What we've been thinking about and working on lately...

what we've been talking about

As coaches we often find ourselves in discussion with clients about why people under perform, or behave in particular ways - and we find ourselves asking questions along the lines of 

  • How many people go to work in the morning with the intention of failing? and
  • When did you last get up in the morning and think “I’m going to do my best to screw up today”?

I have sometimes noticed people rolling their eyes as we share our belief that few people deliberately go out of their way to get things wrong, mess things up, or irritate their colleagues. I can almost hear them thinking “aha – well you’ve not met x”

I’ve had to take some of my own medicine recently. Working on a charity event, I found myself on the receiving end of some behaviour that immediately had my hackles up as I planned my revenge. I was particularly outraged because the offending behaviour was documented in email form – which somehow seemed to make it even more tangible and impossible to ignore.

After wasting a reasonable amount of time discussing and complaining about the situation  with a couple of my colleagues, I suddenly stopped and asked myself how helpful this response was either to me or to getting the job done. Of course the answer was “not at all”. I was wasting time, draining my own energy and increasing my levels of stress.

By this stage I was back in coaching mode and able to respond more rationally. The person in question had given up their own time to help – I really don’t believe that their intention was to upset or anger other people in the process. They were probably in a rush when they wrote the email etc.

So when you find yourself in a similar situation I would encourage you to do two things

1: Ask yourself what you think the other person’s intention is/was

2: And probably even more important – ask yourself whether your own response is helpful

And then decide if and how to respond.

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We had the pleasure of working with leading sport psychologist Bill Beswick this week as he shared some of his stories and tips with a group of young leaders at a leadership development programme we are running. Bill is unique in having England/Great Britain international experience across three major team sports -basketball, football and rugby. He has also worked with the British Swimming team and with English Premier football clubs including Manchester United, Middlesbrough, Sunderland and Derby County FC.

Bill clearly derives a huge amount of satisfaction from helping people manage and change their mind set in order to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals. Everything he talks about from his experience in elite sports is equally applicable to anyone seeking to be, and perform, at their best in any arena. Amongst other things Bill talked about the importance of...

  • Adopting a positive attitude - demonstrating a “fighter” rather than a “victim” mind set
  • Methodical preparation – exceptional performance rarely happens by accident and preparation is a key factor in building confidence
  • Never giving up – focusing on what you can control i.e. your own performance, because you don’t know (and can’t control) what will happen around you

He also talks about the importance of asking for help from people we trust. He refers to himself as a “thought partner” offering challenge and support to people who need him. Unfortunately only a few people are lucky enough to have Bill as their thought partner – but we all need them. Have you found yours?

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I seem to have found myself talking to teams and also individuals during coaching about how their actions have been misread / misunderstood and caused problems. Recovering from these incidents can be tricky for people as they feel things have ‘got personal’.

So I found the way through was to ask about their intentions. Sometimes people need a while to think about this, but they are always able to articulate what it is they are trying to do / achieve / change in the scenario. And it is always positive and constructive. When I then ask them how the other person (s) would behave towards them if they understood this very positive intention – then again, the answer is virtually always positive (“Oh – they’d be really happy to support me / or debate constructively / or help”).

So what’s the problem? I think it is because we are so busy that we act first and expect others to quickly and easily understand or interpret our intentions. Of course they don’t, and it is even more tricky with e-mail. So the recipe is to ensure that you explain your intentions first, then this becomes the filter for people to respond to your actions. Without this  filter in place, then all they have is one of their own filters – and people have many to choose from based on past experience of you, your reputation, their mood etc etc.

Some of the most successful, constructive and innovative sessions I have seen have been where groups have been really clear about their common intentions and then robustly challenged each other’s views/ideas/perspectives to get an even better collective outcome. Without challenge there is little innovation......

It’s a basic idea – but then when we’re busy we do forget the most basic things. Which reminds me.........better get some lunch (written at 15:33pm!)


