Professional development is crucial in the workplace, but it’s not always easy to cultivate. The growth that professional development can foster is important for gaining confidence in the workplace as well as in personal matters. Plus, this development can really help people to hone their abilities and contribute more to their performance. Professional development activities can help employees to improve their skills and advance their careers - which is a win-win for both companies and staff.
This is where scheduling and arranging professional development activities comes in handy. Workplaces can organize structured activities that focus on things like workplace conflict resolution, communications, and problem solving. You’ll soon find that these activities are important for employee engagement and employee loyalty, too (make sure to read our article on employee retention ideas as well). In this article, we’re exploring our favorite professional development activities that workplaces can organize in order to improve corporate skills and nurture employee skill sets.
The most common professional development topics
It can be difficult to narrow down a professional development activity to just one area. What will be most impactful in your workplace, and with your team? Obviously that is going to vary based on the unique traits of your company and the people working there. That being said, the most common areas of focus when planning a professional development day include:
1. Environmental responsibility and sustainability
Who doesn’t want to use natural resources wisely so that future generations can enjoy our planet? The problem is many people aren’t sure where to start. Help your workers to become more sustainability-focused with sessions that will help them learn how to reduce waste, conserve energy, use eco-friendly materials, and learn about renewable energy resources.
2. Time management
If you want your employees to be more productive while also being less stressed about how they spend their time, this topic is for you. Time management is essential in both personal and professional lives, so if you can offer actionable tips with real solutions, people will line up to learn!
3. Professional certifications
Many industries must maintain certain credentials to demonstrate workers have a degree of applicable knowledge or skills. You can help your workers achieve these by working alongside professional organizations, industry associations, or certification bodies. Common areas for certification include technical skills like IT licensing as well as project management. From certified public accountants to certified information systems security professionals, there is likely a certification that can make your staff members more qualified and more marketable.
4. Communication skills
Chances are, your colleagues must talk to people at some point while doing their job. Improving these skills is never a bad idea. A lack of communication leads to a reduction in shared knowledge, ideas, and diversity among employees. Forward thinking organizations are focused on how to improve overall communications within their teams.
5. Conflict management
For many groups, this area is a sector within overall communication, but in particularly contentious spaces it’s a good idea to make conflict resolution its own area of focus. The ability to deal with differing opinions and difficult situations is priceless and can help people with everything from salary negotiations to customer complaints to unhappy staff departures.
6. Financial literacy
The ability to understand and manage finances effectively is paramount in today’s rapidly changing economy. Having the knowledge and skills to make more informed financial decisions will prove helpful in many different ways. Development in this area can include anything from budgeting help to advice on saving and investing as well as creating larger financial goals. Employees are likely to be grateful to companies who are trying to help them keep more of the money they earn!
7. Conducting performance evaluations
If you have a lot of managers in your organization, then it’s crucial to help them properly conduct performance evaluations for their reports. Every manager should have a thorough understanding of how to assess their team’s strengths and weaknesses, understand specific worker needs, and place people into the right roles. In general, learning how to give and receive constructive criticism is a great life skill that can help people in almost any area.
8. Customer service
If serving people is part of your business model, then you can’t do enough customer service training! Offering excellent examples of the customer service you expect will help both your company and your customers in the long run. Help employees to develop skills like patience, empathy, conflict resolution, etc. and they will be more calm under pressure.
Specific professional development activity ideas
Once you’ve chosen a topic, consider some of these activity ideas. They are the perfect combination of fun and education, so that your team can gain new skills, improve current ones, and also improve engagement and maybe even have a few laughs.
1. Vision board workshop
This is a hands-on way to power your team’s growth. In this exercise, participants should reflect on their goals - both personally and professionally. Then they can use the insights to create a visual reminder of everything they want out of life. This can really help with providing clarity on a career path and how employees plan to get there.
2. Improv class
Being able to apply the knowledge you do have to daily life is a valuable skill. Improv classes can help people to hone those skills and think on their feet. These classes are fun but also give people a safe place to be silly without fear of judgment.
3. Interactive communication workshop
Communication skills are a massive part of succeeding in business. This skill is also the key to building relationships with coworkers. Do some research on what’s available in your area. You may be able to find an expert to conduct the workshop, or at least give you some great ideas for executing such an event.
