Thursday, 31 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Peter Drucker's "manager's letter"

Coaching with Peter Drucker's Manager's Letter has a little similarity to my previous tool posting Record, Typeup and Playback. I think this tool can be used for everyone, including your Self :). I might use this Drucker tool instead of Record, Typeup and Playback or I might use it with. It really depends on the coachee, and the manager, and if there is a particular aspect that has been highlighted and we all need a little more information before proceeding in the right direction!

I discovered the manager's letter in the fantastic book Essential Drucker (Classic Drucker Collection) that contains 26 chapters by ONE OF THE management guru's - Dr Peter Drucker.
I cannot highly recommend this book enough to anyone studying management or anyone wanting to become a better manager. It's the only book out of the hundreds I own and have read that I actually underlined, drew pictures in and made comments in the margins. I love my books and keep them in pristine condition but Drucker's ideas, tools and writing style inspired me to break my rules.

A few years later I read his other incredible and inspirational book from the 1950's - The Practice of Management!
Words escape me trying to describe or summarise main points. Every sentence and every paragraph on all but 2 pages expanded my thinking in some way. It took quite a while to get through that one - a great deal of introspection and reflection of past management situations to recall and reconsider.

Text editor
Sufficient time

The coachee writes a 1 page letter to their line manager or their peer. In this letter the coachee:

Step 1:  Identifies the superior's job's objectives, and the objectives of their own job as they see them.

This is not a copy-and-paste out of an intranet web page or HR tool. It is written concisely and clearly in their own language, and from memory/current understanding of these 2 areas.

What matters in this step and in each of the next steps is that the responses are really the coachee's perception of reality, uninfluenced by any external things.

Step 2: Next the coachee sets out the performance standards that they understand and being applied to them.

Again, not a copy-and-paste, and again brutally honest, own language, own experience, own understanding.

Step 3: Then the coachee lists the things they must do themselves to attain the goals, and also lists the major obstacles to attaining the goals.

Often organisations are adept at creating vague, abstract and almost meaningless goals, weak actions (which are not actually changes or growth makers) to achieve the goals and transparent obstacles in order to not offend anyone and to ensure some HR or governance checklist is all ticked off. Here again, it is important to get total honesty from the coachee and list real items.

Step 4: Next on the letter is the list of things the superior and company do that help, and the list of things the superior and the company do that hinder.

This is basically one of the most powerful and simple 1-1 solicited feedback tools I ever learned, used, still use and now teach! I even wrote it up as another favourite coaching tool - What Do I Do That Helps You? What Do I Do That Hinders You?

Step 5: The final piece of the letter is the coachee's proposal of what he/she wants to do over the next year to reach his goals.

Yes - the always important "call to adventure" that all such exercises conclude with. Without thinking through the next small change in the short-term future, that "thought precedes reality" stuff will not occur. So we have to lay the seed(s)/frame the future(s)/formulate the vision(s)...or just simply START!

The Manager's Letter should be deployed twice a year according to Peter's research and experience with the managers (and their departments) he was working with. I've not yet had the pleasure of seeing a second/followup letter but I hope my coachees who wrote it once with my guidance, at least write it for themselves, if not for their newly inspired managers.

Successfully deployed and used by managers and their reports, this rolling system of staying relevant and updating of goals and understanding in both directions is much better than forced HR/MBO systems which only uncover almost nonsense by only touching on 1 of the above 5 sections. Peter also advises that when used correctly, the manager can accept the letter which then becomes the agreed charter between manager and subordinate. But this really does require a substantial level of relationship between the 2 individual as well as trust within the greater organisation.

Of course, if there are surprises in the letter that expose some lurking misunderstandings, the chance to have clearing up conversation(s) and take corrective action(s) now exists! Before things go really bad unnecessarily. In general the writer and manager/peer/coach will have a good conversation to ensure everyone is on the same page before going further...and accepting the charter (modified or not).

Though, as coach, reviewing the surprises in the letters I have seen, and humbly inquiring - sometimes the coachee, sometimes of the manager - I have helped highlight how important every manager interaction and comment is. Subordinates constantly form incorrect impressions and hence behave in non-beneficial ways (good people making good decisions based on bad data). But once the correct intention is illuminated, things get better and easier! Alignment is a really powerful, commonsense thing to achieve in order to achieve greater goals together synergistically!

