The Career Candidate Corps, or C3 for short, is the onboarding orientation for new USAID Foreign Service Officers (FSOs) that EnCompass has facilitated since 2008. One of the critical objectives of the orientation is to help each class of new FSOs bond as a group and form the ties that will help them support each other throughout their careers. Many FSOs reflect on their orientation, years afterward, as a time when they built lasting relationships that they lean into and deeply value.
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, these orientations went fully virtual. EnCompass was faced with an interesting challenge: how to effectively shift a 5-week schedule of face-to-face, full-day sessions into an online platform and facilitate deeply bonded relationships among FSOs?
Over the last 14 months, the EnCompass team tested a number of activities. Here are some of the lessons learned and corresponding activities that helped make our virtual onboarding sessions with FSOs a success:
Offer spaces to exchange stories, laugh, and build connections
- Send a short survey to collect information and a few “fun facts” to create an impromptu guessing game, used at different points during the day.
- Ask teams to create a short Flipgrid video introducing themselves to the group.
- Organize short “show and tell” breakout room sessions where participants bring something with them that responds to a prompt given to them the day prior (e.g., show me something you value above its material worth and tell me why.)
- Cover topics that are top of mind for participants in informal small group sessions. “Watercooler Chats” using Wonder.me allow participants to roam freely between topics, joining different conversations.
Deepen the purpose and duration of social interactions
- Create opportunities for new staff to work collaboratively in small groups on activities that require them to gather and interact on a semi-regular, ongoing basis. The C3 Orientation asks participants to organize social activities and collect and share meaningful information and photos of participants.
- Create networking sessions for small group conversations on personal topics. For example, ask small groups to discuss the origins of their name or prompt them to share a meaningful recipe.
- Prompt virtual coffees (one-on-one conversations) with colleagues and supervisors during and after orientation.
Lean in to online tools in design and delivery
- Consider the design of the course and adjust scheduling. The C3 Orientation was adjusted to a 4-week, half-day training to avoid screen fatigue. Regular breaks are essential.
- Encourage the use of webcams, both for breakout room activities and when asking questions during formal sessions.
- Incorporate opportunities for participant feedback, both formal and informal. Some online platforms produce quick pop-up surveys that display during a presentation. Nearly every platform has a “raise hand” function for a quick vote; some also incorporate thumbs up/down.
The C3 Orientation is led by Iggy Chiyaka and Christy Grimsley, who were recently selected to present on this topic at the Learning Solutions Conference in May 2021. You can check out their presentation in the video below.