Friday, 29 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Visual Individual - Squiggle Completion

None. You can do this for group work as well, and I have used it quite successfully for Agile Retrospectives.

5 minutes to draw
5-10 minutes to explain (per coachee/group member)
Pens/pencils/colours or not
Quiet space

Step 1:

Take the paper and draw a quick random squiggle on it. In a group everyone can draw a squiggle on a piece of paper.


Step 2:
Pass the paper to the coachee, or in a group ask the members to pass to the left/right. Ask the recipient to look silently at the squiggle. Depending on the context, you can choose to ask a question for instance "How has this past week/month/year been for you?" or "How would you like the future to look?" or "What does success look like?"

Step 3:
Ask the coachee or group members to now complete the squiggle they have received as appropriately as possible to reflect their context or their answer to the question raised. Timebox this to 5 minutes - the results are more useful if cognitive thinking has been reduced and instead subconscious knowledge is accessed.


Step 4:
Now ask the coachee to explain their picture to you and/or the group. The insights from this exercise are extremely varied. Remember to make no judgements, nor allow any in the group to make judgements. Visualising knowledge is extremely subjective and it's up to the drawer to interpret along with guided questions eg: "What does that represent for you?", "That seems far away from this?", "Did you choose red on purpose?", "Who is that big figure?", "The waves seem to grow?" etc

The data gained from this coaching tool is useful for individual coaching plans - sometimes there is the discovery of a motivational factor or an anti-motivational factor. And the insights for a group who use this have a team building effect - especially when people take their masterpieces back to their office spaces with them and leave them on display. Especially if, over time, you use the tool a few more times for different or the same question.

Thursday, 28 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Free online wheel of Self

Like all self-assessments, especially with scales, assessing your Wheel of Self reveals different results depending on when it is completed and how you're feeling and what you've been recently reflecting on.

Internet access
Quiet space
15 minutes to complete initial assessment
5 minutes to transfer to the second wheel
15-30 minutes to discuss

Step 1:
Give this link to the coachee: Encourage the coachee to be as honest as possible, and not to think too much - go with their first instinct. The more honest they are, the more they will get out of this tool. Again I think the best time to complete this assessment is in the morning, before work really starts.

Step 2:
When the assessment is complete, you will have a "radar chart" / "spider graph" of various aspects of life that most people find important (Health & Well Being, Personal Growth, Achievements, Work-Career, Friendship, Security, Energy, Self-Esteem, Fun & Recreation, Home - Family, Relationship, Finance).

Discuss what the results mean to the coachee. Do they think or feel they should strive for more balance or are they comfortable? What do they think the outcome would be if they were willing to reallocate some of the time they spending on an outlier activity to lesser area? What prevents them from rebalancing? Would rebalancing take a long time? What are the rewards? And so on.

Step 3:
Another way to represent a 12-segmented Wheel is actually the Zodiac Wheel. Whether or not you believe in astrology, or your coachee does or does not, the Zodiac Wheel actually clearly shows opposite pairings (Career vs Home, Mental Explorations vs Communications, Death and Regeneration vs Possessions, Marriage and Partnership vs Self, Service and Health vs Self-Undoing, Creativity vs Hopes/Wishes and Friends). Thus usually it is clear if you overscore on say "Career" according to the Wheel on you will underscore on "Home" and thus it is quick to create a prioritised plan to shift towards more balance ASAP.

Using both these wheels together (by transferring the scores from the 1st to the 2nd) make for a very interesting view for your coachee to look at themselves and understand themselves better. A lot of the people I work with for instance spend more time on Career activities or Home activities - a tiny minority actually feel they have balance between these two. And the same with Creativity or Friends - very few people commit to quiet times for themselves to engage in creative processes and thus recharge a different aspect of themselves for a more fulfilling life.

You now have more material, and perhaps a simple prioritisation mechanism, to help the coachee with setting up a coaching plan.

Wednesday, 27 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Csikszentmihalyi's Flow (psychology)

None for using, but please be sensible whenever thinking and applying a model of thought. It's all abstract and in that experiential space - nothing is perfect for everyone in every context.

This is a "chat through" session with a coachee or a group
30 minutes and more, dependent on the group's size and engagement
Read the wikipedia page and be sure to click on all the segments in the picture which are links to a bit more detail which you will need to know and understand.

