To Create a Coaching Culture at Work – Start with Ask
In a recent conversation with a client, he asked – “how do you build a coaching culture and can we do it quickly?” The answer to these questions is simple at heart, and with focused attention I believe it is possible to create a coaching culture in any organisation. About the “quickly”, time will tell.
At its most simple, a coaching culture is one where everyone moves from Tell – to Ask. Not all the time, aiming for a 50/50 is a good balance. This doesn’t have to be in the traditional 30 minute coaching conversations. Even answering the question – “What do I do with the latest data?” can be answered with “What are your thoughts about what could you do?” moves towards a coaching culture. Having a manager or colleague who helps us to solve a problem or just listens whilst we share a good encounter with a client is good.
These simple acts empower employees to solve problems and innovate, develop independence and creates an increased sense of ownership – a coaching culture.
I believe that creating coaching cultures in organisations is increasingly important. I’m not alone. It has been widely reported in recent weeks that LinkedIn’s Jeff Weiner said that, rather than coding skills, the most in demand are communication and leadership skills. Google’s Project Aristotle identified Psychological Safety as being the most important factor in a team’s effectiveness. Amy Edmonson cites ‘curiosity and asking lots of questions’ as being a key part of helping to create psychological safety – both key parts of a coaching approach.
We also see Millennials asking more regularly for feedback and many organisations are rewriting their performance management systems to include more coaching conversations.
Back to my client’s question – how can we do it and can we do it quickly?
Edgar Schein model of organisational culture shows that culture sits in the underlying assumptions that people hold. These in turn lead to behaviours. For a coaching culture to grow quickly and effectively we might best start by helping people to understand the importance of a Growth Mindset – an underlying belief that we can all get smarter and learn. Using this as our underlying assumption creates a climate where coaching conversations are more likely to happen.
As senior leaders we can start to model the behaviour, in meetings, in corridor conversations, in one to ones. I saw this powerfully demonstrated by the CEO of a large hospital. He was deeply committed to creating a safety culture and believed that every conversation he had was an opportunity to do this. One day he invited me to ‘walk about’ with him. We were standing in the middle of the Intensive Care unit and a small group of people gathered around him. He asked them how things were in the unit, what they needed to change. After a time of broad conversations he gently asked, “what have you done this week to improve the safety of our patients?” What followed were ideas old and new for improving safety.
This is how culture changes. Through conversation. Every conversation. As a leader, as a peer, offering to have a coaching conversation to help solve a problem, in team meetings. When we choose to move from Tell to Ask we become part of the creation of a coaching culture.
Of course it is important to have a vision and strategy, to put in place training for managers, to have internal accredited coaches, to have access to external coaches, to develop peer individual and group coaching opportunities and so on.
But at its heart, we can move from Tell to Ask and simply and quickly create space for coaching conversations to happen.
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About the Author
Jean Balfour is Managing Director of Bailey Balfour and Programme Director of our ICF Accredited Coach Training Programmes (ACTP). Jean is passionate about helping people to have good conversations both at work and at home. She believes that coaching is a life skill and that you never regret learning to coach.