Over the past couple of years, we’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of organizations that are talking about their desire to implement a “coaching culture”.
As most industries shift to favor agility and speed, leaders realize that it’s important for employees to be empowered to make quick decisions in support of broader organizational goals. In order for people to move quickly, the need for psychological safety and trust in the workplace become more important.
Ultimately, moving to a ‘coaching culture’ accomplishes these objectives by empowering people to move faster and contribute to the overall success of the organization at a higher level.
What is coaching? How does it work?
Coaching is a mindset, a skillset, and a role that operates from a place of safety and trust. Unlike mentors, managers, or leaders, coaches don’t assume expertise or subject matter authority. Instead, coaches carefully manage a process of discovery and exploration with clients that helps them gain clarity, focus, and direction.
When leaders and managers learn to use coaching skills in their roles, they are empowered to become better listeners and more holistic thinkers. They also become more skilled at exploring options and opportunities with others.
How do coaching skills affect organizational culture?
When organizations begin to foster coaching skills in their leaders and managers (usually through a training program), they begin to see a few things happen:
- First, feedback begins flowing faster through the organization. Leaders are equipped to have deeper, more vulnerable conversations up, across, and especially down. Not only does this increase individual performance, but it also allows information to be exchanged more readily between teams and silos.
- Second, people start feeling more safe at work. Because they are able to have honest conversations with their leaders and coworkers, employees have a better sense of “where they stand”. Conflict and imperfection can now be seen as a necessary-yet-difficult part of working together, as opposed to things to be avoided, downplayed, or punished.
- Third, people start to become more curious. A core element of coaching is inquiry – asking powerful questions of others to help them think through things from different perspectives is the best (perhaps only) way to help them truly grow. This spills over into meetings, projects, and conversations with suppliers and vendors. Problems get uncovered faster, issues get resolved sooner, and people are more “in the loop”.
- Finally, the level of openness in a coaching culture is something that sets it apart from other types of organizational culture. The psychological safety and question-asking habits create unique opportunities for vulnerability and candor.
But this doesn’t necessarily manifest as a magical utopia…
Although these four core elements of a coaching culture tend to remain the same across organizations, how those elements are interpreted and enacted within a specific organization will vary.
There can be many different “flavours” of coaching culture, depending on what type of culture already exists. Feedback could be supportive and reinforcing, or it could be a little more no-holds-barred.
Similarly, an organizational culture with a high level of safety could be all smiles and hugs, or it could have a practical “get down to business” attitude that lets people share ideas more freely, even if they get shot down after some brief consideration.
When we work with clients to develop coaching skills training programs, one of the most important success factors for the program is how well the content and delivery are aligned to the culture that already exists.
Some questions to ask yourself…
- How close is your current culture to a coaching culture?
- How quickly does information flow in your organization?
- Are problems buried or highlighted in a candid and safe way?
- How safe do people feel proposing changes to the status quo?