Step 1: I either draw something similar or show the coachee or the group the following image (available in the public domain from

Step 2: Most important - do not cast, nor allow any group member to cast, any verbal or non-verbal judgements! This is self-perception stuff, so with a group, as facilitator of constructive listening and volunteering of important "self" information, the session must be managed sensitively and sensibly.

Step 3: And as the picture is quite self-explanatory, especially having read the background reading available on wikipedia and other sources, the conversation is quite easy to have. I ask for examples of what tasks the coachee or the group members perform that are Low in Challenge Level, and Low in Skill Level.

I then ask for examples on each flanking side, 1 sector at a time (ie, Medium Challenge Level with Low Skill Level, Medium Skill Level with Low Challenge Level) until finally reaching Flow.

Typically the sectors before Flow are quite quick and easy to find good examples for, though it is always interesting for me to see how house/admin chores such as sweeping, filing, dusting move around between Apathy-Boredom-Relaxation. And the same for what kind of tasks such as public speaking, waiting for feedback from a client proposal, writing a proposal, move between Apathy, Worry and Anxiety.

Often teaching, managing and mentoring type activities appear in the Control sector.

And sporting, extreme sporting, and "breaking the ice" with someone that is liked appears in Arousal sector.

And then, the tough one is discovered, and the real soul and past experience searching begins: Flow.

Step 4: Helping identify tasks that represent true Flow state requires covering the information found on wikipedia, summarised here:

1.The person must be engaged with something that has clear goals in order to provide direction and structure (aka Vision)
2.The person must believe that they have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task and their own perceived skills - they must be confident.
3.The clearer and more immediate feedback the person receives whilst engaged, helps the person get into this "super state" and then stay there for longer
Flow psychology provides a great tool for explaining the enjoyment people report when they embrace modern/agile software engineering practices like Test Driven Development, Pairing, Collaborative Design and more.

I have not read Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi's book Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience yet, but I find the graph he drew above incredibly useful when talking to people about their experiences of work - what they have really loved in the past, and helping them understand what they are experiencing currently. This tool helps provide some motivational energy to help people make a decision to try something new.

And for team building, this tool provides great insights into the kinds of work individuals really want to do, to feel alive, to contribute as much as possible whilst at work, to be themselves, and to be with others, contributing to team success based on capability and capacity rather than role.

I like bringing this tool into discussion with the results from Belbin (see Coaching with Belbin), the Free Strength Finder (see Coaching with Free Strengths Finder), the preferred learning styles VAK (see Coaching with Free VAK (Learning Styles Visual Auditory Kinaesthetic)), and the positivity ratio (see Coaching With Free Positivity Ratio Tool). Together they provide a couple of very useful views on people that allow for the creation of great coaching plans, team plans, and ultimately greatly enhanced self-awareness.

Saturday, 23 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Graphical Facilitation - Bikablo

None. Being capable of bringing life to notes by drawing, infographic creating or just simple graphically facilitation of ideas and information for self or groups is extremely valuable! Only, balance time drawing with time facilitating or engaging with the group members to ensure there is growth of the shared knowledge space. Some group members may find watching someone drawing for too long distracting. (this is feedback from a paired training session where my colleague was training whilst 1 was in the background capturing and marking up what he was saying)

I can't draw well. As someone said - with writing, or speaking, we're given a lot of feedback, and even though we may be poor writers or speakers we have to do it. Not so with drawing. We are born with the ability to make marks on things. Because of poor feedback at early age typically, those without strong urge or ability, usually make a conscious decision somewhere to not draw anymore.

But these days, where nearly everything is group/team work, the ability to draw "good enough" is becoming a really key and useful ability to have.

And then I found Bikablo - or rather a colleague of mine told me about it. And then suddenly I could (and still can) draw some the patterns I find most useful for the work that I do.

The Bikablo book: (in German/English) which is also sometimes available from amazon here
A set of thin+thick coloured markers as per Bikablo recommendation - I prefer the Artline ones which are usable on whiteboards as well as being comfortable on flipchart paper!

Some/lots of time to practice beforehand!

Step 1: Practice, and then practice some more. Pick just a handful of useful basic shapes and 2-3 colour pair combinations that you like

Step 2: Slowly bring them into your sessions and grow confidence that you can draw, and you can draw well enough so that people actually praise your work/talent!

