We hear the term Coaching Culture mentioned often, but what do we mean by this?
Organisational culture is often referred to as “the way things are done around here.” It’s a common set of behaviours and underlying mindsets and beliefs that shape how people work and interact on a daily basis. So, in simple terms, we could say that a coaching culture is one in which leaders adopt coaching as a default behaviour and mindset as they interact with others and run the business.
Peter Hawkins (1) explains that a coaching culture
“… exists in an organisation when a coaching approach is a key aspect of how the leaders, managers, and staff engage and develop all their people and engage their stakeholders, in ways that create increased individual, team, and organisational performance and shared value for all stakeholders.”
This requires the organisation to invest in developing the coaching skills of their employees and foster coaching conversations, not just between managers and their direct reports, but between peers, in team and project meetings, with customers and prospective clients. When fully embedded, a coaching mindset becomes the norm, coaching conversations become the default way of communicating and managing performance, and timely feedback happens at all levels of the organisation.
What Does A Coaching Culture Look Like In Practice?
For simplicity, let’s break this down into two key components:
1) the observable behaviours
2) the attitudes or beliefs
Fundamentally, the observable behaviours are leaders taking a coaching approach as they manage their teams, which requires them to have basic skills in coaching.
The key difference between coaching and other approaches that leaders need to take, such as mentoring, training, setting strategy and goals, is that of asking questions and eliciting ideas and solutions from others.
So, in a coaching culture we see leaders asking questions more than telling people what to do and being genuinely interested in what others have to say. This requires skills in active listening, such that leaders listen with the sincere intention of hearing what others have to say and are open to understanding their different perspectives.
Training leaders in coaching skills might seem like an easy fix and usually it’s the obvious place to start in any organisation wanting to develop a coaching culture. But let’s not overlook the essential element of any culture, the underlying attitudes and beliefs, that can be more difficult to change.
What Do We Mean By A Coaching Mindset?
For an organisation to successful embed a coaching culture, leaders will also need to adopt a coaching mindset, underpinned by a set of attitudes and beliefs that motivates them to regularly engage in a coaching approach.
Leaders need to believe that their team members have the ability to make decisions, to think creatively to solve problems and to take ownership for their work, even if they don’t have the years of experience of the leader. It’s all too easy for leaders who have been through a similar experience to offer a quick solution by saying “You need to do X”. Although this might seem like a quick fix for the leader, this will most likely result in that person going back to the leader when they next encounter a problem or for more advice on how to implement the solution given to them.
In supporting team members to think through problems and opportunities, leaders need to foster the concept of a growth mindset, the belief that with experience, training and effort, everyone can develop their skills, abilities and talents (2). When leaders understand the strengths and interests of their team and believe in their future potential, they instil a mindset of possibility that creates a work culture in which everyone is striving to do their best.
How Would You Know If Your Organisation Has A Coaching Culture?
When leaders operate from a coaching mindset and actively apply their skills in coaching, a new set of behaviours becomes the norm.
Leaders, and ultimately all employees in a fully embedded coaching culture, will regularly do the following:
Ask what others think about a situation and are open to hearing their ideas
Listen to understand others’ opinions more than telling people what to do
Provide an effective balance of support and challenge to stretch people’s thinking
Empower employees to take accountability and learn through experimentation
Regularly give feedback and are open to feedback themselves
Hold developmental conversations that help people to create more purpose and meaning in their lives
As with all aspects of organisational culture, developing a coaching culture takes time. Building coaching capability and shifting mindsets doesn’t happen automatically with the completion of a mandatory training. It needs time and effort to embed new practices that at first can seem awkward and more time consuming to leaders who are familiar with a more command and control style of working.
Leaders need encouragement to practice as they build confidence and competence in these new ways of interacting, until such time as the benefits become apparent.
Are You Interested In Developing A Coaching Culture?
How is your organisation doing with instilling a coaching mindset and building confidence and competence in having coaching conversations?
The Leadership Coaches have experienced coaches who can help you turn this vision into a reality for your organisation. Call us on 0800 345 7727 to discuss this further.
Written by Leadership Coach Sue G
1. Hawkins, P. Creating a coaching culture: Developing a Coaching Strategy for Your Organization. Open University Press, 2012.
2. Dweck, C. Mindset: Changing the way you think to fulfil your potential. Robinson, 2017