Thursday, February 22, 2018

What's in a question...?

Questions are part of our everyday lives, and it’s a challenge to communicate without them. If you have ever played those games where you have to communicate without any questions you know what a fundamental role they play. There are many types of questions, each of which has a different purpose, including (but not limited to) probing, elaborating, clarifying, and planning.
Coaching questions tend to have particular characteristics, and a good coaching question has the power to support a coachee in a range of different ways. Well-framed questions can positively stimulate thought, motivate, inspire, and help your coachee recognise their own strengths such that they remain motivated, energised and focussed.
I will now discuss some of the characteristics of a ‘good’ coaching question, but not before emphasising that effective questioning goes hand-in-hand with effective listening.
Effective coaching questions are:
  • Mostly open: Questions that start with, for example, “what”, “how”, or “if” and provide opportunities for a ‘wide’, sometimes surprising, response from the coachee.
  • Focussed on solutions: The coach supports the coachee to explore underpinning  frameworks that are influencing how the coachee considers an issue. The questions help the coachee identify options in a way that expands their thinking and ways of working (e.g. “What would you like to accomplish?”, and “What do you think you need to do to get a result that will work for you (or closer to your goal)?”).
  • Neutral: Do not contain any elements of the coach’s reaction, opinion, or concerns (e.g. “What do you feel?”).
  • Simple, short, clear and one at a time (with plenty of silence and space): Enables the coachee to focus on their thinking and ideas, rather than trying to figure out what the coach has just asked (e.g. “How could you appropriately communicate your point of view with the rest of your team?”). Multiple, rapid-fire questions can also interfere with the flow, and should be avoided.
  • Motivating: Focus on the things a coachee might do to move toward identifying and designing their own strategies and solutions (e.g. “What if you knew the answer? What would it be?”).
  • Have a positive effect on coaching outcomes: Questions that help the the coachee be creative to think of ideas and solutions that they may not otherwise have thought of (e.g. “If anything were possible, what are five possible options? What else?” And “What could you do differently?”).
These questions also map onto coaching roles, although they are not exclusive to those roles. As such, they may involve some of the following:
  • Investigator (knowledge): Who, what, when, where, why, how . . . ? Could you please describe . . . ?
  • Guide (comprehension): Would I be right in thinking...? What did you understand from...?”
  • Neutral inquirer (application): How do you feel X is an example of Y?; How would you say that X is related to Y?; Why do you feel that X is significant in your context?
  • Investigator (analysis): What are the identifiable aspects of . . . ? Would you classify X according to Y?
  • Investigator (synthesis): What are your thoughts around solutions for . . . ? What would you infer from . . . ? What are your additional reactions to . . . ? How might you go about designing a new . . . ? What could happen if you added . . . ?
  • Advisor (evaluation): What do you think about trying . . . ? What is the most important outcome for.. . ? Which would you say are the highest priority for . . . ? What would help you decide to . . . ?
Coaching questions will only really be useful if you try them out. This will provide you with opportunities to reflect on whether you felt your questions were well put together, and if they positively impacted the way your coachee was thinking. You should also consider if any of your questions were not really suitable for coaching (such as those that are closed, leading, contain your opinion, are multi-parted or wordy and difficult to understand). Effective questions are key to a coaching relationship; however, being able to craft a good question takes practice. The more you actively listen, and the more you hone your questioning skills, the more powerful the experience will be for both you and your coachee.


Image: Questions. CC ( BY NC SA ) licensed Flickr image by Tim O'Brien

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

Perspectives around the benefits of coaching and mentoring

I often find myself pondering why coaching and mentoring are so powerful. When I am being coached the fact that someone is listening so intently, and asking questions that in turn ... even though I know they are part of a coach's tool box ... help me dig deeper than when I ask myself the same questions. I am not the most extroverted person around, but still have a deep appreciation of the 'gift' of someone else's time and care.
Well, that's my perspective, and I know there are many others!
A while back, Rick Whalley and I decided to find out a bit more about what people felt the benefits of being coached and/or mentored are. So, we surveyed, as part of coaching professional development sessions we were facilitating, some of the people with whom we were working to see what:
1) They thought the benefits of working with a coach or mentor were;
2) Why they might be motivated to coach or mentor someone; and
3) What they thought the key attributes of an effective coach or mentor were.
Below are some of the responses, mainly in the original words of the respondents. (NB Where responses were similar they have not been included). I hope you will agree, they are pretty interesting.

