Research Paper By Radhika Darbari
(Transformational & Business Coach, HONG KONG)
Demonstrates knowledge of coaching theory and practice
Create a work that contributes to the larger body of coaching work in some way
Ensure the work is substantial (at least 2000 words in length or equivalent)
Collaboration seems like a simple word, yet as it assumes a positive want of a minimum of two parties to work together to a mutually beneficial outcome, it is, in fact, a big ask and not that easy to achieve. Take the example of a crime scene, imagine you are one of the few key witnesses, none expected the robbery to happen, but all now will be asked to ‘collaborate’ with the police to get to an outcome. Like in the group coaching each witness will have a different level of enthusiasm to recall the sequence of events to help the police solve the crime and conclude with a positive outcome. The same is applicable in a team or organizational coaching. Finding a way to make the message ‘Collaborate to succeed’ mean something valuable, to all you interact with from the start, is crucial. Not only to ensure smaller coaching sessions are effective but also program level sessions leave both parties (management and staff) agreeing that a mutually beneficial outcome or step forward has or will be achieved. In this paper, we will discuss how collaborative coaching is achieved in a number of industries, through the use of International Coaching Federation (ICF) guidelines and another coaching practices, the outcome hopefully being one in which the reader feels set to experiment for themselves to achieve ‘Collaborative’ coaching success.
Since the beginning of time, collaboration has been the cornerstone of success. From Neanderthals, who split the community into ‘hunters’ and ‘gatherers’ to achieve wholesome meals, to scientists collaborating on research tasks to quicker find cures to ailments we have been collaborating. The outcomes variable, however, and in line continues to be a vastly explored topic by academics across nursing (Pryjmachuck& Richards, 2007), the police force (Thompson, Kirk, & Brown, 2006), the teaching professions (Winefield& Jarrett, 2001), business (Robert J. Garmston, 1997) and sport settings (Thelwell, Weston, Greenlees, and Hutching, 2008). Similarly, collaborative coaching is an integral part of Coaching training and practice. Inline this paper will, therefore, set out to explore the findings of various recognized research with the objective to demonstrate, how a coach can initiate positive collaboration in variable environments. Balancing the demands of adopting the multiple roles of instructor, mentor, friend, organizer, educator, and counselor (Lyle,2002)is a common challenge for many coaches and in line using the lessons learned from these studies we will set out to explore how a coach can use the powerful tag line ‘collaborate to succeed’ to drive individuals to not only partner with their coaches in the truest sense but more effectively create and own their own plan to success.
To start, let’s then dive into the importance of collaboration in sports. In football, basketball, tennis or even gymnastics, a collaboration between individuals, the team, and the coach are commonly the factors separating the winners and the losers. In team sports, it is this triangle relationship of all parties with their coach that strengthens both individual and team performance. Positive relationships reduce the risk of loss. Alignment on the desired outcome and how to get there should not be a secret but visible to all. Inline as a spectator of any team sport you will be able to easily notice the difference between a good or bad team. Brilliant sports teams look like they are a synchronized unit. Good but not consistently great teams look like great individuals on a court but often miss the ‘seamless’ movement of a fully ‘in-sync’ squad and poorly engaged teams have unfortunately neither.
France, in the 2018FIFA World Cup, was a perfect example of this. Though not the team of the strongest individual players, their strategy to have a shared vision (win the world cup) and focus on how each of their strengths could help them work as a unit – they superseded all expectations and delivered to win the cup. Their constant teamwork and collaborative nature of trusting one another when on and off the ball achieved their desired outcome of shared success, goals and credit. Their coach Didier Deschamps later even commented: “My greatest source of pride with this group is that they had the right state of mind for this tournament. The words I am repeating: never give up. Yes, there are imperfections, today was not perfect, but we did have the mentality and psychological qualities that are decisive in a World Cup.” In this sentence the coach recognizes that they are not yet perfect. It was the collaboration amongst themselves and their coach, along with their shared mental and psychological strength, which he puts down as the reason for their win (team and coach). Dig deeper and the relevance to us purely as coaches is clear.
The mental and psychological strength of us as coaches is key to us achieving nourishment and visible collaboration and positive outcomes of individuals. Trusted by our clients to uphold our responsibility in a coaching relationship to not get emotional or into the detail, but remain the objective party who sees the bigger picture, as well as the individual – Didier is here reflecting on his support to encourage them all to be at their best, supported positive outcomes. The learning, the trust his team had in him, mimics the trust we should all have with our clients. Experiencing hands-on the recognizable change collaborative coaching ensues is a key driver to support coachees to continue to want to collaborate. Seeing, hearing and breathing their desired place in the environment they are, whilst feeling their clarity on their own controllable plan to move forward, is how we as coaches get to be seen as part of the team. The result in football, as seen in all world cup endings, is one of the teams strongly holding the trophy. Coach and team as one unit.