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These are the people who don’t get a medal, grab the headlines or set a new PB. These people are by the athlete’s side at every step towards success. Every early morning and every late night. Every training camp and every competition. These are the coaches of Britain’s most promising athletes.

At UK Sport, our aim is to support British Olympic and Paralympic sports coaches to achieve their potential, whatever their current position on the elite coach development pathway. We work with ex-athletes helping them transition into coaches, apprentice coaches, and the elite, multi-medal winning coaches. Each have a part to play in creating so many memorable moments as you will undoubtedly recall from Great Britain’s Olympic and Paralympic remarkable success in London 2012, Sochi 2014 and Glasgow 2014.

But what is a world leading coach? What are we trying to develop? What do coaches across all sports have in common and where do they differ?

Of course, every coach operates in a different environment, with different responsibilities and different athletes, but they all have shared experiences; from challenges and opportunities to success and failure, each coach goes through a series of highs and lows before reaching the elite level. But is it possible to really unpick what those elements are?

UK Sport are trying to do just that. We are developing a framework of skills and expertise – the Coaching Principles - that to varying degrees, all elite coaches will require regardless of their sport. We aim to develop transferable skills in coaches that work across all sports. If you know what the ultimate coach looks like for your sport, you can plot which elements are relevant for each individual and put appropriate development in place. We use world leading expertise to help develop coaches on our centrally run programmes, but the Coaching Principles have a big part to play out in the field with the sports themselves. What is ‘world leading’ in your field?

We do not proclaim to understand the intricacies of every sport, this is an evolving process where we allow coaches to interpret our Coaching Principles themselves, so they can refine particular aspects and skills which they find most relevant. What is crucial in one sport, may not be in another.

Our UK Sport programmes are mapped against this aspirational barometer of success, allowing coaches to see the development areas that need addressing and hone in on them. A key element of measuring development of the individual is to also take into account their strengths, to see if they can be leveraged to ‘super strengths’.

Of course arguably you can never reach the end goal of the ultimate coach. The barometer is always evolving and the learning never stops, but by having a yardstick to aim for, those with their sights set on reaching there have a little more direction. They’ll know what to put in their toolbag to help them reach their potential, become world leading coaches, produce athletes to win medals on the world stage and inspire others to join them on their journey.

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If you are considering setting up an internal coaching pool, you need to give serious consideration to three specific challenges.

  • Firstly, how do you maintain quality and continually upskill your coaches?
  • Secondly, how do you use your internal coaching pool more strategically to deliver more ambitious and effective programmes?
  • Finally, how do you make sure that your coaches remain motivated, active and engaged in the coaching?

We have just embarked on a leadership development programme involving one of our client’s internal coaching pool that we believe delivers on all three of these challenges.

The Random House Group is one of the largest general book publishing companies in the UK. Comprising five publishing companies - Cornerstone Publishing, Vintage Publishing, Ebury Publishing, Random House Children's Publishers UK and Transworld Publishers, the Group boasts more than 40 diverse and highly respected imprints. At the moment, the publishing environment is changing at a rapid rate of knots, transformed by the advent of online and digital.

As a major player in the publishing world, The Random House Group is at the forefront of this huge change in its marketplace. A burning question for them is how to continue to innovate and drive efficiency against a backdrop of what is, at heart, a very traditional business, undergoing momentous change?

Doing things differently

Random House wants to empower its leaders to take them through this transformational period and seize this opportunity, rather than be sidelined by the change. Two years ago, as a key step in offering more strategic support to senior managers, the company established a pool of internal coaches. The 25 people who were selected all had the desire and aptitude to take on this coaching role, well aware that it would require time, commitment and motivation.

At the end of last year, Tinder-Box was invited to tender for a leadership programme of Random House’s top 150 senior managers. Having won the pitch, we have devised a leadership programme designed to develop the confidence and skill of these leaders, focusing especially on leading teams through change and driving innovation.