Benefits

  • Strengthen and / or challenge my personal views and ideas
  • Different perspectives from someone who is interested in me
  • Access support to change practice
  • Social support
  • Download / discuss issues with someone who is not a manager, partner, or colleague
  • Guidance
  • Help develop skills and knowledge about my orgnisation
  • Inspiration
  • Encouragement
  • Someone to run things by (critical friend)
  • Affirm that I am on the right track
  • Someone invested in my learning
  • Sharing and pooling ideas with an expert / experienced progressional in the field
  • Idea sharing
  • Articulate goals and have someone keep me on track with the goals
  • Find solutions to problems
  • Share strategies that have worked
  • Growth (mutual self discovery)
  • Strengthen and develop skills
  • Specific - e.g. 'promotions'
  • Open new doors
  • Benefit from the institutional + personal experience + knowledge of others
  • Development of capabilities and dispositions
  • Community / relationship building
The 24 key benefits are pretty wide ranging, and illustrate the fact that people see mentoring and/or coaching as achieving different things. Some of the key themes that jumped out for Rick and I are, within a 'safe' partnership, being able to share (issues, ideas, aspirations, and work in progress) and in the process developing as a person and a professional. Wrapped into this, for some people, is accountability, which helps motivate them to stay on track.
While there is nothing new in the 24 benefits, it is a useful snapshot of where the thinking is around coaching and mentoring, and maybe - if you don't already have a coach - be the catalyst for you to seek one out.

Why coach or mentor?

The other part of the partnership is 'doing' the coaching and/or mentoring, and these are some of the responses.
  • Help others achieve above what they thought was possible
  • Support someone to realise their potential
  • To help people find their own paths through discussion and support
  • To give something back / help someone else
  • Share our experiences with likeminded other / next generation
  • Learning is two way and I can always benefit from a coachee or mentee
  • Enjoy co-creating and collaborating, especially in developing best practice
  • Enjoy people
  • Inspire / share ideas
  • Give a new perspective to others
  • Help someone through the process of self-discovery
  • See how others grow
  • Communicating in a respectful space
  • We learn powerfully when we coach or mentor others
The stand-out themes that came through for Rick and I were the enjoyment of the reciprocal nature of a coaching and/or mentoring partnership, as well as the fundamental 'feel good' aspect of supporting someone to grow personally and professionally.
If anything resonates for you, maybe it's time for you to look into opportunities to do some coaching and mentoring :)

Attributes

The final responses were to do with the attributes people felt were essential in a mentor and / or coach, and, by implication, what they would look for in their own mentor/coach and within themselves.
  • Humility
  • Dependable
  • Listener
  • Questioner
  • Reflective (lateral)
  • Self-knowledge
  • Neutral
  • Non-judgemental
  • Passion for learning
  • Experienced
  • Empathetic
  • Approachable
There are a wide range of perceptions of what coaching and mentoring is and can provide, and the results from this informal survey align with some of the formal research that is out there.
The responses have prompted Rick and I to ask ourselves, as well as some of our clients:
  • What is already underway in your organisation?
  • What could professional learning look and feel like if it were all underpinned by a coaching and mentoring approach?
  • What would you add to the lists?
Your thoughts...?

Image


Light on white. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Hazelowendmc: https://flic.kr/p/FncgJd

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Two things coaches really need

While under discussion between coaching theorists and practitioners, there are some core competencies that most will agree contribute to being an effective coach. These core competencies are the ‘things a coach does’ before, during and after a coaching session, and comprise coaching knowledge, skills, attitude and behaviour (Southern Institute of Technology, n.d.).

