This book is now available on pre-order from amazon as a Kindle book. The print edition will be available soon. The final book is updated with a later version of the models, have more chapters, in a different order, and be better proof read and have more references.
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Change. by Simon Powers
This book is now complete. Thank you so much for your comments and feedback. This has been enormously helpful.
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Change. Chapter 10. Professional Coaching
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“If you give a man a fish, you feed him for a day. If you teach a man to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.” — Unknown origin
Over the last 10 years there has been an explosion of interest in Professional Coaching, and to some extent this has been fuelled by the growth of Agile Coaching and the great need for organisations to find better ways to deal with rising complexity through collaboration.
The field of Agile Coaching has a low bar to entry with coaches being able to become qualified with a short course with rarely any exams or formal assessment. Coaching is easy to understand, easy to get started, but very hard to be any good at it.
This is a dangerous combination, especially when there is no easy way to directly measure the success of a coach. Measurement is usually done via the success of the coachee(s) which also relies on other factors outside of the coaching relationship.
Good Professional Coaching however, is one of the most fundamental skills required for a change agent to master. I cannot imagine, and have not seen, any organisational change that brings sustainable value without good Professional Coaching. It is a skill that must be mastered by a tipping-point percentage of managers if we expect to see any real culture change that supports agility.
When we created the 3-day ICAgile certified Agile Team Coaching course (ICP-ACC), we made sure that every person is assessed and reaches a real level of competence, not just knowledge acquisition. I encourage others in the industry to do the same in the hope we can raise the bar of Agile Coaching.
What is Professional Coaching?
Professional Coaching is a discipline that enables the Professional Coach to:
invite the Coachee in helping them see their situation so clearly that they can adjust their behaviour to match their own goals.
Professional Coaching is a ‘forward-looking’ people-friendly tool that assumes there is nothing broken or anything that needs fixing with the coachee. It is a tool for growth and for removing blockers that are inhibiting success.
This is different than Therapy in that therapists look backwards in time to uncover and heal trauma that is causing stuck patterns, disengagement, and extreme behaviours.
Core skills for a Professional Coach include:
- A quiet inner mind,
- deep empathic listening,
- powerful (or clean) questions to remain neutral,
- the power of silence,
- utilising small conversational re-assurers,
- authentically interested impartiality,
- a strong unconditional positive regard for the coachee,
- and the ability to resist offering solutions when none are asked for (and sometimes even when they are).
Once these skills have been mastered, there are many additional techniques a coach can use, and a quick internet search can show there are many different styles and branches of coaching that are useful in different contexts.
The depth at which one can coach in different contexts is called one’s coaching range.
There is no official dimension of coaching range, however, I have created the following gauge that is relevant to organisational change and the likely uses for coaching in that context.
Having a wide coaching range means that a coach is competent and can choose the appropriate coaching style for the right context to help the coachee.
The dimensions are:
- Number of people (from 1 to hundreds)
- Hierarchy level in the organisation
- Three loops of learning
- Intellectual and Somatic coaching
- The level of content vs process from the coach
Number of people
One-to-one coaching is a good place to start as the complexities are simpler than team or systems coaching. Good technique is easier to master in a one-to-one setting and the key skills identified above are more easily measured and observed. I recommend everyone start with one-to-one coaching.
Team coaching, up to about 9 people, focuses both the individuals and the team as a whole. A team coach will most likely use one-to-one coaching at times. A team coach also coaches the relationships between team members, their relationship to the work at hand, and often their relationship to the wider organisation.
Team coaching is harder than individual coaching because coaches have to navigate relationships in real time, and this can ‘trigger’ the coach more easily and take them out of the role of the neutral party. It takes experience and deep inner work for the coach to understand themselves and avoid judging others, taking sides, or falling out of feeling unconditional positive regard.
Team coaching is highly relevant to Scrum Masters and Team Leads, as well as Leadership coaches.
Hierarchy level in the organisation
Coaching at different organisational hierarchy levels should be no different, however, in practice, context and experience matters. Working with senior leaders requires a certain temperament and understanding of the pressures, culture, and attitudes they face inside the organisation.
Leaders expect their coach to have some knowledge and understanding of the problems they face and to ask questions that allow them to explore their problems and solutions.
I have seen coaches who worked well at a delivery team scope fail at the leadership team scope because they did not have the same peer to peer attitude or ‘equal’ relationship and did not feel comfortable coaching leaders.