Step 3: Within a couple of sessions over the time of a few weeks or months, you'll be drawing extremely high quality session outputs that people will be asking to keep for themselves. Success!

Step 4: Always take photos of all your facilitated graphics and be sure to get them back to the group as soon as possible after the session! Done well, you will not need to type them up! Win!!

Friday, 22 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: 2 Axes Visual Shift Chart

None. Usually used with groups, but can be used for individual as well.

Piece of paper - usually A3
A different colour marker for each measurement point (at least start and end will be required)

The neater you set things up, the better the result will look.
Eg, use a ruler for drawing the axes, reserve the black marker for the axes, draw a neat legend, etc

Step 1: Place the sheet in landscape

Step 2: Draw straight vertical and horizontal axes along the left and bottom sides.

I place the "feeling" axis as the vertical as it is useful to visualise whether a vertical shift up or down was happier/sadder, more enthusiastic/less enthusiastic.

I place the "knowledge" axis along the horizontal as there is less emotional expression required for knowledge.

In the example, which I used for Agile Awareness training purposes, the axis on the left is "Agile Enthusiasm" and on the bottom is "Agile Knowledge"

Step 3: Pick 4-5 indicators for each axis. It is sometimes very useful, depending on what you are measuring, to ensure there is no obvious "average"/"middle of the road" indicator in order to subtly influence people to make a decision on where they are, which helps for self-enforced consistency during training and afterwards also (see Robert Cialdini's Influence).

In the example I've used:
- Agile Enthusiasm: Terrorist, Unsure, Apprentice, Master, Apostle
- Agile Knowledge: None, Some, Lots, Expert

Before beginning the session, select 1 colour marker, and ask the group members to indicate where they are on axes. Sometimes initials are useful to help them remember where they placed their "X".

Sometimes, for some issues where I use the "2 Axes Visual Shift Chart" an anonymous "X" is better - eg helping a team go through Tuckman's Mourning / Adjourning Phase when someone has abruptly left the team.

Step 5: Conduct the training, facilitatory event or retrospective. If it is a multi-day event, decide if you want/need to reflect on shifts that have occurred each day by asking for updates at the end of every day.

This example is for a 1 day training course, with measurement taken in the morning, and again at the end of the afternoon. The visual changes above indicate an increase in knowledge (horizontal shift) and/or improvement in enthusiasm (vertical shift) - overall a very positive result for the training I provided that day!

Thursday, 21 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: The Invisible Gorilla


The internet
Environment or headphones in order to listen to the video
2 minutes to watch the video
A lifetime to think about the video after watching it

Step 1: Prepare your coachee's browser by going to

Step 2: Click on the first video in the box and let your coachee watch

This video, and others that Professor Dan Simons provides on the above link, as well as a few more at, highlight some very interesting things about how very real and/or very imaginary our world is to ourselves. And hence how complicated things get when interacting with others who are experiencing the same brain processes. This is a problem more of encoding than memory apparently as humans are much better at encoding "things" occurring near the core of our current focus than those on the periphery.

I first found references to this video in Karl Sabbagh's book The Hair of the Dog: And Other Scientific Surprises which contains a number of other really useful scientific surprises some of which I have incorporated into my toolkit.

Friday, 15 June 2012

Another phrase I remember from Will Greenwood's motivational talk

Another motivational/team building phrase I learned from Will Greenwood's motivational talk in 2010: "The strength of the wolf is the pack, and the strength of the pack is the wolf"

See 100 things, 1% better for the other!

1 phrase I remember from Will Greenwood's motivational talk

In 2010 I was fortunate to attend a motivational talk by English rugby hero Will Greenwood. Apparently his coach at time playing for the successful World Cup Rugby English team, Clive Woodward, pulled a lot of key motivational and team transformational statements/visions together.

1 of the phrases I still remember clearly from the talk is: "100 things, 1% better"

Wellbeck's just scored in the England-Sweden game and 1 of the commentators has just said "the only way he could have possibly scored!"

Which reminded me of Gary Player's famous quip / response to a spectator's "That was luck!!" after sinking an incredibly long and complicated putt. Gary replied "You're right! The more I practice, the luckier I get!"

Back to "100 things, 1% better" - it really is easier to improve lots of things a little, than 1 "bad" thing a lot. And the results...Will certainly made it clear (and is apparently earning a good income as a motivational speaker these days!): SUCCESS! (aka VICTORY!)