The programme consists of four modules:

  1. Self-leadership
  2. Leading Teams
  3. Leading Change/ Driving Innovation
  4. A pioneering Enterprise module (which will bring the previous three modules together by working with the leaders from a social enterprise to make real and sustainable changes).

The plan is that coaching will be a key support mechanism for people on the programme to create real change back in the business after each module and the coaching will be carried out by the internal coaching pool.

How it works

The group of 150 programme attendees has been divided into cadres of 20-25 and each cadre will undertake all four modules over a six to eight month period, with a break between each one where they will be able to apply what they have learned to their work – which is where the coaching support comes in.

Each internal coach will be assigned one or two programme members to coach and will spend in the region of ten hours with each person across the programme. The programme has been devised in this very structured way to ensure that the coaches have the capacity to carry out their coaching role effectively alongside their regular day job and also to allow for ongoing quality control.

Why in-house?

Normally Tinder-Box would undertake all the coaching on a programme such as this and Random House is being ambitious to take on so much of it ‘in-house’ on such a grand scale. There are many benefits to this approach; the programme will provide the opportunity to deepen the impact and enhance the experience of the coaches, as well as clearly making economic sense for Random House as they are using all the resources available to them.

Taking it forward

Part of the challenge is how to ensure the coaches are ready to meet this ambition i.e. that the internal coaches have the confidence, skills and experience to support the leaders on this strategic programme.

The role of the Tinder-Box team (who are all Professional Certified Coaches (PCC) level credentialed with the International Coach Federation (ICF)), therefore also becomes one of support of the development and execution of the coaching by the internal coaching on the programme.

In terms of the first step, Tinder-Box will hold a short refresher course and explain the rules of engagement for the programme, as well as some of the key tools that will be used throughout, such as EQi psychometric reports and 360 feedback reports.

Each module will also be followed by a debrief for the internal coaches to review their experience, share lessons, learn new skills and go forward knowing what they need to do.

Finally, some of the internal coaches may also wish to pursue some sort of externally recognised coaching credentials – and this opportunity to gain professional recognition can be a powerful motivator for internal coaches. For those who are keen to progress via this route, we will be supervising these coaches as part of the formal accreditation process.

It’s live. Now what?

The programme went ‘live’ at the end of March and there is a real buzz of excitement, not only amongst the programme participants but also with the internal coaches. It is already becoming apparent that some people taking part in the leadership programme are also going to want to become internal coaches themselves – so this again is a fabulous way of developing the internal coaching pool further.

Tinder-Box will be tracking the success of the programme via a range of metrics around the impact of the programme and also the coaches, so we look forward to the opportunity to share these results at the right time.

In their own words...

Transworld’s Marketing Director, Janine Giovanni, explains why she was keen to become an internal coach:

“I had personally experienced the benefits of coaching and wanted to help others have the same positive experience. It‘s hard to learn new skills, such as coaching ‘on the job’ alongside a demanding full time role, so to have the opportunity to do that and add real value to the business is REALLY SMART!”

The Marketing Director for Ebury, Diana Riley:

“This is a terrific opportunity to embed a coaching culture in the business. We also find it incredibly motivating that the organisation has the confidence in us - and is willing to invest in our continued development as coaches - as part of this programme.”


Article reproduced with kind permission from ‘Coaching at Work

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If you’ve ever seen Tom Hanks in Big or Jamie Lee Curtis in Freaky Friday you might have thought that getting to be a child again would be fun. And it’s quite likely that you do sometimes revert to “childish” ways, often without realizing, when you revisit your childhood home and/or spend time with family and childhood friends. It might not take the form of playing air guitar or getting back on your BMX, but could show up as expecting to be fed and watered by parents, or playing the practical joker with old friends. It happens because the family “system” is stronger than the individuals within it - and can last for decades with only periodic nurturing.      

