Who can build a coaching culture?


In the fourth blog of my “When to Build a Coaching Culture Series”, I discuss who can build a coaching culture.

Anyone can start coaching, from any seat.  Anyone can create a ripple effect through the people with whom they use a coach-approach.

Have you heard the story about the starfish?

Strolling along the edge of the sea, a man catches sight of a young woman who appears to be engaged in a ritual dance.  She stoops down, then straightens to her full height, casting her aim out in an arc.  Drawing closer, he sees that the beach around her is littered with starfish, and she is throwing them one by one into the sea.  He lightly mocks her: “There are stranded starfish as far as the eye can see, for miles up the beach.  What difference can saving a few of them possibly make?”  Smiling, she bends down and once more tosses a starfish out over the water, saying serenely “It certainly makes a difference to this one.”

Zander and Zander in the Art of Possibility (one of my favourite books).


You can make a difference, by focusing on one person at a time.

And who knows, others may follow suit, as they see the difference that it makes.

Don’t wait for someone else to start the trend; or to give you permission.  Why do you need permission to start asking rather than telling?

I hear you….you know you don’t need permission, but it’s just not how it’s done around here.  But do you want to continue to feel that overwhelm, as you keep making decisions on behalf of your people rather than challenging them with questions to help them to think it through? 

Do you want to feel the frustration of never getting to the strategic stuff that you really want to give time to? 

Do you want to feel the challenge of time, but not the challenge of thought? 

Do you want to feel dragged down by change?

No?  Then make that tweak.  Or perhaps commission yourself a coach, so that you can experience it first-hand.  With that experience, you will have a better sense for how to contract for great conversations; how to ask powerful questions; how to listen deeply and notice the essence of what you sense; how to move the other person to action  etc.  Ask your coach to get you into a practice triad (see below) so that you can try out these skills in a safe environment.

Start small

If you are responsible for developing leaders in your organisation, I suggest you start small.  Try some experiments before going full-tilt with a big business case.  Get some evidence from within the organisation.  Here’s how I go about this:

  1. Provide three leaders with an executive coach, with whom they can do some real work on themselves
  2. Pull these three leaders into a triad, with the coach.  The coach lightly teaches them those same skills that he/she has been using with each of them.  The triad then practice together with the coach facilitating the feedback process, so they learn by doing, rinsing and repeating the process to get more and more confident with applying the skills
  3. Each leader then refines the new habit in the workplace by:
  • identifying their personal triggers for coaching in the workplace,
  • experimenting with employees and reporting back successes and obstacles
  • reinforcing the action of the triad members and supporting continuous experimentation

Once you’ve tried it with one triad, you can expand to further triads. 

A word of warning

You may be thinking that this model is impossible to scale and you’ve got hundreds of leaders to train in coaching skills.  You might think that it will be more efficient to train them en masse.  It might be efficient, but in my experience (and according to research by Olivero and Bane , it’s not effective, as a 2 or even a 5 day course (for example) will not create sustainable behaviour change without support on the back end to embed the new learning into the workplace. 

Whatever way you choose to develop those leaders though, start with what success will look like.  How will you measure the success of coaching?   You may have some leading measures and some lagging ones (see link to a previous post).  More on that in a future post.