4. Empathy exercises
Emotional intelligence (called EQ) involves relating to yourself and others, and is a big part of succeeding in relationships and business. In order to work effectively with others, having a high EQ is critical. A simple exercise for this setting up a time to pair people off and practice active listening. Choose a topic to discuss and each person should share their thoughts. The other person should state back what the first individual said in their own words. This shows they truly listened and understood the message.
5. Conflict resolution games
Conflict resolution is never comfortable, so making a game out of it can help to learn new skills in a fun way. Try organizing people into small groups and then present a difficult situation for them to resolve. Or, focus on developing negotiation skills with scenarios that require a win-win solution. Have groups work together and discuss each situation to come up with satisfactory solutions.
6. Team building circle
In this game, participants sit in a circle and take turns sharing a conflict they’ve experienced. The rest of the group should offer advice, suggestions, and support to help them understand and solve the conflict. This helps everyone to foster open communication and cooperation. Review a whole list of other team building activities here and make sure to follow our blog for more team building tips.
7. Attend a group conference
There are plenty of in-person events that can help with various aspects of professional development. Attending conferences or seminars together are a great way to bond and spend time together while learning new things. A larger conference is a great idea because they’re so versatile: everyone can attend the sessions that make the most for them, and then you can reconvene for dinner.
8. Develop a skill-sharing program
Staff members can actually help each other a lot with various talents. Set up a skill-sharing program where employees connect with workplace leaders and create a stronger community. Have team leaders volunteer to host various lectures, skill-building workshops, or lunch and learns and then put together a schedule of events that employees can attend.
9. Visual thinking workshop
Many people are visual learners and it helps them to do hands-on activities to absorb information. Host a visual thinking workshop emphasizing the use of things like diagrams, symbols, or timelines. Visual thinking is a form of communication that can add to innovative problem solving and better presentation skills.
10. Leadership development
Leadership is a highly sought-after skill that you can’t really put a price on and is valuable in every sector. There are several games and exercises that can be used to work toward stronger leadership skills. Gather your team and play “survival scenario” or “tower build”. In the first game, present a survival situation to your group and have them work together to make decisions about what needs to happen, and to prioritize activities and supplies. In the latter game, teams should try to build the tallest building possible using the limited resources you provide. Both games will help with decision-making, task delegation, and effective teamwork. Review more team leadership activities on our blog.
11. Leadership styles quiz
Have participants take a quiz that assesses their leadership style. For example, democratic, autocratic, etc. After everyone takes the quiz, engage in discussions about the strengths and weaknesses of all styles. Talk about how to make this form of leadership more effective and how you can bring these strengths to your team. Do a quick online search to find a variety of quizzes.
12. Case study analysis
For this exercise, give participants a real-life case study presenting business scenarios, ethical dilemmas, or a leadership challenge. Then have everyone work together to analyze the situation, identify potential solutions, and discuss the strategies that would be most impactful.
13. Burnout management
It’s important to help people not only excel at work, but to create a healthy and happy relationship with work. Burnout is common for people with demanding jobs, and employees appreciate a workplace that supports efforts to limit stress. Host a burnout management workshop to give your team the right tools to manage stress, and it will be a win-win for everyone.
14. Personal branding workshop
Staff who are serious about their career trajectory should learn about personal branding. You can help by offering a class on the subject. Help employees to learn about themselves and take more control over their careers. You can look at online learning platforms that offer various classes, or work with professional development organizations to find the right fit for your team. Universities or colleges are also a good place to start looking for personal branding classes. Coursera is a good resource for such tools.
15. Diversity and inclusion seminars
Diversity and inclusion activities have become a crucial element of today’s workplaces. You can find diversity, equity, and inclusion workshops online that are great for in-person or virtual teams. These sessions will provide new skills, terms, and concepts that can help make your workplace more inclusive and more productive.
16. Practice performance reviews
Reviews, appraisals, evaluations…whatever you want to call it, assessing job performance at least annually is an important opportunity for both managers and staff. The problem is, many people are uncomfortable with the process - both giving and receiving reviews. Make it easier on everyone by conducting some workshops in advance. Before review season starts, sit everyone down with the forms that your company uses. Pair people off and have them work through some imaginary scenarios.