In basketball in 2008 the Boston Celtics Coach Doc Rivers had a similar approach of using collaboration to succeed. Paul Flannery (2017) a sportswriter described Doc the Rivers 2008 team as ”The NBA’s first modern super team. There hasn’t been a successor quite like it”. What made them different? Rather than having one sole Most Valuable Player, their success came from collaborative teamwork. Doc Rivers made it a competitive environment, but similar to France he ensured the team shared the same vision from the top of the season. Second, he promoted early on for the squad members to acknowledge the strengths of all the parties in the team. Players could either choose to compliment or grow to similarly provide that value to the team and have a growth buddy. Age did not matter and so even the three more experienced players; Allen, Garnett, and Pierce knew from the start they would need the support of the bench to achieve their goals. The coach, clear on the growing focus for these younger athletes, but with a passion for self-direction for Ronda and Perkins ”Their roles were clearly defined and yet ambiguous enough to develop and evolve.” Tying player’s success to their ability to win together using the African ‘Ubuntu’ term Doc Rivers subtly promoted a relationship-driven environment that in the end made all players reflect that this team was like none before. There were no silos as Kevin Garnett shared in an interview with Kevin McHale, they were ”Like brothers. The whole team”.
This blend of all having both a professional and personal relationship nurtured respect and collaboration. Inline as a team and with their coach who acted quarter on quarter as the trusted elder observer, they would pivot to the game needs and win. This spread of playing on strengths and intuitive passing meant guarding only one or two main players would not work in defense of this team. This team understood the team collaboration agreement, the role of the coach and also the individual coached strengths of each team member. As a result, the communication and visible willingness of all players to give and take in the relationship resulted in them winning the game on game.
But what about sports that have a less clear-cut need for teamwork between individuals, such as country gymnastics? A country team exists but their performance is fully dependent on themselves as specialists in their own sport. In truth here these professionals don’t really need to collaborate with the other athletes. In their case, their success is dependent on their own performance, commitment and if anything, their collaboration with their coach to keep their mental and physical strengths ahead of the competition. In these scenarios, the expectation is that the coach will work with them to ensure their performance and growth are in line if not excelling in the performance of other individuals in their space. In terms of qualities a study suggests elite athletes looked for ”(M)motivational skills, spotting abilities, discipline, organization, communication skills, consistency, as well as many other qualities (Massimo,2018)’’ in their coaches. Funnily enough though as much as the above were important, the key factor found for successful long-standing collaborative coaching relationships, was respect and reverence over all others.
Another interesting variance from pure ICF coaching guidelines, coaches in this space shared that due to many gym athletes being younger in age, in this industry coaching relationships started often more authoritarian in style. A truth which may take many to assume to be far from ideal practice. It was found this is likely true to success. Recognized, coaches here instead found and shared that crucial to their long term success in this space was not the avoidance of authoritarian guidance, but coaches showing obvious signs of seeing the coachee(s) as a human beings. Not robotic, but treating them righteously as a human being on a journey. Instilling this mindset so that the journey felt like a partnership was critical. Not done, sports researchers Fletcher, Hanton, and Mellalie (2006) found that athletes suffered mentally and were more prone to long term physical injuries.
Now you may still be wondering, why would a coach ever take an authoritarian approach, which is against ICF guidelines? The truth is, as the research shows that these coaches do not do this due to pleasure in this style, but often so that it creates a trust of the coachee to the coach in the specialism. The journey here goes that once the coachee reaches an advanced level, reflected both in the wins and self-aware performances, then a coach in this space would and should change their style to one of collaborative. The authoritarian formation resulting in wins built trust and respect, something they found critical to “Get coachees to get to a level for unique development”. With coachee’s aware that they got to their level with the guidance of their coach, the relationship is now of mutual benefit. As a result, the coachee now feels comfortable if not even happier to switch to a collaborative model in which growth comes from within, but the coach is still present, acting as they should as a mirror, challenging the client to dig deeper.
So, all in all, from a sports perspective we see helping teams find a shared vision, promotion of professional/personal relationships and respect for individuals, the teams and the coach’s strengths are key attributes that make coaches in this space truly successful. Having been a player in the sport for many years or being able to display results with multiple teams is one element to a coach being hired, but as seen with Doc Rivers even greater recognition goes to those whose collaborative coaching approach brings success not only to the teams but also the individuals within it.
