What considerations need to be given to programme design?
One of the biggest challenges in training design is in the content. Rarely is there too little material, rather we are more likely to overload with all the essential information we think participants simply must know about! This is even more evident when it comes to the very broad field of personal development. Trainers are tempted to pack as much content as possible into the available time, at the expense of processing the learning.
With the strong emphasis of personal development on self-awareness and reflection, this programme includes activities to self-evaluate thinking and learning styles and to describe introversion / extroversion factors. This level of awareness is helpful for participants to learn about, and from, themselves as well as being informative for the coach and trainer to tailor their approach.
Designing a programme with embedded coaching is a combined effort and there needs to be synergy between the coach and trainer, trusting and respecting each others’ discipline. While the coach doesn’t necessarily need to be a content specialist, it certainly helps to know the context. In this particular programme, the coach and the trainer have worked together over a number of years and are both particularly passionate about personal development!
The programme pacing ensures there are thinking spaces for individual reflection, as well as breathing spaces for coaching conversations to break away from the main group without participants losing the flow or context.
In the delivery of the programme, the trainer and coach are in constant contact to signal where, perhaps, more time or clarification is needed. While an exceptional trainer already senses this from the front of the room, the coach deepens the awareness through monitoring and participation within the group. The coach notices pressure points and targets individuals who may need extra time or support. This is done in an easy, participatory manner with the coach joining activities and conversations. Coaching moments are offered through observation and question. Thus the coach becomes a further set of eyes in the room, in tandem with the trainer.
While many multi-day personal development programmes involve large groups of participants, this programme is deliberately kept at a maximum of twelve to provide individualised support. These numbers make it much easier to identify and offer coaching moments.
What model could represent the roles of both trainer and coach in the programme?
While participants are usually clear about the role of the trainer, they are often less aware of how a coach might engage with them. Many people have never experienced coaching, beyond a sports field, and are uncertain as to what might be expected.
The following model is used in the early stages of the programme to differentiate the roles.
How is in-programme coaching relevant to personal development programmes?
There are strong parallels between the goals of personal development training and life coaching, as both seek to help people to reduce the gap between where they are and where they want to be in their lives. In-programme coaching is an ideal framework for personal development, as the action-based, future-focus of coaching sits cleanly alongside group delivery.
Observations of such programmes in both New Zealand and North America, plus the growth in coaching uptake and the proliferation of books, websites and blogs indicate an increasing demand for substantial programmes which deliver practical strategies and support for change. There have been a number of ‘snake oil’ programmes which have not served the sector well, by over-promising Transformation in Ten Simple Steps, while under-delivering on the ‘how-tos’ that make change stick.
Adding coaching to a programme that is packed with multiple strategies and ongoing support deepens and personalises the learning. Participants leave with a clear individual plan of action and a network of people and resources to draw on.
Training often raises more questions than it answers. Within this programme, it is clear that the individual is the expert in their own lives, and the questions raised can be even more challenging because they go so deep. A well-timed coaching moment may just be the key the participant needs.
How does an in-programme coach establish and develop trusting relationships with participants?
Establishing trust and rapport with participants is an essential part of any training or coaching event. We have noticed, in the context of professional as opposed to personal development that a large number of adults who come to training have had negative learning experiences that have left them feeling inadequate, defensive and reluctant to engage. Removing these barriers is essential if a participant is to make the most of their learning opportunity. While individuals must take responsibility for their own attitudes and behaviour, the trainer and coach have a huge part to play.
Establishing a safe and welcoming environment is relatively simple, from setting an environment that speaks of professionalism, fun and inspiration, to offering hot coffee on arrival and putting them at ease. First impressions of the day often dictate how it will proceed. Participants coming into such an environment begin to feel confident that they are in good hands.
During the opening phase of the programme, the trainer and coach jointly introduce their roles and models that reflect the process and content. The coach continues to operate from near the front of the room, moving to observe, monitor and interact with participants.
To further increase visibility and to establish early personal contact, the coach can take on other roles. These include responsibility for pre-weekend phone calls to all participants, to check special requirements, confirm arrangements and to sound out any questions or concerns. One-two weeks after the programme, the coach again calls participants to check on progress and to offer further support. These calls set the precedent for coaching conversations.
