“I appreciate you for sharing your thoughts and reflections on the WhatsApp group chat. I observed that not many people respond to your sharing. You may consider doing your sharing first thing in the morning, rather than at night, so that more of the team would be in a better mind frame to appreciate what you have to share.”
That was what my coach said to me in our first coaching session. Cheryl and I have coaching sessions on a weekly basis since we implemented Collegial Coaching within our company. We have been practising the ‘Coaching Shorthand’ – a simple two-step process of delivering appreciative and constructive feedback, with either party initiating, for a few sessions now. Even when I am out of town, we would continue our coaching sessions through WhatsApp calls.
At this point, it is important to highlight that Cheryl is not an external Executive Coach. Instead, she is the youngest member of our team who had just joined the company for about three months.
How would you feel if you received such feedback? And what if it came from the youngest, most junior, newest member of your staff?
To be honest, I was a little concerned how the first coaching session will pan out. How would I react should Cheryl point out something I was not prepared to hear? Would I have enough humility to accept the feedback and recommendations from her? Would the “power distance”, age difference, or the gap between our years of work experience get in the way of meaningful, effective coaching? Would Cheryl be too pressured to get it right, and become too polite for anything productive to come out of the session?
Thankfully, the training that is based on the ‘Heart of Coaching’ by Thomas Crane, provided us with sufficient structure and processes that we can easily adopt and meld into our already open learning culture. Combined with the use of Emergenetics, there were not only no awkward moments, but we also had a great time. I also learnt a lot from Cheryl’s candid sharing, even from just one session.
Understanding collegial coaching
Central to the theme of collegial coaching is that anyone within the organisation can coach anyone. This is contrary to traditional forms of coaching where the coach is usually someone professionally certified, senior and probably external to the organisation. My interaction with professional executive coaches and clients alike tells me that there is a growing trend for senior executives to be coached. But to be coached by just about anyone from your organisation? Maybe not as common.
On top of the benefits of traditional coaching, collegial coaching allows for more self-awareness among team members, and it shortens feedback cycles. More importantly, it builds relationships and trust, and strengthen the culture we had built using Emergenetics – one that is inclusive and harnesses diversity. Also, collegial coaching cultivates a greater sense of ownership, by encouraging accountability towards the team results.
How did it start?
Just last year, Deputy CEO Colin, and myself were introduced the ‘Heart of Coaching’ course. After attending the 2-day course, we found the concept of collegial coaching very refreshing and in line with our core values and organisational philosophy, and decided to implement it within our company.
As with any new initiative, Colin and I knew that we needed to give it leadership emphasis for it to work within the organisation. Firstly, we needed to equip everyone with the basic skillset of collegial coaching. So, we arranged for quarterly training sessions to be conducted by Ng Choon Seng, who is not only an Emergenetics Associate, but also a Certified Professional Facilitator with the International Association of Facilitators (IAF) and an experienced trainer in this area.
Next, we knew it would take time and effort to form a coaching habit and to integrate this into our existing culture – even though ours is already one that is open to learning. To achieve this, we formed coaching pairs to practise the coaching skills acquired on a regular basis. The management also intentionally invited junior members of the team to be our coaches, to demonstrate our commitment towards creating an open coaching culture within the team.
Lastly, we sustained the company-wide effort by spurring each other on and checking in on others’ progress during weekly meetings and informal occasions. We even had fun charting on our notice board the number of sessions we have completed to date.
What does it mean to me as a leader?
Not only do I now have regular contact time with a team member whom I would otherwise have little opportunity to work with, I am also getting fresh perspectives from the ground-up on how I am doing as a leader.
It helps me see if the big plans and vision I had put into motion was received in the way I had envisioned for the last person in the team.
In just four sessions with Cheryl, I have already made changes to my approaches at work. In response to Cheryl’s coaching about my sharing to the team via our team WhatsApp group chat at odd hours of the day, I now keep a private blog that I would post all my reflections, ideas, thoughts and observations. This enables me to continue sharing at my convenience, while being considerate to my team members by letting them read my sharing at theirs. Without Cheryl’s coaching, I would not be aware that my eagerness to share with others as and when a thought comes to my mind is a blind spot. In Emergenetics, this blind spot is explained by my preferences in Social Thinking, Expressiveness and Assertiveness that stands in the 95th percentile of the population.
What’s next for leaders out there?
So how can you as a leader get the collegial coaching culture started? Here are some tips based on the reflections of my personal journey:
1. Get trained, or find a trained facilitator
While the concept of collegial coaching is easy to understand, it is important to lay down the foundation in a systematic way. That starts with learning the skills, acquiring the knowledge, and setting the context right. A good facilitator familiar with collegial coaching is important to get the team started. Ensure that you have a good understanding of what collegial coaching is, and how it would look like in your organisation when it is implemented.
2. Get everyone onboard
Making changes at an organisation-wide level is not a one-person job. It requires the ownership and support of everyone, especially from the management team. Colin and I first ensured that our management was on the same page by getting the Chief Operating Officer Deborah Chew and Director of Information System Mark Lim onboard with us. Once that is achieved, communicate it to the rest of the company and ensure that there is an open channel available for concerns to be raised.
3. Do a Kick-Off Session
Set aside at least half a day for everyone to attend the collegial coaching workshop. This kick-off session is important in laying the foundation, setting the context, managing expectations, clarifying doubts, and equipping everyone with the skills. After the session, work out a plan and make a commitment on one collegial coaching skill would you would be practising together as a company.
4. Keep the momentum going
Ensure that everyone continues to practise the coaching skills, and that the effort is sustainable. The key to sustaining the effort is to keep the idea fresh in the minds of everyone. This could be done through formal (emphasising during weekly meetings) or informal ways (casual reminders and gamification). Remember that every little step helps to keep the fire burning.
5. Be vulnerable
When it comes to collegial coaching, everyone will take the lead from the top management. As a leader, it is important to be vulnerable and willing to embrace coaching in the right spirit. That means being humble, open to feedback, and being authentic. It may be scary initially, but the rewards are definitely worth reaping.
I see how collegial coaching complements our use of Emergenetics in building an open and learning workplace culture. With these tips, you too can get the collegial coaching culture started within your organisation.