Coaching with Drucker's Manager's Letter can be used either as collection of data for reinterpretation, as well as to form a coaching plan. If taken "all the way" - to include the update with the manager - all parties are well primed for "Results-Based Coaching". Taken further, this Drucker tool can also be used in environments striving for deep democracy / sociocracy / stewardship - posts for another time!

Monday, 28 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Free online Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic - VAK - communication style preference assessment

Some people really just don't get this, either. And, VAK confusingly can be applied to preferred/natural communication style, as well as to preferred learning style. This tool is for preferred COMMUNICATING style. (for VAK learning style assessment see my previous post: Free Online VAK Learning Style Assessment)

Again, this is a scaling assessment, and there are several around that you can download for free as well. I liked this for an online free tool as it is consistent with my previous more detailed ones in a proper psychometric test centre. Some tests actually highlight how strongly preferred the style is as compared to the others - this is useful to know as well, but I have not found it very useful for coaching purposes.

It does ask you for personal details at the end, but I managed to proceed to my results without completing the fields or providing real information.

Internet access
Quiet space
10-15 minutes

Step 1:
Give this link to the coachee: Again I think the best time to do the assessment is in the morning, before work really starts.

Step 2:
When the assessment is complete, you will have the 3 in preferred sequence for communicating.

You now have material you can use to support the coaching goals and plans where guiding communication is required (100% of the time?). Once you are aware of your own preferred communication style, and your coachee's learning style, you can tailor what you say to be much more effective. And vice-versa, once you know your preferred learning style and your coachee's preferred communication style, instead of "shielding out" inadvertently some information you are sent by your coachee, you can be more aware to receiving, albeit in your non-favourite style! I find coaching relationships where we both know each other's preferred learning and communication styles much more fun as it allows us to safely practice new approaches on each other, to prepare us both for using these tools with others that we are having "problems" with. Really useful stuff!

Thursday, 24 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Free online Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic - VAK - learning styles assessment

Some people really just don't get this. And, VAK confusingly can be applied to preferred learning style, as well as to natural communication style. This tool is for preferred LEARNING style. (for VAK communication style assessment see my other post: Free Online VAK Communication Style Preference Assessment)

Again, this is a scaling assessment, and there are several around that you can download for free as well. I liked this for an online free tool as it is consistent with my previous more detailed ones in a proper psychometric test centre. Some tests actually highlight how strongly preferred the style is as compared to the others - this is useful to know as well, but I have not found it very useful for coaching purposes.

For this test you do have to give an email and some personal data which I do not like doing, and I got away with giving fictional.

Internet access
Quiet space
5-10 minutes

Step 1:
Give this link to the coachee: Again I think the best time to do the assessment is in the morning, before work really starts.

Step 2:
When the assessment is complete, you will have the 3 in preferred sequence.

You now have material you can use to support the coaching goals and plans where learning is required. You also have the approach you need when explaining concepts to the coachee - a real time saver and much more enjoyable experience for you and the coachee as compared to approaching from the worst angle. And even more enjoyable if you're going to have to explain in your non-usual communication style. Personally, once I realised what my preferred/natural learning approach was, I realised why I was bored out of my skull and kept falling asleep in school and university lectures. Really useful stuff!

Wednesday, 16 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: 1-1 meetings

1-1 meetings can be intimidating, especially for those who have had none or very few, or they've been used by managers purely for reprimands instead of growth opportunities.

I've learned what I know through experience and reading - especially I think Johanna Rothman and Esther Derby's Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management is a must read for running successful 1-1's.

Safe quiet space - sometimes hiding in plain sight eg in canteens is also a good place so long as you can still hear and see each other perfectly.
Notepad and pen - I advise using low-fi as much as possible as they are less intrusive and always work. Easy to update later, and refer back to before your next meeting.

Highly recommend scheduling 1 hour sessions every 2 weeks way in advance at a time in the diary of the coachee that is a good time - preferably not straight after their hard meetings and preferably not when they are most needed by their team members or managers for important things. Change takes concentration, focus and commitment - as coach you can't control these but you can be skilful in making them more possible.

