Angelika Antz-Hieber: It is a particularly innovative training opportunity for employees. Training sessions using "Dialogue in the Dark", for example, are conducted in total darkness by blind and visually impaired trainers in cooperation with sighted coaches. The participants are immersed in a completely different environment – this fosters authenticity, empathy and openness.
And you also offer "Dialogue in Silence"?
Antz-Hieber: Yes, in this case the participants work with hearing-impaired trainers in a soundproof room. Mime and gesture become crucial and foster the ability to communicate. In exceptional circumstances such as total darkness or silence, employees not only learn a lot about their own behavior and the behavior of others, but also about their own daily working lives. You can, of course, use other training methods as well to achieve this – but there is none which is quite as fast and efficient.
But isn't darkness in particular something which people often perceive as threatening? Doesn't this restrict their openness to this method?
Antz-Hieber: Initially, sighted people are in a state of alarm when they enter total darkness. But darkness is crucial for the training sessions because it sharpens the participants' different senses. Assembling a railway track of single pieces in the light, for example, is not considered a great challenge, but when the participants can only touch them and are not allowed to touch the others' pieces, communication and listening become really important.
And how do the participants benefit from this experience?
Antz-Hieber: When doing these exercises teams become aware of how best to cooperate and learn very fast how to best reach their project goals. Once participants experience this feeling of success, darkness is no longer something strange for them, but rather an opportunity to obtain a new perspective on their team and their own behavior.
How can you convince employers to use such unconventional training methods?
Antz-Hieber: Employers who have used the Dialogue Training Center for HR development are always surprised how fast these special training environments lead to success. "Time is money" – this is becoming even more important for many companies outside Allianz as well when planning their HR development programs. They expect such programs to generate success in a short time – and darkness, in particular, accomplishes this.
Antz-Hieber: People are very attentive and develop a particular awareness of trust and leadership. When going in to total darkness they are actively challenged; they have to gather experiences and implement them immediately. HR development is essential when companies want to attract and retain the best employees. With the Dialogue Training Center Allianz has established itself as a learning organization and an innovative employer – and offers this chance to other companies as well.
What do participants think about this unusual experience?
Antz-Hieber: Managers and staff are enthusiastic about how effective their cooperation is after having participated in a training session. In the dark, they became extremely motivated and wanted to be successful even in such unfamiliar conditions – and, back at work, each new team success is a reward. The number of repeat visitors and the willingness to recommend the Dialogue Training Center are very high. We are delighted by this – as it shows that we established a training facility which both employers and employees benefit from.