Active listening

I’d like to focus on two competencies that I feel are possibly the most challenging. The first is listening (ICF, n.d.). The ability to listen involves the related skills of active listening and questioning. Active listening also has many different interpretations, but essentially includes three aspects: comprehending, retaining and responding. Going hand-in-hand with active listening is questioning. Questions are part of our everyday lives, and we can’t really communicate without them. Question types that are common include, probing, elaborating, hypothetical, clarification, planning and strategic.
The tough part is being fully ‘there’ while your coachee is speaking, so that you are listening for what is and isn’t being said. You also need to be able to understand what is meant within the wider context of your coachee’s aspirations - while also choosing powerful questions to help your coachee express themselves and dig deeper into their area of focus.
Sometimes active listening will require a coach to leave space for their coachee to download what’s on top, without passing judgement or making comment (ICF, n.d.). Imagine working with someone with whom you have developed a strong professional relationship, such that you care a lot about their welfare. They then share a situation in their professional or personal life that is affecting them deeply. You have to be able to listen while keeping your own opinions firmly off the table, and to hear what is being said, as well as intuiting the ‘gaps’. You then need to be able to summarise, paraphrase, reiterate, and mirror back (ICF, n.d.) what your coachee has said, and follow up with questions to help them break from a loop of negative reflection so that they can work toward next steps.
Sometimes supporting the coachee to move forward may require finding just the right questions to support them to break from the narrative running through their head. The conversation can help them recognise, for instance, implications within their current situation for their own values, beliefs and goals. It is likely to involve bringing the coachee to the point where they identify what they feel is important, what is and is not possible, and to support their exploration of their own perceptions and concerns, while possibly helping them identify alternatives. Ideally, by the end of the session(s) the way forward should be owned by the coachee, who should feel heard, supported, positive, and comfortable about the next steps they have chosen to take.
This is a big ask, and requires empathy rather than sympathy. The coach has to remain as neutral as they can (non-judgemental) and to constantly check whose agenda is being served by the questions they are posing.

Help with managing progress

The second core competency I feel is tricky, and which is linked to the first one, is to help a coachee manage their own progress (including accountability) (ICF, n.d.). Within this competency is a need to delicately balance attention on what a coachee has identified as important for them, while also leaving responsibility with the coachee to take action (ICF, n.d.).
For example, during a coaching session it may be that there has been some great work identifying steps toward your coachee’s stated goals and big-picture aspirations. Your coachee has identified specific action points, considered possible blockers, enablers and sources of support, and put a timeframe around everything. They even ask if they can text you once they have carried out key actions as they feel it will help keep them on track. You receive one text, and then nothing. At the start of your next session you ask about how things are going in relation to the actions that were identified. Then, remaining non-judgemental, you acknowledge them for what they have achieved, and talk through why the coachee feels they haven’t made progress toward their actions. This could involve reviewing the actions based on what the coachee has learned, or become aware of, since your previous session.
The focus, therefore, while helping the coachee remain on track and ensuring an ongoing sense of positivity, is more importantly about helping them build the skills and strategies to be resilient and self-motivated, such that they carry through with what they say they are going to do, within the time frames they have put in place.
These are both competencies that it takes time and experience to hone, and remaining self-reflective as a coach will help develop them. The exciting thing is, when it’s spot on, the coachee can move from a place that seems bleak, to one where, over time, they recognise that the initial situation provided a catalyst for incredible professional growth.

References

International Coaching Federation. (n.d.). ICF Core Competencies. Retrieved from http://www.coachfederation.org/files/FileDownloads/CoreCompetencies.pdf.
Southern Institute of Technology. (n.d.) Transformational Coaching and its outcomes (Module A) [Lecture notes]. Retrieved from CBC105 (NET).

Image

Helper. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Outi : https://flic.kr/p/bRkRu

Monday, October 30, 2017

Short courses to whet your appetite - and they're free!

Are you looking for a short, online course to study...and that is, even better, free? Open2Study has an interesting variety of courses from which to choose, including subjects as diverse as:

User Experience for the Web
Principles of Project Management
Latin American Music: Translating Cultural Sensibilities, and
Agriculture and the World We Live In

The time commitment for each course varies, but is about 4 to 6 hours per week. Most courses are self-paced, and you get a certificate of achievement when you have completed each course. There are also some handy ideas, for each course, of formal study pathways that you might want to explore.

Well worth checking out :)