Step 1:
The trick is to have an open discussion, full of open questions. At the beginning, it seems a bit strange for people who have never done this before to know what to say, what to ask, so it is important to build up a relationship by taking an active interest in discovery about what is common to both. To discover the opportunities where you can offer some advice or shortcuts, to discover other areas where you may need more tools or data from others to truly help the coachee.

I generally give my 1-3 minute intro, and ask the coachee to do the same, picking up on common career moments, or outside interests, or phrases or - whatever catches my attention. And then start to ask questions around those things, ensuring as I do that the coachee relaxes. If the coachee does not relax, there is always a next time to try again. While coaching is not counselling, deep relationships are still established and must be done sensitively and sensibly.

I take notes especially of things I can do outside the meeting to help - for instance referals to other people, books or websites. Towards the end of the meeting I setup a working agreement/plan about what I will do for the next meeting, and what the coachee will do eg meet someone, read a web site. In the early days the "homework" I give is usually short and used as basis for conversation in the followup 1-1 meeting.

Step 2:
I like to summarise the meeting in an email, especially what I have to do and by when, and what the coachee has to do and by when. For some coachees, this might be the opportunity to complete an Myers-Briggs for me/them (see Free online Myers-Briggs Type Indicator).

The way I create these summaries is important and simple. After every meeting, I summarise in email by forwarding the previous emailed summary. This creates a rolling log that is extremely easy to manage, always backed up by email servers, and a simple format to check progress - dates, timeline sequence, agreements, what was done, what was not done, etc very easy, and I've successfully used weekly rolling logs in this way for over a year. But this does not replace my low-fi notepad and pen for during the meeting - I sometimes also end up drawing things!

Step 3:
I do my "homework" (or actions if you prefer such speak). This begins to form the basis of trust for someone who does not know me - I do what I say, repeat, repeat. And I hope that the coachee is also doing their "homework". Sometimes I drop-in and check if I can help to ensure that the actions are being done - especially in cases where progress is slow or non-existent. I like to discover what in the workplace could be blocking the coachee - in order to strategise to unblock progress.

Step 4:
The 2nd 1-1 about 2 weeks later. It usually goes a lot smoother as the ice is broken and there is progress to report on both sides, and some homework to specifically discuss and put effort into. Or, there is no progress and this too is something to specifically discuss and decide to put further effort into or not. In opt-in engagements, people opt-in by doing, and they opt-out by not doing. There is no right or wrong as it is all about what can be done with the time and effort allowed.

I like to hear about what work problems were encountered since the previous 1-1. What they thought about the homework, what questions they have now for me. Then I like to clarify and rephrase my understanding. If there is homework output/outcomes then we discuss that for a bit (helps to know a lot more about the homework you've given in order to have a fruitful and enlightening discussion!).

During all this talking, again I am making notes like in the first meeting. And I am checking each item on the agreement list of what the coachee achieved, and what I achieved. Usually this cycle results in a couple more actions for both of us, and then I request the next piece of homework....

And this essentially is how I use 1-1's. They're status meetings, repeated, to enable shared understanding and for me to offer help as well as point in the direction of useful things as homework for the coachee. This inevitably creates more work for both of us - just enough for us to do in the 2 weeks inbetween.

Some tips:
If the homework is too much, then it is not completed - for either of us.
If the meeting is too long, then summarising it is too hard - try to always leave wanting more!
If there is no progress, and it seems like there won't be before the next session, decide together to stop sessions until there is enough slack time again for the coachee to continue their growth plan

For extra depth in getting 1-1's right, I also highly recommend Stephen R Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.

Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Interesting ways to turn things around: If 1 person tells you...

There is an old story that goes something like:

"If 1 person tells you are drunk, then they're probably drunk.
 If another person tells you are drunk, then you're probably drunk!"

Let that sink in for a moment. There seems to be some truth in there, that applies not only to intoxication but to all our human behaviours!

A friend of mine added something like:

"And hence all the excuse and motivation you need to stay out and dance it all away before closing time/midnight/dawn!"

Perhaps dancing is one of your strengths if drinking is not!

