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3 Confidence-Builders for Managing SME Relationships

Wednesday, December 30, 2020

One area that novice instructional designers need to effectively navigate is their relationships with subject matter experts (SMEs). The SME role varies from organization to organization, and the relationship between instructional designer and SME can make or break a project. The good news is instructional designers can take steps to guide the process for a cordial collaboration. This can be scary and daunting at times, so I’ve pulled together a few resources and processes to help you develop the relationship as you gather the content.


1. Complete a Root Cause or Cause and Effect Analysis

Using a fishbone template, document any issues you believe are causing friction in the relationship. From patterns of trust, communication, respect, or knowledge of the process, you will uncover areas in the relationship on which you can focus to better manage the instructional designer-SME relationship.

2. Educate About Roles and Responsibilities

Using a swimlane diagram, explain why we work in teams and describe the roles and responsibilities of the SME, instructional designer, and review teams. Remember that SMEs are new to the process too. Communicating expectations and needs goes a long way toward getting the relationship off to a great start. And once you’re communicating, you can have more challenging conversations, if needed.



3. Practice in Coaching Circles

What better way to build confidence in turning conflict into collaboration or ending a review cycle that is no longer generating value than to practice? By observing a role play and participating in coaching circles, you will gain practical experience in leading cordial collaborations with your SME.

Want to Learn More?

Join me for ATD Techknowledge 2021 for the session Cordial Collaborations With Your SME to learn tips to strengthen and nurture the relationship with your SME.

About the Author

Paula O'Brien, M.Ed., works as a senior instructional designer, creating e-learning curriculum for pharmacists who specialize in renal care and dialysis. Paula's 14 years of expertise represent her creativity and passion for designing engaging instruction used in classroom, online, and blended sessions. Her courses have been delivered to enlisted military, veterans, technology professionals and pharmacy teams around the world.

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