Friday, October 27, 2017

Changing: Your environment and yourself

In the places I work, there is a requirement for innovation, responsiveness, and a comfort with change that often calls for “a culture shift: a new environment in which the majority … think in new ways, develop new skills and have new understandings of themselves as professionals” (Bolstad, & Gilbert, 2012, p. 43). As such, there is sometimes an uneasy dichotomy when the current culture of the organisation sits alongside innovations that carry with them the likelihood that people will need to develop new ideas, knowledge and skills. An upcoming change in leadership, or a particular policy or project, for example, is likely to send ripples of uncertainty throughout a work context.
Most of the people I encounter have a clear idea of what they want, but are often not sure how to get there. Sometimes there is also a sense that they aren’t confident about how to avoid doing what they don’t want to do, or aren’t sure why something doesn’t feel quite right in their role. This is where coaching can assist, in part by helping them identify what is missing - and this could be something that is transactional (a skill set for example), or transformational (a need to delve into what their career and relationships actually mean for them, and identify their purpose).
Over time, once a clearer sense of identity and purpose have been identified the person would be able to not only take advantage of, but recognise, a broader range of possibilities. They would also be more likely to be open to learning, inclusive, tolerant, and resilient to change (may, in fact embrace change rather than feel a victim of it).
Our experiences of offering (optional) coaching / mentoring for 3 months (sessions every fortnight, with just-in-time coaching available when needed), or for 12 months (monthly one-hour long sessions) with an opportunity to extend - have been interesting.
For people who have chosen the three months transactional coaching option I have seen positive outcomes, especially where they have stepped outside their comfort zone and developed additional strategies, skills and understandings. These coachees feel more confident about their ability to accept and work comfortably with upcoming change. Interestingly, about two-thirds of the people on the three months option have extended it to twelve months. They seem to have experienced the positive outcomes, and have grown to recognise there is ‘something more’.
People with whom we have been working for 12 months or more, have been exploring the ‘why’ of their identity (as a professional; as a person within a specific life and work environment; with a set of beliefs, assumptions, and biases). They have been responding to challenging questions that have supported the process of transformation on the inside that will make sure they are ready to make the most of - and lead - upcoming change and beyond.
I have noticed, however, that everyone is in slightly different developmental phases. Some are ready for deeper conversations with the more wide-ranging, longer-term impacts, but others are looking for a mix of transactional and transformational, and often in varying proportions depending on their current stress and circumstances.
Coaching is not only about helping people to develop into thought leaders and lifelong learners, but it is also giving them a common language and, increasingly, a common mindset, that will help ensure we meet change with confidence. We will make mistakes, but these will be seen as opportunities to learn and feed into future strategies. People will be “achieving their goals [transactional] while also creating a new way of being [transformational]” (Chittenden, 2015, Para 2).

References:

Bolstad, R. and Gilbert, J., with McDowall, S., Bull, A., Boyd, S., & Hipkins, R. (2012).   Supporting Future-oriented Learning and Teaching: A New Zealand Perspective. Wellington:   Ministry of Education. Retrieved from http://www.educationcounts.govt.nz/publications/schooling/109306.
Chittenden, C. (2012). Transaction Or Transformation? Retrieved from http://www.talkingabout.com.au/TransactionOrTransformation.

Image:

Butterflies in Kuala Lumpar. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Hazelowendmc: https://flic.kr/p/u1kyCh

Thursday, October 5, 2017

How do you support people to build their cultural understandings?

Coaching, with its focus on listening, questioning, and exploration of self, especially values and beliefs, can be a highly effective way to develop understanding of a range of cultures. Such understandings have a positive impact on a person’s own - and where coaching is used throughout a business - all employees’ ability, to comprehend differences in communication and how professional relationships are formed, as well as alternative relationships with different concepts of ‘time’, rules, hierarchy, negotiations, humour, and so on.
The supportive environment that is developed by coaching provides a safe space for employees to grow their skills and build strategies for working together. In turn, this can help with short- and long-term business development, especially around decision-making, planning and operations. Some of the benefits include the:
  • Enhanced ability to meet the needs of a culturally diverse range of clients through employee cultural knowledge  (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010), and an associated reduction in complaints / grievances.
  • Improved knowledge, understanding and relationships with culturally diverse market segments (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Reduction in employee turnover.
  • Enhanced sense of inclusion, cohesion and productivity amongst employees.
  • Enhanced reputation as a business, and as an employer, with culturally diverse communities (domestic and international) (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Increased customer satisfaction and number of referrals  (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).
  • Lower costs and higher profitability.
  • More effective communications and marketing (Australian Multicultural Foundation, 2010).

Reference

Australian Multicultural Foundation. (2010). Managing Cultural Diversity  Training Program Resource Manual. Retrieved from http://amf.net.au/library/uploads/files/MCD_Training_Program_Resource_Manual.pdf

Image

Challenging Stereotypes. CC ( BY NC ND ) licensed Flickr image by Jake Brewer: https://flic.kr/p/8usR2

Friday, September 29, 2017

How to make your online course sticky: Top ten tips

With online courses how do you make them 'sticky'? How do you help participants, after they have started your course, remain engaged and motivated?

Good questions, and ones I was asked a short while ago by some clients. So, I thought I would post some of the ideas I shared with them.