Friday, 11 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Clustering

No caveats - so far over the years I have been using this, sceptics and even those who know the technique and have a feeling about what will be revealed, all use it willingly and correctly.

I first experienced clustering during a software project retrospective facilitated by 1 of my seniors in 2007. Since then I've read up on Esther Derby and Diana Larsen's Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great (Pragmatic Programmers) must have book, as well as Luke Hohmann's Innovation Games: Creating Breakthrough Products and Services, and seen just what gold clustering produces!

Either a clean wall or large clean table surface
1 or more participants
Cards, Post-Its, or similar small, low fidelity things that are easy to pick up, have some information on them, and place somewhere else (for brevity, I will refer to these as just cards)

Step 1:
Each card contains either some writing (eg data collected from team members during a retrospective, news articles) or some graphic (eg pictures, photos, Archetypes, etc). Spread all the cards out and get the group to have a look/read through them in a timebox.

Depending on the size of the group, the number of data cards, 5-10-15 minutes should be sufficient for each timebox. It is the pressure of the timebox that drives the right outcomes in a group setting, but for 1-1 sometimes a little less pressure is more beneficial - be guided by your coachee!

Step 2:
Again setting the timebox, ask everyone to cluster: everyone has to find cards, attempt to keep them on the surface or near, 1-at-a-time, and move that card closer to one or more others that the card is related to in some way either obvious or not. Essentially we're facilitating the creation of categories without names (so far) that are important to this group, in this data, in a consensus building way.

Step 3:
Often the wall or table is too small for the group and/or number of cards, and often some members of the group like to stand back and watch, rather than participate. Your job as facilitator is to make sure every person moves several of the cards, and participates/contributes to the creation and destruction of the clusters. I often just use a "line up" method and request people to move back as I think they've had enough time, and request people to move forward as I think they have not had enough time.

A major team-building side-effect/benefit of a small room/surface at this time, is that people actually have to talk to each other and negotiate with verbal or non-verbal cues as they try to move past each other - which all adds up to better team understanding and cohesion! Of course this adds to Health and Safety concerns, so be sensible.

Step 4:
Once the clusters are settled, as facilitator you need to quality check them. Are all the bugs in the bugs cluster? Are all the specification problems in the specification problems cluster? And all the risks are in the risk cluster? And all those others we're unsure what to do with, they're in the miscellaneous cluster? Right?

WRONG! However, to extricate from the above incorrectness, a useful way is to take each miscellaneous card and recluster as much as possible from the unuseful clusters around that.

Alternatively, request the group to try again, this time finding other relationships such as timing, specific people, specific technology failures, specific bug etc etc ... and see what cluster data then appear. And then ask them to try again, and again, until really, there are some real and new themes that have emerged!

Step 5:
Now ask the group to collaboratively name the clusters according to the following rules:
1. Short concise descriptive sentences are better than
2. Short descriptive phrases are better than
3. A list of words are better than
4. A single word

And rotate the writer of the cluster name for each cluster. The group has reach consensus - again a great team building activity to practice in low-risk non-crisis moments! The name of the cluster is written typically on a different colour card, or with a different colour pen, or font, and is usually underlined to distinguish it clearly from "data cards".

If a good name can not be agreed on by consensus, often it means the cluster should be broken down again, and this is a good thing! People, especially in fast changing environments, learn more from retrying than just getting on with old themes, old behaviours, old attitudes. This is a high energy, exciting, engaging, positive, great thing to do, not boring, unless you're letting the person or group members do it wrong. A little uncertainty, discomfort goes a long way to really getting to the heart of [hidden] matters.

At this stage, for the coaching technique of clustering, we're done. We have allowed underlying themes hidden in data cards, to emerge into categories that are somehow, and some why, important to the individual you're coaching or the team you're facilitating, who have been making consensus after consensus, and not really trying to out-think the future consequence of the enjoyment they're getting from this physical exercise. And if you then "litmus test" the discovered themes, generally the coachee or group members agree they would never have suggested those as areas where there is some weakness or strength to be explored further with goal setting and plan creation to achieve.

Clustering can be used for so many purposes where there is data, and you're trying to let hidden themes  emerge.