See The Strength of the Wolf is the Pack, the Strength of the Pack is the Wolf for the other!

Thursday, 14 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Belbin's Team Roles

Before I get into the details of the free Belbin Test: all my favourite coaching tools - free, online, or other - need to be applied with sensible and cautionary advice from statistician George EP Box: "all models are wrong, some are useful". I discuss this principle with individual coachees, teams and team leaders this before giving them homework or some brief presentation on Belbin's Team Role theory.

I also explain about the problems of labels, and how labels applied to people become truthes that get played out. (see Stephen R. Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (UK) (or US) for further information)

There are a number of ways to apply the Belbin Team Roles theory, which all provide shades of correctness. All applications provide valuable team member role insights and can be quite usefully combined with team building activities or coachee plan assignments.

The easiest, and only sanctioned way to apply the Belbin Team Roles Test, is to go online to and purchase the required number of tests for you and your team. The online Belbin test reports are generated and emailed to you. The assessments are fantastically detailed and provide plenty of material to help a team improve and to give team members insights into themselves as people and members of "this" team they are currently members of. I recommend this approach for excellent results!

There is an alternative free Belbin Test that also works albeit unsupported and to a lesser scientific and correct level:

Step 1: Read everything you can on Meredith Belbin, the history of the team role theory, the opposition, and the advocates.

Step 2: Especially make sure to read and understand the Belbin Team Roles

Step 3: Have your coachee read the above links as well. Or in a team context, I discuss the roles (Plant, Resource Investigator, Monitor Evaluator, Co-ordinator, Shaper, Teamworker, Implementer, Completer Finisher, Specialist) and many of the points from the 3 above links with the team.

Step 4: Now have the coachee or the team members self-select the order of the 9 Belbin roles as they see themselves. Not really surprisingly, people know from previous feedback over the years of their lives if they are extroverted or introverted; if they prefer analysing new problems or finishing off final details of things; if they like to delegate or prefer to receive direction; etc, etc)

Step 5 (for teams): Have the team members then rate each of the other members' top 3 Belbin roles as they see them. Again, not really surprising, team members also know how their colleagues are and usually can educated-guess-place them in appropriate Belbin Team Roles - once they know what those roles are!

Each team member can now combine and collate the results for themselves.

Step 6: Evaluate with the coachee/every team member how much resonance they feel with the top 3 roles others have placed them into. Is there a match between self perception and team member perception? If not, how much difference on a scale of 1-10? In what ways can the coachee think to close the gap or to make their own self perception the reality? Perhaps more feedback should be collected and then a re-evaluation. Every situation is different and it is helpful to have loads more coaching and coaching tools available if and when required!

Step 7 (optional): If at this stage the coachee or team really wants to evaluate still further, an online free Belbin test is at: It has fewer and less detailed questions than the actual Belbin test and I can't attest to the correctness of its results at the time of writing this.

Jo Keeler, from the Belbin Institute as posted in the comments below, clearly indicates this "free Belbin test" is an unsanctioned Belbin test (and therefore probably should be called something else!).

The Belbin Team Role is a very useful and powerful self-perception/awareness tool that is easy to grasp by those with less time or psychology foundation. In some respects it is not important that it is 100% accurate at this stage as it could be an illumination and/or reflection of how/who the person actually wants to be. Other feedback from the workplace, or from experiential team building, or training events will make the picture clearer for each individual and the team as a whole - leading towards a high performance team.

With more self-awareness of natural team role(s) placement, and the ability to sensibly apply the Belbin model to self and colleagues, opens up possibilities to understand more about the workplace and give insights into what possible steps to take to change it/oneself as required.

For the coachee, this view can be used as input to their coaching plan, to set some goals to acquire new skills and behaviours (eg a natural Plant who's ambition is to become a Co-ordinator) or wishes to improve their team's effectiveness (eg evaluating for a missing or under-represented role).

For the team or the team leader, balancing of Belbin team roles is key. Too many of 1 role or a total lack of a  role, causes the team to behave/perform in sub-optimal ways. Awareness of the team roles and the Belbin theory is useful to encourage people to acquire new behaviours if they're interested, to set SMART Goals to encourage different outcomes, and even to help influence the next recruitment opportunity.

Thank you!

