Before we can answer whether coaching is limited in this way, what might be helpful is to define what coaching is – what is the definition by which I challenge the assertion!
Coaching draws its roots from sports. It is typically a one-to-one relationship between a coach (the person ‘helping’) and a coachee (the person being helped). When you look at sports, the problem is that this type of coaching is subjective, and the coaching techniques used are really for helping high potential athletes to become elite.
In elite sports, the coach is developing the coachee (athlete) who is highly motivated. The nature of the development takes time and effort, meaning their relationship is generally a long term one. The coach will observe technical aspects of a particular routine and provide feedback to the coachee. The coach will also work with the coachee’s physical and mental performance. The high-level goal of the coach is to improve the coachee’s performance level and prepare them for competition.
More commonly, when people think of coaching, they link it to something they are familiar with, something like childrens football, for example. The problem with this is this type of ‘coaching’ is, in reality, more akin to teaching.
So, what’s the same, and what’s different, outside of the world of sports?
According to the CIPD, “Coaching aims to produce optimal performance and improvement at work. It focuses on specific skills and goals, although it may also have an impact on an individual’s personal attributes such as social interaction and confidence. The process typically lasts for a defined period of time or forms the basis of an on-going management style.”
The CIPD acknowledge that a universal definition is hard to come by due to a lack of agreement among coaching professionals. That said the CIPD suggest common characteristics for coaching in an organisation. These highlight coaching as being:
- A non-directive form of development
- Focussed on improving performance and developing an individual
- Directed more on performance at work, but may include personal factors
- Something that works with both individual and organisational goals.
- An opportunity for people to assess their strengths and development areas better.
- A skilled activity best delivered by trained people which could be line managers and others trained in coaching skills.
Without question, coaching in organisations can be powerful if done correctly but it can also be limited in its effectiveness. Typically, the line manager will be the coach as there is an existing, hopefully strong, relationship. However, their agenda can dominate the discussion; risking them becoming overly focused on the impact on their own goals and less on the development of the individual.
Let’s also face up to the reality that line managers are hardly blessed with time; they are often spinning many plates at the same time as they attempt to satisfy both the needs of their manager and their people. Yet, they are expected to find quality time to coach their people. Whilst they get the intellectual argument, they may lack the skills to coach effectively, and they will often lack is the time to do it right. Their own time pressures inform where they choose to focus their time.
Additionally, managers may ignore their top performers because they believe (wrongly) that they’re alright and often choose to focus on improving their weaker performers. The contradiction here is that this will almost certainly not give them the best return on their efforts. Because coaches can only work with one person at a time, and coaches who are line managers typically attend to performance issues, this combination feeds a belief that ‘coaching’ is what you get when you are underperforming.
The pressure of time causes further conflict for coaches; do they do the tasks where the output is visible, and often demanded by others, or do they coach? It is much easier to defer the coaching conversation as the payoff is rarely immediate. A task with quick, visible results creates a dopamine rush that validates their decision to put off the coaching, slowly moving coaching down their agenda.
At Thinking Focus, we fundamentally believe that developing people through coaching is an essential part of any organisation’s development toolkit. We also challenge the assertion that coaching is purely a one-to-one relationship, the same skills can easily be used to facilitate group development as they would develop individuals.
Developing skills and behaviours in groups requires three core elements – the skills (including confidence) to run the session, a defined outcome (what is the purposes of the session) and a structured process to follow. It’s likely you will have a skills matrix and behavioural template that will drive the outcomes you are looking to develop in your session, but ensure your session includes the following pillars:
- Psychological safety to enable the individuals to feel comfortable being vulnerable among their peers.
- Encourage individuals to access their experiences against the development topic
- Create a shared pool of understanding for what works, doesn’t work and why – this will lead to a better answers/results
- Collective buy-in to the way forward
- Peer pressure to doing the right thing in the right way
Doing this in this way works and creates a host of individual and organisational benefits:
We know that time pressures are not going away any time soon; group coaching is highly efficient, which means you can develop more than one person at a time.
When developing in groups, you can leverage collective peer pressure, accelerate the adoption of knowledge and skills, which means you gain a return on your time, effort and your training investment.
Bring mixed ability groups together and share their different experiences to create a deeper pool of shared understanding. When they learn from each other’s experiences, it vicariously reinforces the desired behaviours and actions. This collaborative sharing means that groups are more likely to adopt the desired behaviours.
The shared experience, discussion and debate underpinned with purposeful coaching creates a shared understanding that leads to collective buy-in to the ‘best way’ for your team, department or organisation, which means more durable changes in behaviour.
Developing people in a group forum, when set up in the right way is more inclusive and psychologically safer. Contribution levels are higher, robust challenge more likely and outcomes more effective. This shared coaching experience means that coaching is no longer perceived to be a performance management tool with negative connotations.
Group coaching is an excellent forum for knowledge transfer, unwritten rules and undocumented practices that somehow make the company function now have an outlet. Sharing these ‘Spanish customs’ means reduced mistakes by people learning through error, which can be embarrassing and disengaging when they realise everyone else knew!
When groups work together on shared goals, it creates an endowment effect which means they are more likely to be committed and see it through. This collaborative approach means projects are delivered more efficiently and effectively.
Bring cross-functional groups together to create a broader systemic awareness of how to work more effectively together. This appreciation of others means that problems are owned and more quickly solved. This improved collaboration and cooperation mean organisations not only save enormous cost at the time, but they also build enduring cross-functional relationships that deal with issues more quickly, with less wasted time, effort and money.
Group coaching is not as well-known as traditional coaching and rarely utilised in development. The reason perhaps is because there is little development available to acquire the skills, so we decided that we wanted to help managers, coaches and organisations to realise the benefits available to them from Group Coaching.
Back in 2017, we researched what was available and found very little – and less that could actually be used practically in organisations.
With this in mind we developed a product that would bring group coaching to the mainstream. Our goal is to enable coaches to coach more than one person at a time, to make group coaching practical, relevant and easy and to deliver a greater return than one-to-one coaching.
We built a structured process, which supports and guides any coach and combined it with contextual and relevant subject matter. We harnessed social learning to enable organisations to raise the level of mixed ability groups at the same time. Reflection is in-built not just to land critical learning but transfer it to the day job.
‘What Would You Do?’ (WWYD) is the plug and play, group coaching solution that improves results and changes behaviour.
WWYD is available online and offline, from small groups to conferences and is engineered with social learning and group coaching to deliver durable behavioural change and improve results. It comes preloaded with ready-made content contextualised to the workplace. Scenarios frame a facilitated discussion among peers. The inclusion of game mechanics serves to create an environment where participants feel safe and openly share; the same mechanics include progress and jeopardy, and friendly competition maintains interest with the inclusion of scoring and league tables, all of which make for an engaging learning experience.
So, going back to the original question – is coaching all that? We firmly believe so, and while coaching may typically be limited to a one-to-one activity our own research has highlighted it can be much more than this; and our own desire to build on this has led us to create a unique product to support this. Just because coaching has historically been delivered one-to-one doesn’t mean that that’s the only way, or indeed the best way, of delivering it!
WWYD is interactive and experiential, to experience it for yourself you can:
- attend one of our monthly open demos
- book a personalised experience
- have a go yourself by downloading a DIY kit