(*tip, if you ever need to use post-its, experiment with them to find the best ones for your purpose. Usually you would want "super stickies" in bright neon colours. Also, these days post-its also come in A3 size even - perfect for walls where tictac or bluetac has been banned, and much cheaper than the really cool Magic Whiteboard which I also use and think is great for complex ad hoc charts!)

My latest saying!

Oil and water don't mix, without a lot of shaking!

Thursday, 10 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Positivity ratio


Dr. Barbara Fredrickson, author of the book Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive provides an online and free lab-tested tool to assess an individual's positive emotions versus negative emotions. According to her research a 3-to-1 positive ratio leads people to the tipping point where they become resilient to any adversity and effortlessly achieve their dreams/private thoughts/musings.

A coachee who does not achieve such a high and healthy ratio has a lot of scope for seeing things differently, if they acquire the right skillsets and knowledge - with support from the coach and others of course. This tool can be quite emotionally challenging for people, so use it wisely, only with those who can cope well enough beforehand as you might not the right person to help take them from where they are now, to where they should be...a lot of the negativity might be outside work context, and if it is in the work context, you certainly have a lot of work to do.

Again this is a scaling test, so mood and environment are big - HUGE - influences on the results.

Internet access
Quiet space and 5 minutes

Step 1:
Provide Barbara's Positivity Test to the coachee. I suggest doing the assessment at the beginning of the day, before work really begins.

Step 2:
Discuss the results with the coachee. If the coachee wants to improve their positivity ratio, keeping an effective diary, other tools available on Barbara's website, and books like Stephen R Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People are good places to start, as well as of course whatever tools you as coach already have. You can once again set some goals and assist creating a coaching plan to achieve them!

Wednesday, 9 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Free strength finders test

Some people like to identify natural weaknesses and then work really, REALLY hard to try to overcome or diminish the effects of those weaknesses. Some people like to identify natural strengths and then work to improve those - basing the argument that there is a higher Return On Investment (ROI) on the time invested to take a good skill/behaviour to great. It is also far more enjoyable, and hence becomes a self-fulfilling cycle of improvement, and naturally diminishes the amount of time spent on doing weaker strength things. Success breeds success, and failure breeds something else.

This is another scaling assessment so I believe mood and environment affect the results. I learned from doing the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator assessment every 3 years or so, that my type shifts around. And this is sensible in my opinion as by knowing yourself better, setting some goals and working on different behaviours and attitudes, it is good to have the long-term confirmation that you are changing!

Possibly this strengthsfinders free online test is similar to a more comprehensive test which comes with a workbook - Strengthsfinder 2.0: A New and Upgraded Edition of the Online Test from Gallup's Now Discover Your Strengths  (or which sounds great! I have not looked into it.

Internet access
Quiet space
10-15 minutes

Step 1:
Give this link to the coachee: RichardStep Strengths and Weaknesses Aptitude Test (RSWAT). Again I think the best time to do the assessment is in the morning, before work really starts.

Step 2:
When the assessment is complete, you will have the "top 5" strengths (again, statistician George EP Box's "all models are wrong, some are useful" applies!). And a list in strength order of the other 29 the test apparently covers. There is some alignment between the MBTI and this RSWAT. And with this test you get a ranking order of 28 small types/aspects of the personality, so useful, in my opinion

You now have material again to either focus coaching goals and plans on making more use of the top 5, or making less use of the bottom 1, or improving skillsets around the bottom. All up to the coachee and your understanding and guidance!

Sunday, 6 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: The free online Myers-Briggs [personality] Type Indicator [assessment]

I feel you can use this tool with anyone, and definitely yourself too. There's enough useful information about Myers-Briggs on wikipedia here: Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. I received a professional evaluation a couple of years ago and as far as I remember there were a few more questions asked, and there was also confirmation of type strength after the assessment with the professional. All of my favourite coaching tools attract George EP Box's "all models are wrong, some are useful", and this 1 especially receives this treatment before I request coachees to undertake it. One of the issues with the MB test is that its results vary depending on the mood and environment of the person completing the assessment.

Internet access
Quiet room and time - I usually suggest the morning, before the work day really begins

Step 1:
Coachee completes the questionnaire at:
It is possible to only collect the free report - which requires either screenshots or saving the individual pages as PDFs, or to pay for the full the report. Usually the free is enlightening enough and to have a good conversation around.