Ok, let’s move to education. In education, peer coaching with a collaborative approach has been found crucial for sustainable results since the early 2000s, but the coaches’ attributes were found to be very different from in sport(Les Foltos, 2014). As Anna Walter, a peer coach in Edmonds, Wash., observes, “If you want teachers to take ownership of learning, the coach can’t be the expert” (A. Walter, “Personal Communication”, September 28, 2011). Her observation was that in the education environment, instead of the best coaches being the most experienced or topic subject matter experts (“SME”), here a ‘accepted coach’ was more tied to being someone that had respect from their peers, and trusted by the coachee to create ”A relationship that is also friendly, personalized, manageable, supportive, and private (Foltos, 2013).” In fact, coaches that were seen by their peer coach, more as a support mechanism than a ‘Mentor’ or SME had better outcomes in improving their school’s goal achievement. Inline, coaches here to achieve collaborative success would first show empathy before moving to ICF style coaching discussions in which they would ”(F)facilitate learning by using inquiry to encourage their learning partner to question current practices and to consider new practices and strategies”.
But you may be wondering, a teacher by nature, how was it possible for a more experienced teacher to not ‘teach’ but ‘support and coaching’ instead? And was this approach truly accepted as the better way by coach/coachee when pressure grew on their shared school improvement targets? The interesting answer is yes. What Foltos found was that a peer coaching ‘Norm of collaboration’ agreement early on was expected from coach/coachee made this possible. Whether written or vocal, this mutually created and agreed ways of working and boundary setting, similar to the ICF ‘coaching agreement’, did wonders to make boundaries clear and the coach rank irrelevant. Ensuring early on that both parties set to work together, clarified and agreed amongst themselves in simple terms their ways of working, there was a reduced risk of frustration. Similarly, the coachee was less likely to negatively react when confronted with deep probing questions. Due to the agreement, coaches did not assume questions were to pressure progress to the achievement of their shared school targets, the advice was clearly not to be included in their interactions, instead, the focus was on how that individual could make controlled changes to achieve their goal and perceived the positive outcome.
Another factor similar to sports that contributed to positive outcomes in education, was coach/coachee in Washington having a shared clear vision/goal from the start. In this case, the vision of ‘Student success, improved learning environments and student success over teaching counseling.”Helped the choice of coaching questions and outcomes. Training coaches in this space tended to focus questions around learning and students (Meyer et al., 2011), e.g “So you tried … with your students. What did you learn from that?” Or the question might be asked a slightly different way. “So you tried … with your students. What did they learn from that, and what is your evidence?” (Foltos, 2013). These targeted questions reminded the coachee of their motivation, kept conversations focused. The result is that the program was able to succeed in obtaining faster and more effective organizational gains, as well as improved personal professional well-being. By training the coaches to remember to focus on students in their question’s, coaches avoid usurping the coaching space to focus on the teacher outside of work too issues. The result?An environment in which the coach, by playing the role of a friendly peer, worked to help his and her learning partners solve the issues challenging them. The positive impact – the teachers as a collaborative, were able to let go of their emotional opinions in the workplace and stay focused on their shared target outcomes. The outcome improved personal and team performance.
In business, collaboration for short term problem solving has been a norm for many years using the idea of a ‘Task Force’. A Task Forcebeingthe name given to small groups of specialized ad-hoc teams set up in times of crisis to collaborate and resolve high impact short term problems quickly. But why only set these teams up for short term fixes? This was a common question that arose both from project management practitioners and human resource (HR) professionals. HR academics began to investigate and found that collaboration, mentorship, and coaching that was enjoyed in these teams due to the time pressure for success with a clear goal, could be fostered by simply nurturing ‘current talent'(Robert J. Garmston, Journal of Staff Development, Fall 1997 (Vol. 18, No. 4). By promoting more organizational awareness of the knowledge and skills, other parties may bring to their delivery outcome, which is what occurred in these task forces, collaboration got more natural. Increasing their organizational cross-functional knowledge capital through more interaction, reduced risk, but also helped to improve the effectiveness of questions day in and day out on work being done. With greater knowledge and curiosity, staff voluntarily asked each other more focused challenging questions. The result of natural collaborative coaching.
Aware many organizations were moving to try this approach of having cross-functional teams, with joint accountability as a norm, the U.K ‘Sky’ Case Study (Tufan, 2005)’ as well as an institute for Corporate Productivity (i4cp) 2018, went to research 1,100 companies. Their findings were interesting. They did find collaborative coaching naturally taking place, also more collaborative working, which resulted in staff being more efficient as a team and individually. But, the unfortunate truth however they also found was that a problem faced by many organizations’ moving to this model more widely, was that with line management remaining by the department, this model was in truth only temporary change in the way staff worked for a short period of time. Unless supported with cross-functional team key performance indicators (“KPI”) versus departmental KPIs felt stressed, in this case, staff felt torn day to day between supporting their boss and supporting their ‘delivery team’. In task forces, there was reduced pressure on departmental KPIs that could easily be understood due to its short term nature. However with the new model expected as long term ways of working, yet human resource structures (the area most staff relate to for bonuses/financial remuneration) the outcome being one of confusion from staff on how to behave.