One of the topics we explored at the ICF conference last week was Relationship Systems i.e. a group of people with a common goal or purpose in which the system has its own needs and identity, independent of the people within in. Along with workload, one of the biggest challenges for people who are being trained or coached is how to maintain their renewed energy and intentions when they return to their own work or social system. And how to ensure that they don’t unconsciously use their new knowledge and skills in a way that evokes bad feeling and even retaliation from their peers and colleagues.    

As coaches, having an awareness of the wider system is critical if we want to enable individuals or teams to implement the changes they want to make. On a personal level paying attention to any system we are a part of and depersonalizing individual roles within it takes a surprisingly liberating shift of perspective. And is much more achievable than undergoing a full body swap.

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So it’s hard to coach yourself. It’s even harder to coach someone else. And harder still, coaching someone else...to coach someone else! But that’s the latest challenge which we have written about in the Coaching at Work Article with our client Random House

Specifically, how do you achieve the following:     

  1. How to maintain the quality and continually up skill your internal coaches beyond the initial training?    
  2. How do you use your internal coaching pool more strategically to deliver more ambitious programmes?   
  3. How do you ensure that your coaches remain motivated, active and engaged in coaching? 

So here we talk about how to solve all three of those challenges by integrating the internal coaches into a leadership programme. 

I’d fib if I said it wasn’t challenging, but also very rewarding. It is also really great to have an open minded client who trusts us to take this on – and rest assured, we shall not let them down!  

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We were lucky enough to be invited to the Eden Project this week by Fifteen Cornwall to witness the graduation of the 7th cohort of apprentice chefs. Each year we have the privilege of doing some coaching work with each cohort a few weeks after they’ve arrived in the kitchen. They’re always lively, full of energy, hope and possibility. We use the same tools and ideas with them which we use with their corporate clients and I sometimes wish I could bottle their capacity to step outside their comfort zones to try something new and their ability to explore and challenge their own beliefs and perceptions.

Make no mistake the programme’s tough. Jamie Oliver doesn’t turn up to tuck them into bed every night, they work hard, they have to engage with learning; about themselves, each other, cooking and life at large.....and not everyone makes it through.

Graduation is a proud moment for all involved; the staff at Fifteen, the ‘Black Hats’ (chefs who teach them), the parents who have witnessed a transformation in their sons and daughter and organisations such as ourselves who play some small role in helping them to reset their compasses for the better.

And in all the tears and cheers last night the parting piece of advice to them was ‘do your best but above all, be kind and be generous’. An organisation which develops fine chefs but even more importantly kind and generous young people...now that’s impressive, we take our hats off to you Fifteen Cornwall – keep up the good work.

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We’re delighted to have just been put on the approved supplier list for the UK Sport World Class Coaching Elite Programme. This means we could end up coaching one of the elite coaches for the GB Olympics team for Rio 2016. ‘Wow’ was our initial thought. Swiftly followed by ‘Gulp’. The thought of having to coach some of the best coaches in the business is a daunting, but then on reflection – and based on our own experience – coaches are probably the group who adapt most readily to coaching, and also whom get the least opportunity to actually have coaching.

I know from my own experience that taking time out to have coaching is incredibly beneficial, and takes a lot of discipline and planning to make it happen. Whilst the idea – and ultimate ambition - of self coaching is powerful and fulfilling, I find there is nothing like the external perspective, challenge and support that an external person can bring. It is difficult to break away from our own mental models and patterns, despite understanding all of the theory and having had thousands of hours of practice!

So, with those words of reassurance in mind, I look forward to the next chapter. And if you are in doubt as to whether to have a coach – even if you are a fabulous coach yourself – then that doubt could be a sure sign that a coach would be very helpful indeed. It reminds me of Daniel Kahneman’s book:  Thinking, Fast and Slow (Doubleday Canada, 2011) where he separates ‘fast thinking’ from ‘slow thinking’. Coaching is about slowing down and carefully examining your thoughts, patterns and assumptions. Worth a dose in a busy world...............................

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