Step 2:
Provide the coachee with the MBT detailed page, found off the high-level page here:

Step 3:
Discuss the accuracy of the type and preferred leadership style with the coachee and see what insights are generated by discussion alone.

Step 4:
To develop more self-awareness, ask the coachee to think about the type of their spouse, family members, friends, favourite managers. I like to use the phrase my mother taught me: "birds of a feather, flock together" and another that Robert Cialdini's insightful psychology book (UK) (or US) taught me "we like those who are like us" at about this point.

Step 5:
To develop even more self-awareness, ask the coachee to think about the type of people they've had problems with in the past, their least favourite colleagues, least favourite managers. I like to use the phrase "oil and water don't mix, without effort".

Step 6:
At this point, it is possible to identify either a strong or weaker area and thus supporting skillset and behaviours that can be even further explored and/or improved on with confidence - especially if the coachee is for instance in different kind of organisational culture that is in opposition to their natural style.

* Interesting - or for more confirmation in my own experience - for certain roles in some organisations I have deployed this in, it was possible to collect several results from a number of people and begin to see similarities that must stem from the hiring decisions and career path management. Great insight! And really, not bad for a few minutes of a free tool!

Friday, 4 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Archetype Cards

How to use the Archetype Cards in various ways to help illuminate other perspectives with which to understand or act from for Self for others. Ancient civilisations all around the world have described archetypes in their mythology and religious systems. Carl Jung also contributed greatly to current thoughts about them in psychological studies.

The Caroline Myss archetype cards are easy to use by anyone, and are designed to help find and/or illuminate the sub-personalities / sub-personas / archetypes that are most active in the personalities - personal realities - of the people who use them. Cards like these are great for turning a lot of abstract and hard to grasp theory, into a practical approach to finding deeper personal truth and meaning.

This archetype cards writeup is about the understanding self perspective, before deciding a course of action to change some thing(s), when guiding self or others :)


With a deep enough commitment and explanation, sceptics do tolerate a sensible coach facilitating this exercise with the coachee with kindness, gentle humour and positivity. The archetype cards may look a little out-of-place in work environments (like tarot, oracle or angel cards to the uninformed). So, be sensitive and sensible when using them - more discretion in a safe environment is often beneficial for the coachee's experience.

Over the years I've attempted to define my value system, my principles, my motivations, my behaviours etc. And then understand them. And then feel better about my life. But I learned over time that the tools I was trying were not helpful to me - not fit for purpose nor for use. Then I was introduced to the Archetype Cards (UK) (or US) by my coach in 2011.

But let's go back in time a little, and share some stories!

My journey to discover my personal values started off with being given a blank piece of paper and told to "think hard", and "now write down your most important, or top 5-10, values" which left me with "writer's block" pretty much every time. Eventually as time ran out, I would scribble down things that sounded "good", and hope I would be able to live up to what I thought I wanted to be like. And not long after that I would feel guilty and wonder why I thought I had this value X but constantly broke it.

Then the tools got more sophisticated, and I was given a sheet of "values" and told to circle the top 10. Again, as time ran out, I would circle the ones that sounded "good". And have similar experiences as before - leading to guilt.

The tools got even more sophisticated and suddenly I had 60 odd cards in my hand with "all" the possible values, and I had to sort them, halve the pile, halve it again and again, until I had just 10 or 5. And inevitably I would reach a pile of 30, and really struggle to bring that down to 29, let alone 10. I could not tell which values were actually mine, and which did I want to be!

Every time, I felt I had just managed to pick some [semi-]random words that sounded good. Every time it was deeply unsatisfying to me. Over the years of working, I noticed a similar thing happening to my career - I do not fit into a box! (certainly not a small, typical org-chart box anyway)

So whilst pondering what this all meant in the background, another coach showed me Caroline Myss' Archetype Cards.

