have worked on it for along time. They are a great resource to tab into while developing sessions or if participants have specific questions. Their insight can help to push participants to the next level through detailed and precise questions.
On their own, an Expert can be problematic in a participatory setting as they might be too deep into the weeds. They could take over discussions or enforce their authority by giving to much input. Their relationship to participants can be distant. Participants could even be afraid to voice their opinion if it is different than the one of the trainer.
The Best Friend is close to the participants and can relay to their needs and problems. They trust them and want to hang out with them in the evening or after the training. The Best Friend trainer is incredibly useful in feeling the pulse of the group and anticipate what they need next.
But they can also be too close. The best friend might cut a team meeting short because a bunch of participants wants to grab some drinks. Even in the most non-formal setting, if the line between participant and trainer gets too blurry, it becomes hard to have all the pieces in place to put the process in motion.
The Cheerleader creates fantastic energy. They cheer the participants up, spread joy and laughter. If a group is stuck, they know just that small energiser that will help them move on and climb to new heights. It is the same energy that makes them fantastic team members. A team meeting with them feels more like a coffee date with friends. You will feel empowered by them to grow and go further.
Nevertheless, sometimes they miss the target. Cheering up for the purpose of cheering up can feel shallow. It might even allow participants to not reflect on mistakes or shortfalls. When cheering up turns into people-pleasing, it stops being constructive. Especially if there are conflicts that need to be discussed in the team, the Cheerleader in their extreme can be a stumbling block.
The Controller is always on top of the situation. They have an eye on all the things – the time, the method, the mood, the discussion, the and and and. They know how to keep things on track and make methods work.
For participants and co-trainers alike, the Controller can be a bit of a challenge. Being so focused on keeping everything in the green, they have a hard time to adapt to the flow of a session or the need of the participants. They can be perceived as distant and stressed out at times.
The Accountability Buddy lets participants find their own way but checks in with them to keep them on track to. This type always strives for the right balance of freedom and structure. They are also an ideal partner to have in the team, as they give you your space but also hold you accountable to get shit done. Who does not need some external accountability some time? 😉
The most significant risk with the Accountability Buddy is when they don’t check-in. In that case, the loose structure of their approach falls apart. Especially with participants, it can create a feeling of been let down.
The Nurturer has the gift to accompany participants throughout their entire learning journey by giving them exactly the right intellectual nourishment to grow beyond themselves. Also, in the team, they often show that they know exactly what the others need and how to take care of them.
Nevertheless, even the Nurturer can overdo it. Helping participants too much or too early can stop them from putting an effort in. In the team, they can be just too much. As a consequence, individual team members might need to enforce boundaries which can lead to a conflict.
The Sharer has one really powerful tool – they lead groups through their own vulnerability. When talking about a tough topic, they don’t mind lowering the hesitance to participate through bringing a personal example.
The Sharer becomes problematic when they overshare. Their examples can make them the main focus of the discussion instead of encouraging participants to share their own. Their personal feelings can derail a team meeting.
The Method Magician has – as the name says – always a method up their sleeve. Does the group discussion get stuck – they have a method. Is the brainstorming all over the place – they have a method. Is there a conflict between to groups of participants – they have a method. As a co-trainer, you can always count on the method magician to help you out when you feel stuck developing a session.
As useful as that might sound, the Method Magician can overdo it. They can plaster sessions so full of methods that no real flow between the participants can establish. The group could also just stay on the surface of an issue because they are more focussed with understanding the next method than to reflect on the topic. Furthermore, methods can create a barrier between participant and trainer. Who would like to approach someone with a question knowing the answer will be a method instead of a personal connection.
The Entertainer is always ready to turn a stuffy session into a fascinating action movie. Their joyful mentality makes them super approachable for participants and a joy to work with for every educational team. They are excited to take on every energiser and lead in educational games and team building activities.
But sometimes they do not know when to dial it down. Some topics or situation need a more thoughtful and sensitive approach. It can be challenging for participants when hard issues are approached with ‘Let’s create a dance that symbolises it.’. Also for themselves, the Entertainer can at moments be too much. They can put all their energy into being on all the time and forget to take care of themselves.
Fly on the Wall
The Fly on the Wall is the most excellent observer of them all. They know precisely the right moment to step back and give space to the participants. Their strong suit is active listening. It gives participants the feeling of being heard in a really authentic and genuine way.
On the other hand, the Fly on the Wall can appear withdrawn and not really part of the process. That can make it difficult for participants to approach them. As a co-trainer, you can feel being let down by them if they are too passive.
Do you remember how I told you at the beginning that I got anxious about picking just one of the cards as my trainer identity? I would have the same feeling today if I had to pick one of the above archetypes.
The way I approach them to form my ultimate trainer identity is to look at them as scales. In myself as a trainer and facilitator, I see parts of all these archetypes manifesting themselves to a different degree. You can see my current set of the scales in the graphic below.
So what does that mean for my practice? I approach the archetypes as base-assessment for my professional development as a trainer and facilitator. Let’s say I want to be more supportive of my participants without making it easy for them. In the first step, I identify the archetype that relates to this skill – the Coach, Accountability Buddy, Nurturer and Cheerleader. Next, I check-in with my current set of the scale and how it presents in my practice. Finally, I formulate a goal for each of the archetype I need to improve.
I also used it in analysing my practice in retrospect after an activity. That helps me to understand what drove specific actions and how I can do it differently the next time. They can also be a useful concept when addressing specific needs among the participants. Let’s say the group is really slow to react, I might want to dip deep into my Entertainer behaviours.
How would you describe your trainer identity? Do you know other trainer archetypes? Is there a profile you want me to dive deeper in? Let me know in the comments below.
Also, it would help me out if you like and share this post with your fellow trainer friends!
Love and appreciation,
P.S. Looking for more archetypes? Check out the different kinds of experts and how you can work with them here.