Friday, 24 February 2012

Of liberty and fraternity, in coaching

Think sports and academic institutes if you want to make coaching in the workplace more effective. Remember we’re talking about adults here. It’s different and easier with children, since someone else makes the decisions and choices for them, and they are good learners. Not so, for adults.
The whole business begins with a person’s choice to opt for coaching or not. Someone could either be opposed to ‘extra’ coaching, confident of imbibing the required learning from the existing system. Or believe that true learning happens via numerous interactions and experiences with several people in uncontrolled settings. Or even that he or she is ‘good enough’ and is not in need of any more coaching. I mean, parents, relatives and friends could impress upon this person the need for and the benefits of coaching. Finally, the choice has to be of the person concerned.
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have opted for coaching in their lives, as those who have not. For coaching in the workplace to have a good start, it is fundamental to provide employees in the target group with this choice. As much as it is, to allow them to change their mind.
The second consideration is this. Someone who desires coaching also makes a choice of where or who to go to for getting coached. That someone has chosen to join a particular sporting or education academy for the purpose of getting ahead in life riding piggy-back on its influential patrons or famous teachers, or out of peer pressure, or because of its convenient location, should be for no one to judge. That someone has chosen to join an academy for the love of learning, or because of a genuinely great coach, or even because of the likelihood of a relationship of mutual trust and preference with the coach there, should not be anyone’s bother either.
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices they have made, as those who haven’t. For coaching at the workplace to head in the right direction, it is necessary to allow the employees who have opted for coaching to consider their own motivations privately and then make known their list of preferred coaches. Whether from their organisation or without, from their business group or without.
Coaches also need to make similar choices. Of opting to coach or not. And, if they do make their services available, of deciding who to coach. Again, based on a private consideration of their motivations and preferences. If the choices of the coachees shouldn’t be judged, neither should those of the coaches. That’s only fair.
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices and motivations of their coaches, as those who haven’t. For coaching in the workplace to proceed further in the good direction previously determined, the coaches must choose from among all those employees who have chosen them. The idea is to arrive at a coach-coachee matching just like sports and education academies arrive at their admissions lists. The coach is as high on the coachee’s preference list, and the coachee is as high on the coach’s preference list, as the matching process allows for. Too bad, if, as an outcome of a fair process, the employee had to settle for an undesirable or less than desirable coach.
If potential coaches and coachees need more familiarity with one another, the organisation must provide information and opportunities of interaction to them before they prepare their respective lists of preference. There could be application forms, credentials and statements of purpose submitted by the coaches and the coachees. Sounds foolish ? Trust me, it's no more foolish than wasting time in trying to coach people to be better coaches, monitoring if people have had the mandated number of coaching interactions, or pushing the coach-coachee pairs to draft and submit their coaching contracts. Wonderful things, these. Bring back painful memories.
The matching process would most likely throw up a situation where each coach has more than a few people to coach. In sports and in education, coaches handle their coachees in a group, and while doing so, they address the individual needs of each coachee too. It’s efficient use of the coach’s time and effort. The coachees get wider learning from watching others being taught. The coach’s as well as the coachees’ performance and behaviour are out in the open, and public encouragement and shame work wonders for both parties. Besides it’s more secure and fun to have co-travellers.
Given time and support, the coach-coachee group work their own rules of engagement, their own understanding of what’s working and what’s not, their own dynamic teaching-learning methods, and their own standards of progress. Broadly, if things are ok, coachees accept the realities of life that some among them progress better than the others, that some among them have louder voices than the others, that the ways of teaching-learning work better with some than with others, and so on.
There remains the matter of one more choice before we close the deal on making coaching in the workplace more effective. Both the coach and the coachee can choose to disengage with one another at any time. Amicably. As self-respecting adults would.
Didn’t I already say something like ….
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have opted for coaching in their lives, as those who have not;
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices they have made, as those who have not;
Perhaps, as many good sportspersons and scholars have been the products of the right choices and motivations of their coaches, as those who have not.


  1. Read with interest. Choice or May be little bit of demonstrated utility.

    1. I agree. Wrote this because I think we stop short in our tracks with coaching in the workplace. And hence the less than convincing results.

  2. A precept I hear echoed in your commentary is that coaching is an equal relationship between the 2 parties. If this is indeed your view, I'd like to debate it. Does it really have to be equal for a coaching relationship to work (and work well)? I am thinking back to college where we were allowed to choose whose classes we could attend. The 'popular' faculty would teach all who chose them... what each coachee would derive from that association would be commensurate to how much they decided to invest in it. Coaching classes (in their true spirit, not the 'entrance exam prep classes') also strike me as an example. Even a totally one-sided coaching relationship could yield benefits (think Eklavya). Extending that idea to the corporate context, if I were to hypothesize that a one-sided coaching relationship can still be functional (as long as the coach is not overtly negative)... then we could allow employees to identify their 'dream coach' and allow the relationship to find its own course... what do you think?

    1. I'm saying the same thing, Badri. My two-sided equal relationship turns into your one-sided relationship if the coach chooses to take all coachees who have opted for him/her. And of course it works, like you and I both know. However, the coach has to have the option of rejecting some applicants. Think coaching classes that have eligibility criteria for applicants to be accepted. In the case of Eklavya, he opted to be with an imaginary coach. That would work too, if the coachee had the skills, discipline, and determination that he did. What's more important for me is that coachees get to choose their coach and to opt out of the relationship if it doesn't work for them. To be fair to both parties, I added the same in the coach's rights too.