Quiet room
Big enough clean table
Archetype cards (Archetype Cards: An 80-card Deck with instruction booklet UK or US)
Pen and paper

Optional but not required:
  1. Read the instruction booklet that come with the archetype card set
  2. Read the Sacred Contracts book describing the archetypes in the card deck as well as more: 

Sacred Contracts?? Seriously? That title sounds "out of this world" weird! And, YES! Coaches (like me) read a lot of different things! The wise ones discover(ed) that fundamental human truth exist everywhere!! :-)

For the coach: Type all the card names, light attributes and shadow attributes into 3 columns in a spreadsheet

Step 0: Shuffle the archetype deck and make sure all cards are pointing the same way.

Step 1: Spread the archetype cards out, face down and let the coachee pick a random card. Make a note of the archetype.

Step 2: Put the random card back and shuffle the archetype deck again. Give the deck to the coachee to look through so that they get an understanding of what is really in it. Explain light attributes are typically considered "good indications" and shadow "warning indications". Explain that archetypes are a model, and that no model is 100% right, but it is valuable nevertheless at providing a few valid insights.

Step 3: Depending on how self-aware the coachee is, you need to do this part of the exercise in different ways and it takes longer/shorter. You're aiming for about 10-24 cards, but this is determined really by the coachee, not the coach or some rulebook. It is a sliding scale that will become visible only once begun.

Ask the coachee to now go through the entire archetype deck, look at each card's name especially, and briefly on the light attribute.

Very self-aware: ask for the coachee to pull out any archetype card that resonates with them

Not self-aware:
1. Ask the coachee to pull out all the cards they like, as fast as possible
2. Ask them to check the discard pile again and pull out cards they overlooked, as fast as possible
3. Now ask them to go through the "like" pile and discard any that are definitely not some aspect of "them" that they play/show at least once per day

Step 4: Ask the coachee to "cluster" the cards that they see are related/connected to each other in some way as quickly as possible. To ensure they're doing it correctly ask them to explain the relationship/theme/pattern they're interpreting when 1 cluster is 3 cards big.

Step 5: Once the affinity clustering is complete - looking for 4-8 clusters approximately, again this depends on the coachee. Ask the coachee to come up with a short sentence / a descriptive phrase for each of the clusters. Sometimes they might only choose 1 word, sometimes that is enough. It is their balance carefully what you know, what you think you know, what you think the coachee knows.

Step 6: Ask the coachee to write their own Light Attributes and Shadow Attributes for the clusters - using concise sentences or phrases. AVOID single words, comma separated.

Step 7: Record all the information - cluster names and card name members, all the Light Attributes, all the Shadow Attributes

* Tip copy the card names, Light Attributes and Shadow Attributes from a spreadsheet, into a spreadsheet just for this coachee.

Step 8: Now take a copy of the card names and their attributes. Ask the coachee to edit the attributes to better reflect themselves. It could mean deleting the entire attributes, or changing from multiple to single or from single to multiple. Changing from external to internal focus or vice-versa. Essentially change it to themselves.


This information is now in 4 categories:
1. Random
2. The "like" pile
3. The clusters, cluster members, and cluster attributes
4. The edited for self

You now have 3 categories (2-4) that can be used as reflections of the values and principles of the coachee!

Either or all of the 4 categories, or specific members of these categories, can be used to ground coaching goals and plans around. The Random card can be used as a beacon to draw attention to learn new skills, or as a mirror to compare against, or as a single card to represent the coachee.

Thursday, 3 May 2012

My favourite coaching tools: The record, typeup and playback

I feel you can use this tool with anyone - no matter how open/closed you/they are. You can use it for yourself even. However I do realise that it is possible some thing(s) might come up/be mentioned that require a much more safe environment and a much more experienced+educated counsellor to really deal with appropriately. Try to avoid those things.

Quiet room
Pen and paper
Knowledge of Johari Window (

Optional, but HIGHLY desirable:
A sensible/sensitive enough recording device (that you have previously tested) is preferable but this exercise can still be extremely fruitful without

Step 0: Record the date, start time and coachee name on the paper - remember to record the end time as well. Make sure your own mind and body are comfortable and restful - you too will be fully engaged in this session for it to go well!

Step 1: Make sure your coachee is focussed and engaged and happy to be recorded. If the coachee is happy, start the recorder, else put the recorder away. Prepare for much note taking.

Step 2: Ask the coachee to pick the start date. Usually in a work environment I ask for the date to be when they met for interviews or their first day at work. Take brief note of the date and try to understand the coachee's body language.