This led to leaders losing faith in the coach and the coach losing confidence.
This equality is often called gravitas in leadership coaching. It is the ability to be equal and to relate as such with the confidence and experience of working with similar people.
One of the traps of coaching inside hierarchical organisations, is that coaching becomes hierarchical when it does not need to be. Coaches who coach people who earn more, earn more themselves.
There is a tendency for Agile Coaches to want to become Enterprise Coaches for higher earnings, impact, and responsibility. With more senior levels of engagement, the depth of relationship decreases, and this can be dissatisfying for some coaches who are used to the day-to-day interactions at the delivery team level.
Three loops of learning
The three loops of learning come from Peter Hawkins work, and I have adapted them to make sense in our context. The idea behind the loops of learning is the level of abstraction one has from their doing versus being, and how they use this to drive the right outcome.
Loop 1 — improve within the same context
The first loop is a single level of abstraction. When we use this level of learning, we are seeking to become more efficient at what we already do.
An example of single loop learning is the agile retrospective. In Scrum teams for example, the team get together to explore how they can work better within the Scrum process and how they can improve both themselves and their process of creating their products.
Single loops of learning are best deployed at the point of value creation. This leads to operational improvements.
Coaching single loop learning requires a set of techniques that allow the coachee(s) to reflect on their current situation and what might be improved. In the workplace setting, this usually means improving towards a specific defined goal, such as better flow of value to the customer.
Loop 2 — change the context
The second loop adds another layer of abstraction between us and the task at hand. Instead of asking how we get better at the task, we look to see if the way we are working is suitable for the context we are in.
Changing context might mean doing something completely differently, or not doing it at all.
Double loops of learning are best deployed when creating strategy. Strategy is the art of deciding what to do in certain contexts.
Coaching double loop learning requires techniques that allow the coachee(s) to stay open to ideas longer than they might feel comfortable and to make sure that voices that are quiet are heard. The ability to hold space for exploring challenges from different perspectives is a required skill for strategy work.
These different perspectives are then integrated into either one or several parallel strategic themes that can be actioned. Once the theme is set, single loop learning can be used to improve the operational delivery of the strategy.
Loop 3 — Outcome: Vision and purpose
The third loop adds yet another and final layer of abstraction and allows the coach to invite the coachee(s) to consider why they are doing what they are doing. Asking why and uncovering the underlying motivations, values, and purpose is a highly motivating activity.
Most importantly, outcome-based coaching, or third level learning, gives coachee(s) a clear direction and confidence that they are working on the right things. Too many organisations do the wrong things badly and spend their time trying to improve how they do the wrong things better. There are many cases where an organisation could save a lot of time and money by engaging in outcome coaching to better understand the why.
Once we have a clear why, we can then work on how to do the least amount of work possible to achieve the outcome.
Using looped learning as a system for a coaching strategy
As Simon Sinek rightly points out, ‘Start with Why’. The best place to start is at the third level learning loop and define good outcomes (or OKRs), and then work out the different contexts or strategies on how to achieve the outcome. Once we have our strategy (second loop learning), we can work out how to efficiently deliver (first loop).
Unfortunately, if an organisation starts with team based agile approaches, they start with single loop retrospectives, and this often leads to a shallow gain. This is another reason why we must start with leaders and not delivery teams when we are looking to shift an organisation’s way of working so that they can thrive in uncertain and complex times.
Intellectual and Somatic coaching
Somatic coaching acknowledges that we are more than our mind. Somatic coaches use the physical and emotional sensations that arise on the body to inform the coachee of the underlying root causes of problems.
A somatic coach has the ability help the coachee sense and explore what is happening for them using non-verbal communication techniques. This is incredibly powerful to unlock motivations, root causes, and conflicting values.
Somatic coaching is a powerful technique that treats the emotional system, physical body system, and mind as one. Using guided techniques, the coachee is able to unlock insights by directing their attention inwards to feelings inside the body and their emotional space to understand root causes and internal relationships.
Content versus process
In a coaching conversation, the content is the subject matter the coachee wants to cover. The process is the shape of the conversation that the coach uses to explore the content.
The level of direction in content is variable depending on the need of the coachee. In some coaching, such as skills coaching, the content is high, and in other coaching, such as existential coaching, it is zero.