Inline through short/medium-term results of collaborative/cross-functional working could be defined to be successful. Medium to long term, though collaborative working was more enjoyed, it becomes perceived to be of less ‘value’ it did not occur. Staff would not take precedence to work this way, fell back into old habits and the positive changes reversed or stalled if not on a regular focused cadence. The lack of clarity from management on the connected goals, or what we called vision in the sports and education space, here blocked continued success. Experiencing personal and shared goals was ‘liked’ in this space, but often not strong enough of a driver for bottom-up consistent collaboration.
But asking questions and challenging others in the workplace, as well as working to grow on something not ‘clearly’ in your KPI, we must appreciate does not come naturally to most. This has been recognized and in line with the growth of the model, we now have a new way of working called ‘Agile‘. Instead of it purely being a model it is a term used to describe a mindset built on experimentation, self-organization, and quality. It is recognized and published that change to this way of working is difficult and in line having a coach on your journey is advised. Coaching in this context is the practice of asking non-loaded questions to coach at the organizational, team and individual levels to make positive changes to behaviors to make collaborative day to day working the norm. Instead of forcing a process, Coaches in this context most commonly sit outside of the standard organizational structure and are trusted to act as a safe third party to collaborate and grow their whole org structures and governance in a customized fashion at the speed that works for them. The collaboration as found in sports and education must be transparent, a relationship of all-around trust to truly work. Unfortunately, however, this is often not the case naturally. Establishment of credibility and trust is therefore crucial for a coach in this space to succeed. Ability to show experience in the shoes of the organizations helps to build credibility and being a master of language are key to get to a positive ‘collaborative’ relationship in which you are seen as a ‘friendly peer’ growth partner, not a temporary ‘teacher’ (Mersino, 2015). In agile transformation leaders at the top are coached first to help ensure mismatch of ‘ways of working’, ‘KPIs’, infrastructure, etc are all factored from the start of the journey and success acknowledged to mandatorily be a collaborative effort top to bottom. Coaches in this space initially will have a regular cadence of sessions, they will coach others how to ask effective questions, whilst simultaneously coaching individuals, teams, and leadership using workshops, growth exercises, and common coaching practices on how to be a part of a collective forward journey.
So, having discussed a number of case studies of industries in which collaborative coaching is prevalent, you may still be wondering what is the core to make it happen? How do I balance the demand to play multiple roles and how do I now go away to trigger collaborative behavior from my coachee? Across all industries, the biggest stress and hindrance for coaches to achieve ‘collaborative success’ is the common misalignment of coach and client in regard to the coach’s responsibility to achieve success (P.Olusogaetal, 2009). The ICF tackles this most obviously with the ‘Coaching Agreement’, but more holistically the answer is simple and I find the Oklahoma Department of Human Services summarizes it quite nicely in their publication in 2005. Collaborative coaching can in most cases be achieved if like in our case studies above, you do these essential 8 things:
- Build Relationships – Just like the Boston Celtic team of 2008 make coaching not purely feel like a professional relationship but a comfortable one – human to human. It triggers self-accountability and inline improved outcomes.
- Regular Engagement – Even though coaching vs. leader to staff means engagement should be as needed rather than forced. To be an effective coach do check in on your coachees, make it fun, make it memorable, make collaboration count. We all need reminders, with reverence comes responsibility.
- Clarify Roles –No matter what environment, we all feel most comfortable when we are reasonably clear on where we stand and what is expected of us. Inline as a coach lead that conversation with your client and get a mutually agreed ‘Contract of the norm’. It will save frustration and avoid the possibility of silence due to confusion.
- Ask Powerful Questions –Ask focused questions like in education and always be curious. Paraphrase your client showing they have been heard, but also challenge to find what lies beneath. Our darkest truths can be the ones never spoken.
- Perform Active Listening – Be fully available when with your clients. Truly understand their focus/goals and keep them on track to that. Observe a change/deeper emotion, explore it but don’t get distracted. Always remember they hold the answers and silence can be golden.
- Work as One – As seen in the case of education and business – no one likes being told what to do and silo departmental working can be the barrier to long term success. Promote your clients to partner with you and others.
- Obtain Commitment – We are more likely to do what we say if we told someone else. Remember to follow the Vision > Action>Result > Celebration > Restart flow and your client will always see the benefits rather than ‘hassle’ of committing to steps forward.
- Follow Up – A text, simple face to face question or 1 line email, let them know you are a partner – their number one cheerleader. There to collaborate, there to support if needed.
Do the above 8 essentials and find your coachee(s) associating contact with you to grow, but most of all space they can safely come to think, not be judged but find the answers they are looking for to build their individual and collective path forward. Perform all 8 and you may be able to balance the multiple demands of being a coach and more easily positively drive individuals to partner and create and own their own plan to ‘Collaborate to succeed’. We are not in it alone; Coachee or Coach.
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