Step 3: Ask them to try to cover as much ground as they can in 15-20 minutes - their timelined biography of what they did, what they learned, what they felt, how their career progressed. Usually the coachee is really good at timeboxing the story they're telling, not that it matters too much. What's important is capturing what is remembered and very important - how it is remembered. Make notes, and make notes of questions that you might want to raise to get more of the story and emotion surfaced.

Step 4: Ask the questions and record the answers - look especially for areas which you believe might be important in the person's work life that were not mentioned (obviously this depends on how well you know the person by this stage). Avoid questions that are beyond the scope of the relationship you have with the coachee at this stage

Step 5: Wrap up and explain what happens next, make sure the coachee is comfortable and thinks enough was said (you can paraphrase the timeline). Turn off the recorder and take a note of the time! End the session.

Step 6: Get some headphones, play the recording back to yourself slightly slower speed, and type everything that was said. You don't have to analyse it, but you need to make sure it is an accurate type-up of exactly what the coachee said - beware of the shortcuts you would and DID take mentally during the interview. Type what the coachee said, and how they said it - if they giggled, or hummmed, or errrrrrred, or paused... make sure to catch their words, not your translations. Initially you think this will take a long time, and it does, but you do get better at it, and your typing does improve a great deal! This is because your WIP memory expands a great deal it is exercised more thoroughly and intensively.

* As an aside it is interesting and educational for you/yourself to also take a note of what you thought you heard, and what was actually said!

Step 7: Read through the type-up and make notes for yourself about what you see that the coachee does not - this feeds into the Johari Window rooms. I've found spiritual and leadership potential, I've found root causes of huge levels of frustration and anxiety at work, trust issues and lots lots more.

Step 8: Have another session with the coachee. Ensure they are safe and engaged. Provide the type-up document, and the audio file back to the coachee. Ask the coachee to read through the document and if there is anything missing, add to it.

Step 9: Now you can give the coachee some work to do and this is where you need to be a little creative sometimes. You've now uncovered some things - either content, emotion or personality - in this person's [life] story at work over this period, that they're not aware of - and it might be good to educate the coachee about Johari Window at this stage.

Often there is enough in the type-up for the person to really think about, and together you can plan some coaching goals and work to achieve them to improve an aspect even at this stage.

Often there is more, deeper work that can be undertaken by the coachee on their journey if they become more aware of it. However you, as coach, in this session, are not allowed to give direction. You are allowed to design 1-2 "filters" though to help the coachee sort and categorise things, which might make them more aware of things about themselves they are currently blind to.

I used different filters for coachees to apply successfully in the past:
- Mad / Sad / Glad
- What Went Well (WWW) / What Did Not Go Well (WWW) / What I Learned (WIL) / What Puzzles Me (???)
 - I lead / I followed
 - Drop / Keep / Improve
 - Motivations: Health / Mental / Spiritual
 - Recognised for / not recognised for

And I am sure there are many more. With the categorisation done, allow the coachee to reflect back to you what it means. Sometimes they have many questions, sometimes they don't understand what they have just done, sometimes they do not profess to having learned anything new or worthwhile from the time invested.

But often they do, sometimes they even see the things you see. Sometimes they see things you did not (the rose-tinted spectacles take a long time and much practice and reflection to become clear!).

Whatever they outcome is though, the coachee now has material and some idea(s) about what coaching goals to prioritise and work towards with your help.

Step 10: Make some notes for yourself about how the session went, the type-up, what you learned at the various stages, and what the outcomes were. How did the coachee's body language reflect different things as they were saying them, and did this concur when you asked the questions? This is also about continuous self improvement, in order to help others on their journeys much more effectively.

See also my post on Peter Drucker's "manager's letter" which can also collect incredibly powerful insights into the work experience of a coachee.

Waltzing With Bears by Tom DeMarco and Timothy Lister

Why I recommend Waltzing With Bears:
Reason 1: It is a very fast read covering many topics concisely and accurately
Reason 2: It is the best book I've read about risk and managing risk
Reason 3: And the shortest best book on estimating

It has been 3-4 years since I read this book and I still recommend it to every PM and PMO and any other team member who is interested in the topics in it.