There are four styles of content versus process coaching and these are:
- Skills coaching
- Goals coaching
- Gestalt coaching
- Existential coaching
Skills coaches must know something of the skill and expertise they are coaching on. Skills coaching is the closest to mentoring that a coach gets. The coach helps the coachee to become the best that they can be, or at least to move in that direction, with the skill or subject, that the coachee is trying to master.
With skills coaching, goals are usually fairly obvious and progress towards them easily measurable.
An example of skills coaching is where two programmers sit together, and one coaches the other on how to code better. They ask the right questions to enable the learner to evaluate their own code against the known best / good practices and encourage them to investigate further.
Skills coaches may recommend learning materials and share from their experience as the coaching melts into mentorship.
Goals based coaching is usually the entry point for most Professional Coaches and the common for Agile Coaches to master first.
Goals coaching helps the coachee to set their own goals and identify blockers that are stopping them from achieving them. More often than not, these blockers are a mental attitude or model, a set of beliefs about the world, or some arrangement of internal beliefs that are getting in the way of their current progress.
A good coach helps the coachee to navigate the internal landscape of the coachee’s mental models so that the coachee can see what needs to change.
Powerful questions or Clean Language are used to help the coach separate their own ego and mental models from that of the coachee, so that the coachee does not get confused or frustrated when trying to navigate the often-intangible inner workings of their mind.
There are many well established facilitated conversation paths for goal-based coaching such as the well-known GROW model.
GROW is an acronym that stands for Goal, Reality, Options, Will.
This is a basic construct that helps beginner coaches to navigate the inner workings of the coachee’s mind and give structure to achieving goals in a short session.
The coach will create a good empathic environment, explore the desired goals, explore the current reality of the situation, invite the coachee to come up with options, and then narrow down to which actions will be taken and by when. This simple approach is very effective in helping with obvious and obtainable goals.
It is goal-based coaching that I believe needs to be in the toolbelt of every manager who has direct reports. It is the most effective and efficient method of growing others and creating high performance.
Goal-based coaching can be used with individuals and teams. Individuals and teams can be at any place in the hierarchy. It works equally well with teams of executives as it does with teams of developers, product owners, or lawyers.
Gestalt coaching is a large branch of coaching that is unique in that it is purely experiential. The meaning of the word Gestalt is from the German and has no immediate translation into English. However, the closest words are “whole”, “complete”, or “pattern”. [Source: Fertile Void].
Gestalt coaching through its clever but easily learnt techniques allows the individual, group, or whole system to experience clearly their current state, both physical and emotional. Doing so, effectively unlocks insights that deeply change our mental, emotional, and perceptual understanding.
When the coachee(s) see a fuller picture and discover patterns through the experience of the technique, they uncover missing pieces that have been holding them back. Often this is a steppingstone to innovation and sustainable change.
Gestalt coaching is usually done by experienced coaches who have studied and experienced goals or individual coaching first. This is because the skills required are the same core skills as professional coaching but are even more important and subtle in a group setting. If skills coaching is a mix between professional coaching and mentoring, then in the same way, Gestalt coaching is a mix between Professional Coaching, Systems Coaching, and Facilitation skills.
Gestalt coaching is essential for agility as it is required to allow fast decisions with large numbers of people. It is the only path we have that engages knowledge workers to create processes that leverage their tacit knowledge whilst considering the larger organisational objectives, in a timely manner.
For more information on this, see the chapter on Systems Thinking and Coaching.
[Fertile Void: Gestalt Coaching at work by John Leary-Joyce]
“Without purpose, we would not exist. It is purpose that created us. Purpose that connects us. Purpose that pulls us.” — Agent Smith
Everyone needs a reason why, just as every organisation needs a purpose. Existential coaching helps us to find that purpose from our values, mental models, desires, and objectives.
Purpose is a powerful motivator that galvanises an organisation into action and acts as a co-ordinator for decision-making and consistency.
Existential coaching puts purpose at the forefront.
Existential coaching is used to create purpose, vision, and align it with strategic goals. It is effective when an organisation needs a refresh, starts a new initiative, new service, or new product line.
Criticisms of coaching
Coaching is often misunderstood by many, and this leads to frustration at the approach. Managers are historically used to hiring management consultants not management coaches. A consultant’s role is to come up with answers and present these as options for managers to choose from. This is not the role of the coach.