Wednesday, 13 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: The Five Why's / 5Y's

The 5 Y's is absolutely simple and brilliant for multiple contexts - both for individuals and especially for teams and groups. There is 1 caveat - the answers provided to the different level of "Why?" can sometimes lead off-course or way off-course. Part of the craft of learning to apply the 5 Why's successfully is some critical analysis/reflection to ensure you get relevant answers at each of the "Why?" questions.

I am not sure where I first read about the "5 Why's". It could have been in a management textbook that also covered Ishikawa Diagrams AKA Fishbone/Cause-Effect Analysis Diagrams. Certainly I found Taiichi Ohno's Five Whys tool usefully described in Esther Derby and Diana Larsen's Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great and even more usefully described in Eric Ries' The Lean Startup: How Constant Innovation Creates Radically Successful Businesses).

This tool is deceptively simple looking and incredibly easy to get wrong.

Paper and pen, OR Whiteboard and marker
A fault/mistake/problem/error that has occurred

Step 1:  Ask "Why did the fault/mistake/problem/error occur?"
            Answer "There was some reason in the some place that caused the fault/mistake/problem/error"

            Why did the presentation not work properly at the event?
            -> It was an MS Powerpoint 2010 version file and the computer was running MS Powerpoint 2000.

Step 2: Ask "Why was there that reason in that place?"
            Answer "There was something underlying that reason in some underlying place"

            Why did Daryl try to present his newer version on an older version computer?
            -> His laptop did not work with the room's projector

Step 3: Repeat another 3 times to get to 5 Levels.
            Why did his laptop not work with the room's projector?
            Daryl's laptop's video outputs were not compatible with the projector's inputs

Step 4: E.g.
            Why did Daryl not have a converter with him?
            Daryl did not call the venue in advance to check the supported interfaces

Step 5: E.g.
            Why did Daryl not call the venue in advance?
            Daryl was too busy and forgot

Too busy to ensure a professional presentation? I think we need a new procedure ... but will it be about company employees who present at public events or will it be about company employees who are working on projects that are forced to work in crisis mode? Or...?

And I can imagine an alternate Step 3
A.Step 3: E.g.
               Why did Daryl not export his newer file to the older format to run the presentation on the older computer?
               Daryl was running late and too stressed to remember this feature existed

A.Step 4: E.g.
               Why was Daryl running late?
                Daryl left the office late

A.Step 5: E.g.
               Why did Daryl leave the office late?
               Daryl was doing some urgent project work that caused him to leave late

Perhaps we need those possible procedures above. Perhaps Daryl needs some management mentoring/coaching on his time management skills or his prioritisation mechanisms. Or on his confident knowledge of PowerPoint's features.

It is very important is that the underlying cause and/or location is queried at each level. Do some critical analysis at each response and ensure the coachee/team is drilling downward on a realistic path. Sometimes there are multiple paths to drill, spend the time and drill them all, especially until everyone is much more familiar with the tool, at which point you'll notice far fewer possible paths to drill down as people are better expressing the correct underlying cause and/or layer first-time.

The final Why often highlights a human problem. Typically a system improvement is the correct solution to ensure the human problem is not repeated. For individual engagements this is usually a training item and/or a couple of roleplay scenarios. For team engagements it could be training or a new procedure or an update to an existing procedure. Be on the safe side and read Four Days With Dr Deming - better yet get your coachee or team members to study it BEFORE they try to fix the wrong problem with the wrong approach (and accidentally make things worse).

Done correctly, it is possible to produce a correction action or step at every level uncovered/traced that would ensure that not only the level's specific fault in this instance is not repeated again, but also to prevent similar class faults - which is a major win!

Tuesday, 12 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: Stephen R Covey's Four Quadrants For Time Usage

Another very simple and effective tool to provide, to teach, yet the power of habit and the interference of self-perception often means that coachees struggle to fully deploy the Four Quadrants and learn from the data they collect about themselves. Practice will be required especially by those who are "too busy" - in fact as a coach you may have to help your coachee capture all the correct details by seating yourself near them if possible.

I first read about this tool in Stephen R Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (UK) (or US) which provides a link to a PDF containing basically the steps below. I believe the tool is actually presented in First Things First (UK) (or US) co-authored by Stephen and A. Roger Merrill which I have not read yet.