During breaks, participants are offered reflection activities. Introverts will often take these up, as permission to seek solitary, re-energizing headspace. Both coach and trainer are available to participants at breaks as well as before and after the day’s programme. At the end of the day, they confer to note observations and to tailor the upcoming programme where needed.
The coach is a visible, valid and vital part of the programme. Establishing that role from the outset supports a positive relationship with participants. While most had experience with training and facilitation in some format, far fewer know what coaching is about, or how it could help them.
What coaching techniques / interventions work in in-programme-coaching?
Laser coaching provides a targeted intervention in a short timeframe – perhaps as little as a few minutes. These typically take place during the workshop sessions, either withdrawing from the room or within pair conversations. Scheduled break times, as well as either end of the day provide opportunities for longer interactions.
The coach uses a wide range of techniques, which may include reflection, rehearsal, goal setting, visualisation, clarifying, shifting focus and targeting limiting beliefs.
The coach must have strong observation skills, awareness of non-verbal behaviour and perception to help the participant to get quickly to the heart of the matter. Selecting the right intervention in that brief conversation is crucial.
How have participants responded to coaching within a training programme?
This weekend self-development programme has now run successfully three times. With more learning and reframing on the way, it is very much a work in progress.
In evaluation terms, we have been particularly interested in feedback from participants on the effectiveness of the in-programme coaching model, as we have not seen it used elsewhere. To date, the response has been very encouraging, with participants offering broad constructive comment.
Participant B: ‘I just felt stuck. I could see what I needed to do, but I was afraid of what would happen if I did it. (Coach) got me to vent my fears with a best / worst / most likely scenario. Once I heard myself, it all seemed possible. The coaching moment helped me to unravel that. It was the first of several conversations with her over the weekend, and really helped me to move forward.’
Participant A: ‘I don’t have great big bold dreams like some of the others. I just want a strong happy family life, and for our grown-up kids to want to come home and really talk with us. The (coaching) moment helped me to see that this was just as important as everyone else’s huge plans.’
Participant F: ‘Before the weekend, I knew (the trainer), but not (the coach). The phone calls beforehand made me feel really comfortable that this weekend would be in a safe space with people who actually cared about me. The whole weekend was like that. I was really excited to get the follow-up call a week after the programme, as I couldn’t wait to share what I’d achieved!’
Participant C: ‘My first coaching moment was on Saturday, and it was because I felt a bit anxious about sharing some of my stuff with others I didn’t know in the group. (Coach) helped me to see what I needed to do next, and encouraged me to show up. I’m glad I did, because it made me see that we all have hard stuff to deal with.’
What, if any, are the shortcomings of in-programme coaching?
In-programme coaching has its drawbacks. Sometimes the brevity of the conversation is frustrating and we are working to find a way for participants to withdraw from the programme for longer sessions if needed. It is also a challenge to keep an eye on all participants, and it seems to take until Saturday afternoon for some individuals to request a coaching moment. Needless to say, it is also an expensive way to deliver programmes, but this is of lesser concern.
The rapport between trainer and coach is vital. We are fortunate to have worked together for several years and both understand the constraints of each discipline. Also influential is the venue, and this past year we have established our own venue for delivering coaching and bespoke training. It is a very special environment that reflects care and concern for participants and we are enormously proud of it!
In-programme coaching is a natural framework for a personal development programme. Given the coach and trainer involved, the dynamics of a new programme and the flexible way in we can respond to our participants, we are at a loss to understand why the model has not been taken up more readily elsewhere. While this programme is in its infancy, there are strong indicators of efficacy that goes beyond team-teaching to draw on the strengths of each programme leader.
Participants report positively about the dual focus on group skill and practical tactics alongside individual responsiveness, which supports nurtures and strengthens them.
The ‘coaching moment’ concept is becoming shorthand in our programme for time-out to think deeply with someone and hone in on the heart of the matter. In the context of an entire training programme, this is like finding a golden nugget.
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