For complicated domain problems, it makes sense to hire experts, get options, and then choose one that works best. This does not work in the complex domain. Organisational change is firmly in the complex domain.
Agile coaches are called agile coaches because they should utilise their professional coaching skills to invite their clients to emerge the right solution for their context. This is ultimately empowering for managers who embrace complexity and uncertainty. However, those that are looking for the right answer to try are often frustrated by a coach who asks more questions than they offer solutions.
If you are a coach, I strongly recommend explaining your approach before starting to avoid a misunderstanding of the services being offered. Get explicit agreement to coach and do not coach without permission. This practice might feel clunky at first, but I and other AWA coaches have found this to be a lifeline later on and makes the actual coaching much more effective.
History of professional coaching for organisational change
The word coach means to convey something or someone from one location to another. Think of the old stagecoaches of the past era and how they would carry someone from where they are now to their intended destination. Professional coaches do this, but with behaviours and actions.
This brief history of coaching shows how the concept has evolved from individual to systems coaching as the age of independency gives way to interdependent thinking. For an explanation of the two ages see the chapter called the 600-year adventure.
The word coach was first used around 1830 in connection with an instructor or trainer who ‘carried’ a student through their exams. This idea continued and in the 1860s was applied to sports. [Source: Wikipedia]
During the 1930s — 1960s, a type of skills coaching in organisations was taking place such as sales coaching for Salesmen.
In the 1960s-1970s, executive coaches grew out of leadership programs and assessment centres.
In the 1980s, an important book, The Inner Game of Tennis by W. Timothy Gallwey paved the way for companies to start offering coaching as a service in the United Kingdom and United States, and for doctoral research to be conducted with, 29 journals and 5 more books on coaching that addressed work performance.
It was not until the 1990s and early 2000s, that the coaching profession really took off and became something that was accessible and acceptable to the mainstream. A series of events took place that shaped the way coaching has developed in the last 25–30 years.
1992 — Sir John Whitmore published what is considered to be one of the founding texts of the coaching industry, Coaching for Performance. I strongly recommend anyone who is a coach or intends to be, to read this book.
1995 — The first professional association body to provide coaching standards was founded, the (ICF) International Coach Federation.
During the 1990s the number of professional coaching companies increased from 8 to over 100.
2000 to 2004 — there were 153 coaching books published and 132 coaching articles published in professional journals.
2002 — The AC (Association for Coaching) in 2002, and the EMCC (European Mentoring & Coaching Council) were both founded as alternatives to the ICF.
[Source for data: Some of the above data comes from the book: Professional Coaching: Principles and Practice by Susan English]
Coaching as part of agility
In 2010, over a decade ago, Lyssa Adkins published the book Coaching Agile Teams. This book brought not only the concept of Professional Coaching to those people who were trying to make agility work but tells the story of Lyssa who transitioned from process led practices to people led change. The book gives practical advice to enable agility in teams through a professional coaching stance, i.e., a people first approach.
Also in 2010, Lyssa Adkins and Michael Spayd founded the Agile Coaching Institute, and set about with their mission to bring the discipline that was found in the professional coaching world to the agile world.
Whilst Kent Beck added the word coach to agility through XP, the XP coach was a code mentor, similar to a sports coach.
Michael and Lyssa expanded the role of the Agile Coach and defined it clearly with a widened scope that brought a balance of disciplines including facilitation and teaching. Their work brought consistency, competency, and professionalism to the role of Agile Coach.
Lyssa and Michael identified 4 stances including Professional Coaching. The other three stances are detailed in their Agile Coach Competency Framework, sometimes referred to as the X-Wing diagram because of its shape.
- And of course, Professional Coaching.
At no point in the material on what defines an Agile Coach’s competencies is there mention of consulting. This is a misunderstood point for many Agile Coaches and their employers. Change doesn’t happen by telling everyone what to do. This is so important I will say it twice: Change doesn’t happen by telling everyone what to do!
In other words, people don’t resist change, they resist being made to change.
Coaching helps people see what needs to be done themselves and provides the ownership and encouragement to do it. Agility cannot work any other way when you consider that knowledge is distributed in workers’ heads, and any complex problems require emergent solutions that leverage all that knowledge. If people are made to feel marginalised or their autonomy is taken away, they will not release that knowledge or change the way they behave or operate.
