At its core, I believe the role of an Executive Coach is to support someone to extend the horizon of their own thinking. It’s a simple enough definition but sat below its surface are a range of assumptions. People already have what it takes to face whatever challenge lies in front of them. Whether overcoming, accepting, or simply working through the situation, the result is usually the same. It frees a person to move beyond whatever was in the way and, critically, find a way to do it from within their own resources. Our most powerful asset in all this is our mind. A mind that has almost limitless possibilities and yet is invariably hemmed in by limiting assumptions. It is also bounded by the impact of culture on our ability to think creatively and courageously.
It is here that the art of coaching does its work to create the conditions to release this potential.
I mentioned culture. We interrupt each other constantly as we engage in the tennis match that is discussion. Fresh innovative thinking is stillborn before it has a chance to properly emerge; instead, tired positions are rehearsed and timid incremental steps are the best we can hope for. It doesn’t have to be this way. And what of our early years?
Before the age of two we have all created ways of behaving in response to the challenges of our particular environment. Whilst helpful at that age, they stay with us into adulthood and can then get in our way. Finally, we all exist within wider networks: family, teams etc. How do things look from other perspectives? These are all key questions I use in my work. But the most important tool is the right listening ear – my style is calm, gently supportive and always without judgement.
I deliver Executive Coaching both face-to-face (typically in London) and virtually, via the platform of your choice. Traditionally sessions are 90 mins long and spaced at around 4-6 weeks, but since the Covid-19 pandemic I have noticed an appetite for shorter more frequent sessions and so this is also an option. Most Executive Coaching is purchased in blocks of 6 or 8 sessions, although it is possible to buy one at a time.
The purpose of Team Facilitation is to support a team on a journey of improvement. And I firmly believe that every team could be better – many significantly so. This type of work creates ripples that go far beyond the team itself, transmitting into the wider stakeholder network of colleagues, customers, suppliers, and even families. A team that improves is a team that is happier, more effective, and a source of positive energy that travels far.
Bound together by a common purpose and reliant on each other to deliver against that purpose, a high-functioning team looks a little like a Formula One pitstop team. And yet so often teams look more like a collection of football managers, each fighting for their own team with little sense of any common purpose. There is no secret formula, no well-worn path – each team is different and so my approach is always bespoke. Purpose is often a good place to start – has it been imposed, or is it the team’s own? These things matter.
Awareness of self and each other is another great beginning, using psychometrics, storytelling, or both. Teams often don’t know how to behave to get the best from each other, for example in meetings, because they’ve never considered the question. Instead, people replicate past experience with little thought to its efficacy. Finally, no team facilitation can ignore the impact of leadership. The leader sets the culture and culture drives behaviour. Facilitation can allow challenging conversations around this and other topics that simply wouldn’t happen otherwise.
Team Facilitation can be done in the room or virtually, via Zoom or MS Teams for example, and often I will pair up with another coach to deliver the programme. Every engagement is tailored and developed in partnership with the customer. An initial discovery phase is common and delivers much; however, this is by no means essential.
Team Coaching is a term that has been used for a few years now, but in truth it is still somewhat emergent. The International Coaching Federation first issued a set of draft competencies for Team Coaching in late 2020 and a pathway to formal accreditation expected to follow. I am fortunate to have been trained by one the coaching world’s thought leaders on Team Coaching, which enables me to operate with confidence at the cutting edge of what is a new discipline.
My personal view right now is that Team Coaching has the same aim as Team Facilitation – namely the support of a team on a journey of improvement. However, the approach a Team Coach takes is quite different, making it distinct but complementary to Facilitation. A Team Coach brings very little by way of process and content to the engagement, leaving responsibility for what happens ‘in the room’ with the team. This allows the team to behave more authentically – for example the leader can lead without the waters being muddied by someone else standing at the front driving people through a pre-planned programme. And if things become uncomfortable, for example, relationships become frayed, the Team Coach will not step in to rescue the team. Instead, their role is to act as both tuning fork and mirror. The tuning fork resonates to what is happening unspoken within the team: who is staying silent; changes in body language; emotional shifts et al. The Coaches’ role is to pick up and surface these observations. And by offering them back to the team, free of interpretation and judgement, the Coach becomes a mirror.
To be useful, Team Coaching requires the team to be mature and committed. The engagement will typically start with a discovery phase in order to ensure an understanding of what Team Coaching is (and isn’t!). This phase is also used to gain a greater understanding of team members, their context and the relationships between them and the team’s wider stakeholders. At the end of this first phase, a joint decision can be made as to whether to proceed, or perhaps to switch to Team Facilitation if that option seems a better fit.
Team Coaching can be delivered either virtually or in the room. Whilst every programme is co-designed with the customer, I would always expect to include: a discovery phase; a decision point; and a coaching phase of around three full-day workshops across several months, the content of which would be for the team to decide.