For example, give a few highlights about the person’s imaginary performance including a few areas where they excel and a few things that need to be worked on. Have the pair hold a discussion where all of this is covered constructively. Then, switch and allow the other person to be the “reviewer”. Note: pair people that do not work together so that any performance notes are strictly hypothetical. You don’t want someone to take a comment personally if it hits too close to home. All of the situations should be pretend only, but open a dialogue and let people practice these tough discussions.
17. Presentation prep
Almost no one likes speaking in front of a group (apparently 25% don’t mind it, since 75% of people fear public speaking). So, an exercise around presenting would be highly valued - but uncomfortable. Make things as comfortable as possible by getting people to practice in a safe, supportive environment. An improv game is a great way to do this, as mentioned above. Everyone feels like they’re in a similar vulnerable situation so no one is laughing “at them”. Or, you can download a list of tips and best practices, hand them out along with a topic, and ask everyone to put together a 2-minute presentation on their subject. It can be complex, like a business issue, or super simple, like their favorite animal. The important thing is that people embrace the tips and get up there. They’ll feel better the next time they’re called on to present.
18. Mentorship program
A mentorship system is a great way to help your employees in several ways and all it costs is a bit of time. Pair more seasoned workers with junior staff who could use guidance on tricky work situations, addressing tough conversations with their boss, or navigating office politics. A mentor can be critical for someone’s career growth. There are countless studies that show the various benefits of mentoring, from better performance to increased company loyalty.
Note: in some instances, staff with more demanding jobs might be worried about the demands on their time. Try to make things as seamless as possible by carving out time for them so that they won’t have to make up work time elsewhere. For example, encourage pairs to leave the office for a mid-morning lunch, rather than meeting up for a conversation after work. And, another important best practice is to make sure a mentor is not someone’s direct supervisor. The idea is that junior employees feel comfortable asking things like “How can I talk to my boss about a raise this year?” They should be able to have these conversations securely with someone who has their best interest at heart.
19. Close the communication gap
In today’s more remote work culture, there’s bound to be some communication gaps. As many offices have a mix of remote and in-person workers, and digital tools make it possible to work while across the country from each other, it’s important to address how best to communicate. Try introducing some clear communication books and encourage a discussion after everyone has read. Some that you might want to try include Effective Communication at Work or Words that Work. You may even want to set up a quarterly book club where you introduce such books and discuss them. The only caveat is that your employees are busy: don’t add more to their already full plates if you know they will push back. If you encourage them to do additional reading for work, include the time to do so in their workday.
20. Myers Briggs self discovery
Is your team made up of introverts, extroverts, or a mix of both? How do they work and gather information? There are a variety of things that you can find out by taking a personality assessment test such as Myers Briggs. The best way to do this is to have a workshop facilitator that has a background in psychology or workplace communication who can guide everyone through the exercises and help people take away actionable tips. For more ways to build team culture, make sure to follow our blog!
Best practices for effective professional development (aka: Non-boring sessions)
- Begin by carefully considering the needs of your team and tailoring activities to them. What is relevant to your organization and the skills that your team needs to use each day? By making sure that any professional development is applicable to the needs of your team, you can help people to do their jobs better - which will make your company operate better, too.
- Focus on learning by doing. Just lecturing at people is not really an effective way to teach. Structure your development around actual activities, not an online learning session or listening to someone talk. A combination of talking/lecturing and activities is ok - but real learning will only occur if some hands-on opportunities are offered.
- Offer a reward or recognition. Remember how busy your employees are. Even though professional development will help them in their career trajectory, they may feel they simply don’t have time to add it to their plate right now. Anything from a simple “Great job!” to a prize, certification, or free lunch at the end of the session will be more enticing.
Include professional development in company retreats
You’ll get the most out of any professional development activity that you do by getting out of your usual office space. Activities just won’t pack the same punch if you pull everyone into a conference room for an hour. While that’s better than not doing any development whatsoever, you can get more out of whatever activity you choose by dedicating time where everyone can focus.
A company retreat is the perfect time to mix in some professional development. You can create an agenda of fun, professional development, company updates, and down-time. We know that’s a tall order, so don’t be afraid to take some help. At Surf Office, we support companies of all sizes who want to put on impactful company work retreats.
Let us help you plan an event that’s sure to have your employees talking for months!