Michael and Lyssa travelled around the world together to bring Professional Coaching and integrity to the world of agility. They gave us a way out of the frameworks and top-down control.
From April 2016 to October 2017, Lyssa and Michael taught in the UK through AWA. This picture was taken on the first collaboration with Lyssa and Michael in 2016. Some truly lovely memories and deeply developmental times.
In 2013–2014, Michael Spayd and Michael Hamman authored and led the first ever Enterprise Bootcamp called Integral Agile Wizardry that was followed by a 7-month cohort program. Lyssa, Michael Spayd, and Pete Behrens helped ICAgile to develop the ICP-CAT and ICP-ENT learning objectives.
A huge thank you to everyone involved in creating a professional framework for Enterprise Coaching.
In 2017, I wrote the world’s first ever double certified Enterprise Agile Coach Bootcamp and AWA were the first in the world to certify the ICP-CAT certification from ICAgile. These combined courses gave, and still give, learners practical approaches to organisational change that build upon Professional Coaching and use Systems and Enterprise Coaching to deliver lasting and sustainable agility.
This certification from ICAgile was the first time that a real alternative to prescriptive and ‘complicated-thinking’ process design became available in the agile world.
This is remarkably different from the Certified Enterprise Coaching certification offered by the Scrum Alliance which is designed to guide the whole organisation through the real-world challenges of agility and Scrum. Scrum and Kanban are great training-wheel approaches to agility and a good place to start.
There is no pre-defined framework or approach in our courses or expected by ICAgile, and it doesn’t rely on the brand name of Scrum. This is essential in the development of coaches as they approach whole organisational complexity and move beyond the confines of single loop learning and Scrum-based frameworks.
In 2018, Shannon Ewan from ICAgile asked me to join a very special team that she put together to define the competencies for Enterprise Agile Coaching. The team was Shannon, me, Kevin Callahan, Michael Spayd, Marsha Acker, and Michelle Madore. It was in many ways a dream team in as much as the collaboration and depth of knowledge meant we all learnt something each time we met, there was huge respect between everyone in the team, and we valued quality and results over ease of deployment that led to creating competencies that are both obtainable and of the highest benchmark standard for Enterprise Coaching.
What we didn’t know when we started, was that defining such a broad and extensive topic such as Enterprise Agile Coaching would take us nearly 2 years of collaboration and extensive in-depth discussions and research.
The competencies were released to the public early 2020. In March 2020, I invited Kevin Callahan, William Strydom, and Sam Kiani, to my house for a 4-day residential to start building the Enterprise Coaching Cohort program. We had a fantastic 4 days and go an incredible amount of work done. Our final story board (as designed by the amazing Kevin Callahan), spanned my living room and used (according to my 11-year-old son), 367 post-it notes!
It was a really amazing few days that set the direction of the ICE-EC program. The international lockdown due to covid happened about 48 hours later, just giving Kevin and William a chance to get back to the US!
By September 2020, we were ready to run our first ever Enterprise Agile Coach Expert Cohort Program to guide and help others in the experiential application of Enterprise Coaching.
We are now about to start our fourth cohort and are seeing people achieve their certifications that demonstrate they not only know the content, but can apply it and have applied it, not in a test, but in the real world. This is an amazing move away from knowledge-based certification and into application-based achievement.
In addition to the Enterprise Coaching programs, AWA has also released a Team Coaching Cohort program that is certified by ICAgile (ICE-AC) as the highest level of Team Coaching available. The program is heavily based upon Professional Coaching and provides experiential support and training beyond the knowledge acquisition achievable in the classroom.
AWA is the only training and coaching provider to offer both Team Coaching and Enterprise Coaching cohort programs to the highest level of professional achievement.
As of 2022 of this writing, when I do a search for Coaching on Amazon under books, there are 75 pages of results returned. Coaching is here to stay and is growing more popular as leaders realise the cookie cutter and process led approaches to change don’t bring the results of agility and that coaching is their best bet to create a better and happier organisation.
The role coaching plays in agility
Despite all the hard work and diligence that has gone into making Professional Coaching an important part of organisational change, it is still possible for Agile Coaches to be employed with no training or experience in Professional Coaching. It still surprises me that when I interview Agile Coaches with many years of experience in Agile Coaching, they do not know about Professional Coaching or what it is.
