Here's the situation. You are the new director of training in an organization with 1,200 people in 135 locations distributed across 13 states, in an industry of which you have no prior experience. You have been on the job for three days when your boss hands you your first assignment: Create a new training program consisting of four modules to provide new property managers with the basics of how to perform in their new role. Your boss would like you to accomplish this by using teams of subject matter experts. Oh, and while you are at it, he would like you to introduce this training in a new format of instructor-led, online delivery, and you have three months to make this happen.

WOW! This situation sounded like something from a textbook case study exercise about project management, rapid development, e-learning, and teamwork all rolled into one. But it wasn't a case study; it was my new job.

I hadn't been with the company long enough to know what each position entailed and had only begun to scratch the surface in my needs assessment, but I knew that there was a training need because no formal training currently existed for this group. From my years of working in the manufacturing sector, I knew that a team-oriented approach would work well for this assignment, and I was happy to find myself in a company that embraced continuous improvement teams.

Colonial Properties Trust is a diversified property management company. My customers in this case are the team members who serve the multifamily division, which consists of apartment communities. Each property has fewer than 10 people on site, so online delivery is the way of the future for the company.

Four development teams were formed consisting of 20 team members selected via nominations by the company's operational vice presidents. These teams consisted of the best of the best or Colonial's "star" performers who fill the positions of property managers and regional vice presidents. A team charter was created by the steering team comprised of the division vice president of human resources, director of compliance, director of training, and the corporate trainer. As the director of training, I was the project leader and from the charter I created a project plan using the company specific planning tool called a key event schedule or KES (a version of a Gantt chart).

In the first meeting we reviewed the basics of team membership, including expectations and operating procedures. A steering team member helped each team follow the process and keep on track with KES timelines. Deliverables for each module included a participant guide, instructor guide, and PowerPoint slides. Teams were expected to meet at least once a week and were given timelines for each deliverable.

Upon first glance this could appear to be a daunting task, so we broke the development and design elements into small chunks. The first call with each team was to determine an outline of what would be covered in each module. From these outlines, we developed our learning objectives. The next step was to flesh it out with content. Each team member took responsibility for adding content to the learning objective for which they felt most experienced. In weekly meetings, team members presented and merged ideas into the final product.

Another tool that facilitated the development process was the use of the company team member portal through SharePoint. Team members could each contribute, add, and build documents by storing them on a team-specific site on the SharePoint training page.

We discovered that some of our SMEs had prior training experience and some familiarity with instructional design, so although I expected the training department to be responsible for developing the format and design of the deliverables, the teams provided insight and ideas that we incorporated into our final product. Their input exceeded our expectations and the requirements of their time. In fact, the teams delivered far more than what had been requested and provided the training department with a much more robust product than we could have accomplished alone or even if we had outsourced this project.

The project was completed 100 percent in-house, and although we experienced a bit of scope creep with competing fourth quarter priorities, we rolled out the new training on time. Now, one module is delivered each Wednesday at 1:00 p.m. for the corresponding week of the month. (Module One on Week One and so on). SMEs also continue to serve as instructors each week.

I've heard it said that the word TEAM stands for "Together Everyone Achieves More," and in this situation I would have to agree. This was a phenomenal experience and a wonderful platform from which to drive future development initiatives, and it never would have been possible without everyone working together.

2007 ASTD, Alexandria, VA. All rights reserved.