Sheet of A4 and a pen
A day in the life of the coachee
Ruler (optional)

Step 1: Help your coachee to create 4 quadrants on the piece of paper. Turn the paper lengthwise and draw a vertical line through the middle as well as a horizontal line also through the middle.

Step 2: Label Column 1: "Urgent" and Column 2: "Not Urgent"

Step 3: Label Row 1: "Important" and Row 2: "Unimportant"

Step 4: Pick a day in the life of the coachee where they will capture all the tasks and activities they engage in, on this matrix. A simple 1 worder should be sufficient.

As a coach with a very busy coachee, you might seat yourself nearby and create the same matrix for your coachee to compare with later.

Step 5: At the end of the day, the coachee should have approximately 30 words. Some might have as few as 5-10 (in which case your own observation version might be required, or simply more practice).

Step 6: Ask the coachee to guesstimate how much time was spent performing each of the tasks and activities noted.

Step 7: Now calculate the percentage of time spent in each of the quadrants

Step 8: Now label the top left quadrant as "I: Burned Out", the top right quadrant as "II: Change Agent", the bottom left quadrant as "III: Bored But Busy" and the bottom right quadrant as "IV: Fired"

You can use Rory Bowman's Public Domain picture to discuss the quadrants further:

Covey Matrix
Covey Matrix

Step 9: Put the date on the sheet of paper and have your coachee either punch holes and file it, or take a photograph and file that safely on email/computer

Step 10: Put a note in the calendar to repeat this exercise in about a month to see if there has been any shift.

Usually the 2nd and 3rd running of the tool by the coachee does result in a small change to the amount of time spent in Quadrant II - where Covey suggests people should be. This is because the coachee is trying to improve themselves, and are now aware of the danger of Quadrant IV "work", as well as, unfortunately, trying to improve/change to impress you as the coach. Make sure to reiterate that coaching is for their benefit and that they're trying to break bad habits and increase good habits to improve their happiness at work, to become more effective, to get promoted even.

Some coachees get quite excited and suggest creating and completing 1 of these every day but I advise against this as it just creates more data, which needs to be interpreted and could result in overload / not seeing the wood for the trees. Sometimes though, I do ask the coachee to put 4 questions on the wall/monitor in front of them at work: "Burn out?", "Bored?", "Fired?" and "Change agent?" which seems to have quite a positive effect for the first few weeks - until the new thought processes are more familiar.

Change is hard, and change takes time and dedication to make happen, especially to/for oneself.

Sunday, 10 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: SMART (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Responsible person assigned, Timebound) Goals

The SMART/S.M.A.R.T. acronym has slightly different permutations depending on where and when people learn about it, and where and when they apply it. This is the version I use for the purposes of coaching.

SMART Goals are extremely powerful change enablement tools for individuals as well as teams. I use them for 1-1 meetings (see my previous post: My Favourite Coaching Tools: 1-1 Meetings, and Esther Derby and Johanna Rothman's Behind Closed Doors: Secrets of Great Management ) as well as Retrospectives (see Diana Larsen's Agile Retrospectives: Making Good Teams Great). I also use them for individual coaching plans.

Some past/background information and/or knowledge and a desire to change something in the future.
Paper and pen

Step 1: I write up/down the labels I would like the coachee, or the team I am coaching to apply as:

      S - Specific
      M - Measurable
      A - Achievable
      R - Responsible person assigned
      T - Timebound

Step 2: Then I give some examples of bad SMART goals and rework them to better/good SMART goals, eg:

     "improve our office"

Is not good, because it does not come even close to fitting at least the acronym!

     S - improve our office
     M - it is tidy
     A - we can do this
     R - us all
     T - end of next month

This is clearer and agreed by the coachee/team that there is significant progress. However I now point out where possible problems could be - and I do this in any order as SMART is not necessarily order-specific!

     T - end of next month....?

Is the end of next month a weekend, a Monday or a Friday? Does it make a difference in our collective experience of deadlines? Is the change we're trying to bring about really that hard that it will take so much time to do? What is a more challenging boundary for the time? What prevents you from reaching this goal, and achieving the benefit, today? Tomorrow? And with these kind of questions, even for a hypothetical example, it is clear that a better goal and time boundary is more like which is clearer and "in focus":

     T - end of this week

But this too is not really specific enough as there are all sorts of things that can go wrong as ends of weeks have a nasty way of suddenly happening to people and challenging change goals get forgotten in the rush to get away, or get half-done. Is this the morning, noon or afternoon? Or is COB (Close of Business)? Compare to:

     T - By 12pm on Friday 8 June 2012.