With all of the following ideas, I have either worked with clients to add them to their course design, or have experienced them in action in other courses.

The ideas are based on the assumption that your course is going to be for adults (or learners who are used to using what are considered adult learning strategies), and is totally online, with rolling sign ups (i.e. no participant groups, which means that approaches such as, for example, responding to online forums, are likely to be less effective):

1) Sharing is a big key to ongoing engagement and motivation. Two things you could consider in your course design are:
  • Encouraging participants to find a 'buddy', who is not doing the course but who is interested in how the participant is doing. This buddy might be a trusted friend, or family member (or even a journal...and you could frame up as something like "share your progress with your journal"). As long as the buddy is genuinely interested, it can be hugely motivational for the participant to share the big challenges, as well as the big steps forward. So, you can invite your participants to share regularly, although being careful that you don't do it to the point of overload. For instance, you might want to include one invitation per learning segment. Also, at the beginning of the following learning segment (or if you have a video in the segments), you could ask something like "we invite you to reflect for a moment - Who did you share with? How did that go?"...or something similar :)
  • You can also consider setting up a private group (maybe Facebook or similar) where people can share: their learnings, their experiences, and maybe resources that they have found useful. One aspect to be aware of if you do go down this track though, are providing 'guidelines for positive interactions / what's appropriate to post'. You might also want to consider if you, as facilitator(s) would also respond to postings, and how you would moderate the group to make sure things remain civil.
2) Participants are likely to find different approaches to learning resonate with them. Therefore, when you encourage your participants to think about various concepts, you could use language that encourages them to
  • use their senses,
  • or bring their prior knowledge to a situation, 
  • or imagine (in words, sounds, and/or images).
3) When you suggest that participants consider themselves in a particular context, you could also ask them to think about their 'future story'. For example, if they are working toward skills that will help them start a, or transition to another, career, they could imagine themselves at a table, where they imagine the other characters who are there to support, advise and guide them. This approach, as well as being a powerful personalised 'tool', can help people visualise their own inner strengths, and resources on which they can draw. Imagining the 'conversation' between the characters can also help identify possible challenges, and ways continuing with your course might help address them.

4) Having a storyline running throughout your course can also be really powerful. Participants can 'get to know' characters, and get involved with the challenges they face, and how they work through them. In some cases this approach can help participants 'recognise' themselves, while also bringing complex concepts to life. 

5) A model I have seen work really well is, for an additional fee, people can choose to have a regular - or one off - virtual session(s) with the facilitator(s). This option enables people to share their learning in a much deeper way, and request things they would like to specifically focus on. To make these sessions effective though, you are likely to find that setting clear expectations is useful. For instance, clearly stating that these are additional formal learning sessions, but are fluid and based on a specific request from the participant, and it is up to the participant to identify their focus. These sessions can be recorded and shared back with the participant for their ongoing access.

6) If you are recording videos for your course you can include hooks such as "watch the next video for...", or "next time you will have the opportunity to learn / try / experience...". This 'in the next episode' approach', if done well, can help excite or intrigue participants enough to tune in next time.

7) Measurable progress can be important for some people, which is why journaling and sharing with a buddy can be so useful. However, other people like to measure themselves more concretely. So, you could consider having a short benchmark questionnaire at the beginning of the course, and then make the same questionnaire available at a key point further through the course. Participants can then compare the two, and see how their perceptions around their progress have shifted, if at all. The comparison would be a good point for participants to choose to have a virtual session with a facilitator, if they wanted to.

8) Regularly inviting your participants to make specific commitments to themselves about what they are going to do, how often, and how they will motivate themselves to do it (e.g. telling a friend that they are going to do something on such day or putting a reminder into their phone), can help some people remain engaged and active in your course.

9) You could also have a 'badge', or some sort of image...or whakatauki (proverb / saying), that a participant is (automatically) sent when they complete each part of the course - in other words, they receive positive reinforcement that recognises their progress.

10) Polls, where other people's responses are aggregated and shown (after the participant has responded) can be a way of indicating that there are other people doing the course, along with an indication of of their opinions.

I hope that you find these ideas useful. Please let me know if you have any questions.

Also, please add any of the approaches you use, or have experienced, in the comments below - and say if they were effective or not ... and what you might do to improve on them.

Image
Glue-goo. CC ( BY ND ) licensed Flickr image by Sam-cat: https://flic.kr/p/64Z871