This means our industry is still very much in the early stages of a serious profession and there is still a long way to go to ensure that every Agile Coach has at least enough of the basics of Professional Coaching to enable them to do their job effectively.
Professional Coaching is the foundation of change for individual, team, and whole organisational transformation when working with complex problems. It is based upon the sound neuroscience and psychological evidence that we have about how people adapt and make change happen. If you would like to read more about Neuroscience for Coaches, I recommend reading Amy Brann’s superb book of the same name.
The biggest change that an individual undergoes when they take coaching training and start practicing, is that they learn to listen without agenda. This is a prerequisite for learning how to invite others to make changes without pushing. Most coaches do not realise how hard these simple skills are to master.
Emergent solutions, such as moving towards agile ways of working, require that knowledge workers are engaged in the process and contribute to the change and decision-making. Listening skills and the ability to invite rather than push allow this to happen. These are learnt when you become a Professional Coach.
Coaching is the tool to counter the expert mind who needs to know everything, be always right, and tell others how it should be.
Coaching as a management tool
Coaching is a foundational skill for Leaders, Managers, and HR staff when an organisation is hoping to obtain any levels of agility beyond the superficial. Without the people in these job roles, a transformation is not possible.
Leading others that use agile ways of working is fundamentally different than top-down control-and-predict management styles. When working with uncertainty and complexity, leaders set the direction but give appropriate autonomy and decision-making to the teams in how the organise.
Autonomy doesn’t work unless there is psychological safety which means:
- the power to speak up without fear of retribution
- the courage to speak up in front of your peers
- the experience to know what to speak up about
- the knowledge and experience in how to structure to solve problems
- the ability to give and receive feedback
- the ability to hold each other to account
It is possible but highly unlikely that these elements will arise without the guidance of a coach that has experience of how to create the right culture.
We can safely say that the skillset of professional coaching is essential, and that it is how change happens, and that agile ways of working emerge from the context and culture the coach helps create. Agility cannot happen without coaching.
Setting up coaching as a capability
If you accept that we need coaching for human centred change, and that the change we want to happen affects hundreds if not thousands of people, it makes sense to build coaching as a capability inside the organisation.
Coaching is a skill that can be learnt. Often organisations start by getting outside help in the form of coaching courses that both teach the skills and then support staff as they apply them. The approach we have found to be most effective to upskill staff, is a cohort program with a mixture of training and support. This counters the very real problem of coaching being easy to understand but very hard to do.
Once the initial staff members have a good competency of coaching, these coaches can now help train and to coach others.
At AWA, we have pioneered an approach to rapidly build capability. We help find enthusiastic and capable individuals inside the organisation that are excited to learn how to become coaches and model this skillset. We utilise our 3-day certified Agile Team Coach course and provide a program of learning transfer that supports these individuals in a cohort to apply what they have learnt.
This core coaching team take coaching forwards throughout the organisation, as we support them to train and coach others. They are then able to continue growing the coaching capability on their own.
In addition to upskilling, it is important the staff actually use their new coaching abilities in their day-to-day, and that they use them appropriately, and often enough. If this happens successfully, the organisation’s change program happens faster and with less resistance.
Staff often need support not only from coaches but from each other. To enable this, an effective approach is to set up community of practices (NOT centres of excellence), that encourage and support coaching as a management tool.
Supervision is a key component of a coaching capability and is frequently overlooked when combined with organisational coaching. However, supervision is required in many people-based help professions and for good reason. Supervision allows coaches to be coached about the clients that they are helping. It keeps a client from getting blended with the problems and coachees and gives them a way to experience coaching as an ongoing learning and development exercise.
Supervision should be a part of your coaching strategy. You can think of it like a Community of Practice where coaches create their own supervision sessions and help each other grow. Supervision is a skill in itself and can be learnt through training and by pairing with experienced supervisors.
Important note on funding
Funding for the coaching roles should not come out of departmental headcount. When this happens, department heads are forced to compare delivery roles with coaching roles and given the usual pressures in any organisation, the temptation to swap out coaches is too great. This will undermine the coaching effort and put the focus back on output instead of outcome.
Instead, I recommend funding coaching centrally with the coaching group reporting directly into the board or a sponsor on the board, preferably at least two sponsors. This will ensure the longevity of this competency and allow the coaches to operate across departmental lines and treat the enterprise as a whole system rather than just within the department they would be a headcount for.