That's specific! Anyone can now figure out if the goal was achieved definitely by that time, and, importantly the day, date and time is crystal clear and easy to remember/remind about if required which helps to ensure people keep the goal in mind - the sense of urgency automatically increases as the focal point draws nearer.

Now let's look at R... "us all". In team situations, I've found it more effective to actually name a leader for the goal, than allowing a team to loosely assign "team". This leader will execute the Measure and if the goal has not been achieved, encourage the team or provide feedback to the team. The team self-selects the Responsible Person Assigned who uses the opportunity to improve on the craft of servant-leadership.

      R - Joe Smith

Now I might flip to S ... "improve our office". What the heck? Does this mean get interior decorators in/architects/cleaners/new furniture/pictures on walls/pictures off walls/bring in a stereo/stop playing heavy metal/etc/etc?

A nice open question helps really get the problem space and possible solution spaces identified: "What of our office should be improved?". For instance "tidiness" might be more specifically phrased as:

      S - All our desks to be clear of food, cups, plates, litter, loose papers and dust

Which could be even more improved on by adding if "daily" as opposed to "weekly" is the true look professional when clients visit.

      S - All our desks to be clear of food, cups, plates, litter, paper and dust at the end of every day.

Right so far we have a very clear mental image formed of what needs to happen, by when and who will be checking it. How?

      M - "is tidy"

Is subjective! We're looking for 1 objective measure of success that the coachee/team and coach actually agree on (in this case the coach becomes a very cheap additional layer of assurance).

Again, the pause and wait for the coachee/team to come up with objective measures...perhaps

      M - There are 0 instances of food, 0 cups, 0 plates, 0 litter, 0 papers and no dust on any desk or table in the entire office by 6pm everyday

Extremely hard to argue that! And even more tricky to achieve if there are empty desks/tables in the office that are used but not "owned" by anyone. How to ensure accountability for "entire office" - which is more the motivation that we discovered along the way - a professional office that clients see when they visit?

These questions/fine tunings are discussed and eventually negotiated ... the Responsible Person Assigned takes notes if this is for a team! :-)

And finally, with such a clear picture in mind for S, M, R and T the final buy-in from the coachee/team is the A. Is this Achievable?

      A - Yes, this is achievable!

It is extremely important that the coachee or the team fully buy-in to this goal otherwise motivational energy to do something different is going to be lacking and most times the uplifting goal will not be achieved or it will be achieved but undermined. In which case the session creating the SMART goal is a partial waste of precious time.

And perhaps another 1-2 examples like this, or perhaps into Step 3 - letting the coachee/team attempt for themselves!

Step 3: Now I let the team have their first attempt:

     S - improve team culture
     M - team is happier
     A - we can do this!
     R - us all!
     T - tomorrow!!

The first time I saw a team copy my poor example it stunned me. Then I realised, especially over time and this copying occurred repeatedly, it's the simplicity and first thing people trying this for the first time do: they take the first step they feel comfortable with, and have seen in the recent past. And know they will be able to improve it with my assistance - as I showed them in the worked examples. And many seem to find it fun to start so obviously wrong!

Anyway, in this example it looks good, and it sounds good - HOORAY! It even fits the acronym slots, so HOORAY x2 for the coachee/team! I sometimes even say encouraging things like "I truly admire your passion and enthusiasm and am encouraged by the rising energy levels.... however, this is not a good SMART goal for the following reasons..." or "I like this start to this goal! And already it is clear based on the worked examples what has to be fixed - so who's first with a suggestion?" Pretty much repeating all that was said in Step 2, in different orders and constantly using the worked examples as reference point.

The main thing is to get everyone collaborating and praising successful steps in unfamiliar territory. Giving people the confidence to try.

For example - I help the coachee or team iterate through their SMART goal attempt and improve it incrementally - this helps get a lot of buy-in from each participant who collaborates and agrees to the exact wording (2 of the jobs of a facilitator is to ensure everyone in the room is heard and is also contributing).

      Is "improve team culture" specific?

"Kind of", I might say "...but improve means different things to different team members!". The same for the word "team" as well "culture". At this point I pause......and eventually the coachee or the team start to brainstorm a different way of saying what they want to say. At this time I encourage a bit of divergence of ideas for a while as some of these are relevant for other parts of the acronym if not specifically for Specific. After enough time I encourage convergence by playing back the ideas that have emerged and a better Specific statement at this time might begin to look like:

      We have fun together
      We go for lunch together
      We go for lunch together to the Fabulous Restaurant that we now all agree on together

      Produce a high quality weekly team report
      Take my weekly report to my manager and discuss what parts are good, and what parts can be improved.
      Take my weekly team report to my manager and discuss in detail which parts can be improved and set SMART goals for each of those parts so that I fully understand the required changes and their importance.

After iterating these kinds of statements, very specific pieces of the puzzle get teased out and produce excellent SMART Goals! As the coachee/team become accustomed to the required level of specification, and the forces that are experienced during their creation, they get better and better at this.

Friday, 1 June 2012

My favourite coaching tools: "What do I do that...?"

It is very very extremely extremely uncomfortable uncomfortable to ask for feedback the first time. But every time it is asked for, it get's a whole lot less comfortable. I teach my coachees to ask for feedback in this way, as well with their own customised 360 appraisals where the local HR system is insufficient in my opinion. But this caveat applies to really helping coachees take this first step, to requesting, and preparing them for receiving the feedback, and later on for processing what the feedback means and then deciding what to do.

I learned about this tool in 2007 on a soft skills training course but I am unsure where the traininer found it. And have applied it successfully for my own growth approximately every 3 months. I have also taught it to many others for their own growth. It is very simple, very quick, and very effective. I did find essentially this tool is also used in Peter Drucker's "manager's letter" which I previously wrote about.

A well selected colleague to ask in a safe environment
Paper/diary and pen

Step 1: Coachee thanks the colleague for coming to the meeting. Coachee explains that they would like to improve their effectiveness at work, and that this is 1 of the steps in order to do so. That this step is about understanding how others - the colleague - perceive the coachee.

Step 2: Coachee then asks the simple question "What do I do that helps you?". And remains open with facial expression, body language and speech whilst writing notes down on everything that is provided. When the colleague has finished, the coachee thanks the colleague for their input.

Step 3: And now for the more tricky (cringe factor) question "What do I do that hinders you?". Again, thanks to the previous practice with remaining open and non-judging in Step 2, the coachee simply copies all the input down as it comes. This is not the time to process, nor is the time to defend. The job is keep listening and keep making notes, no matter what is said.

Most times what is said is quite good. Occasionally an inappropriate attach or negative criticism is passed, but this is extremely rare in my experience and in my coachees' experiences. The great thing about becoming adults is that we lose our childhood ability to be just plain horrible to each other without realising how horrible we're being! Adults treat these opportunities to provide feedback to colleagues with respect and sincerity, usually.

When the input is completed, the coachee again thanks the provider.

Step 4: SOMETIMES MAGIC happens at this point. This is when the colleague has just experienced a MOMENT and now wishes to receive feedback also. And the coachee now becomes the mentor of this new tool as well as the provider of respectful feedback.

Step 5: Final thanks and wrap up of the session.

After the session, the input is now analysed for interesting (positive, negative, confusing, learnings, etc) things which I and the coachee discuss. Occasionally the input causes an emotional response - be prepared! Self-growth and self-awareness is not an easy ride.

Over time, as the people giving feedback and the coachee become familiar with the tool, and with each other in this new dimension of their relationship, there does exist the opportunity to clarify feedback where it is vague or abstract. To ask for specific objective examples and separate out the feelings and really increase the level of empathy and understanding of what's really going on at work.

This data collected is then used as input to the coaching plan. Sometimes some of the feedback is so powerful to the coachee that they write key items on post-it notes and stick them up on the refrigerator at home, or monitor - anywhere they can see them often, can see them at the beginning of the day and be reminded to repeat, or to not repeat actions/behaviours which resulted in the feedback.

I suggest every 3 months initially and then as the relationship between the feedback requester and responder grows and changes, a natural rhythm will emerge. Of course if the coachee is not seen to be adjusting problematic behaviour from the responder's point of view, eventually the responder will stop providing so it is important to take on board the feedback and work on any issues discovered - sometimes maybe not changing own behaviour but helping the responder change theirs using influence.

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