Examples of where coaching has unlocked potential
I share two experiences, one at the individual scope and one at the team scope. I will write more about whole systems coaching in the chapter with the same name.
At the individual scope
Using professional coaching as part of my role as Agile and Enterprise Coach has been a game-changer for me. An example of how this has helped an organisation is with John. John was a team lead in a large multi-national corporation. He is a good technical person that guides his team well and he is well-liked by many.
John’s performance had become slow and he was starting to withdraw from the people around him. It was not a huge problem but was enough that people were noticing at the Team Leads meetings.
John was referred to me to see if his team and him could benefit from any coaching.
In our first session, John spoke about his team, and his work, and the challenges that they faced. This was usual because I am being paid by his employer and the most relevant topic would be his work.
As John experienced coaching for the first time, he found that he had someone who was deeply listening to him with no agenda or ego, and that my purpose was only to serve him.
Deep listening unlocks deep talking.
By the second session, John started talking about the problems he had with his landlord. He was having a lot of anxiety about it, and it was most likely going to end in court action against the landlord.
What I noticed was that John’s whole body tensed when he spoke about it, his breathing quickened, and his speaking became fast, and he appeared angry. I shared my observations with John and asked him what was happening for him.
During the next 30 minutes, John opened up about what was really going on for him, and he realised how the anxiety of his landlord issues were affecting his work and relationships. He had not spoken about this at work before and did not feel comfortable bringing personal issues to work discussions. He had not realised how much it was affecting him.
Having someone to listen to him, to share his emotions, and give him time to reflect what was going on, gave him a different perspective.
In the coming weeks, John was able to compartmentalise his anxiety, share what was going on with his team and bosses, and to find time to sort out the issues with his landlord as a priority. Subsequently, his relationships deepened, as many felt empathy for him and his situation, and his performance improved as he was able to be fully present at work.
At the team scope
The senior management team at a multi-national corporation were responsible for delivering technical solutions to a wide variety of platforms including desktop, web, and mobile. Their software enabled the company to interact with customers and for customers to control their trading portfolios and positions.
For the last year, the company had grown by a multiple of 4 and the management team could not deliver what they had promised. This was beginning to be a problem for the team as trust in their abilities was diminishing and faith in their collective management was being lost by both their bosses and their reports.
The initial feeling was that the organisational structures were no longer optimal as the numbers of people had grown, and that agility was the answer to get more work done.
I was asked to work with the management team to see if there was something I could do to help.
I coached the whole team. I did have a few one-to-one sessions about unrelated issues, but my focus was to enable them to see clearly what the problems were so that they could fix them together.
During the first session it became clear to me that there were various characters in the room who dominated the conversations, and that the meetings that I observed we concluded with no alignment on actions or even a strategic way forward.
I reflected these observations back to the team, and the team reported this was usual and that they often had several meetings on the same topic, and that even when they did decide, it was often overridden later by someone else who was not in the original meeting.
I invited them to build a behavioural alliance where they committed to each other that they would allow space for everyone to speak. I designed some exercises for them to try to practically make that happen. The first 2 exercises did not land well and didn’t achieve the objective I had. However, the third approach did work, and the characters in the team who spoke more, were able to listen more than they talked.
It became obvious to everyone that differences in working styles were causing challenges. Some people came to every meeting 5 minutes late due to back-to-back meetings, and other people left 5 minutes early to get to the next one. Coaching helped them to come to an agreement about their start and end times and this went into the alliance.
Another challenge was the difference in experience of managing large numbers of people. Some of the team had no experience and were struggling in their new position with so many reports. This situation came about due to the rapid and sudden expansion. Other members were used to managing large numbers of people from previous roles. This had become a source of irritation and had divided the team. No one ever mentioned this underlying dis-ease, and I suspected most of the team members were unaware that this divide was even there.
Using coaching and reflective team practices, the team became aware of this divide, and instead of approaching it with scorn or annoyance, they set up mentoring sessions between them to help each other by sharing experiences and offering help. I offered to share basic coaching techniques and they agreed to learn them. This helped again with listening first, being curious to avoid judgement, and helped in their mentoring approach to share management experience.
It took about a year of coaching, and by the time I left, the team were highly engaged, looked after each better, and created a much safer and productive environment for their reports. Incidentally, we did change organisational structure, and the process of that was much smoother with an aligned and productive management team.
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