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Contributing to Coaching Culture in Your Workplace

written byGuy Woods, ECPC, PCCon 05/04/2021

As we move deeper into 2021, the dust has begun to settle on what was once a new reality. Whether you suddenly found yourself working from home, on leave and unable to work, or even continuing to work at a physical location, the concept of our workplace has dramatically shifted. And with it, so have the social dynamics and culture which we were a part of. 

As a workforce, we are now socially distant. Spontaneous watercooler conversations and lunches have been nixed in the name of safety, now replaced by digital conversation threads and carefully scheduled Zoom calls. Work practices have quickly adapted to suit our new reality, but at what cost to our professional wellbeing, workplace culture, and more specifically, coaching culture?

Culture Club

Culture, according to my good friend Merriam-Webster, is an umbrella term encompassing the various characteristics which distinguish the traits, social behaviours and practices of any social, ethnic or religious group, in a certain place or time. This includes the expression and promotion of certain acceptable ways of being (such as norms, values, beliefs and goals) which characterize any professional groups of individuals,  including in institutions, organizations or workplaces.

Learn more about developing a culture of trust and empowerment in your organization.

Coaching culture is a key aspect of workplace culture that focuses on the degree to which certain values, communications and practices are scaled across the workplace to leverage coaching methodologies that proactively understand, support, develop and leverage the wellbeing and success of its workforce, as individuals and as a team. The positive outcomes of a positive workplace coaching culture have been long and widely examined, dating as far back as the 1970’s when early research by psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1978) recognized that coaching may be an effective method for realizing the potentials of employees. More recently, researchers Fiona Eldridge and Sabine Dembowski (2004) found that a culture of coaching promotes more open communications, improves relationships and enables individuals to recognize the effects of supporting the development of others.

Each of us actively shapes and contributes to our workplace’s coaching culture, whatever our role, and whether we realize it or not. The ways in which we communicate with ourselves and others to attain and elicit professional clarity, motivation, development and success manifest in big ways and small, on a constant basis. Whether it's how we prioritize and set goals, manage progress, elicit feedback or even draft an email and communicate with others, we each contribute to this culture, either positively or negatively. 

Culture Couture 

Contributing to a positive coaching culture is not as simple as hanging catchy motivational slogans around the office. Firstly, these days very few people will actually be around the office to see them. Secondly, these types of messages have been found to perpetuate what is increasingly being understood as ‘toxic positivity’ which can have the very opposite and adverse effect on a person’s performance and well-being. Thirdly, a coaching culture cannot be achieved through ‘quick fixes’ which lack any meaningful ongoing integration and practice by those within the company. Speaking from my personal experience, having a manager spew coaching buzz-words and motivational mantras do not a coach make, nor does it mean there is an active, positive workplace coaching culture (yes, Facebook, I’m talking to you). 

One great example of the very opposite, showcasing the power of individual managers contributing and promoting a coaching culture immediately comes to mind. Dating back several years, Erickson Coaching International has enjoyed a successful coaching partnership with SAP, the market leader in enterprise application software. Since then, SAP employees from various professional levels have taken part in The Art & Science of coaching, as a means to understand, apply and scale Solution-Focused coaching methodologies in their professional setting. SAP has, as a company,  supported its workforce to attend Erickson coaching training, scaling and promoting coaching culture as a strategic, global aspect of SAP’s practice, one conversation at a time. SAP coaches found a unique way to apply coaching methodology to their unique organization, in a way that respects and builds on their unique company culture and needs - and you could do the very same.

  1. Firstly, imagine as-if you were looking at your workplace from the point of view of an outsider looking in, similar to that of ‘fly on the wall’, who sees the conversations and interactions beyond simply what is being communicated, but also how. Ask yourself: from this perspective, what do I notice? What impact do these interactions have on both individual and team motivation and performance? 
  2. Next, look inwards and ask yourself: in what way am I actively contributing to this culture? What might I do more of or less of in the future? Then, feed your curiosity and learn more about the merits of introducing coaching methodologies to your own personal and professional toolkit. Whether you’re the CEO, a senior manager, a team leader or an entry-level associate, learning and applying coaching skills in your own professional practice creates a ripple effect of positive change, one interaction at a time. 
  3. Finally, imagine as-if that small coaching ripple effect became a tidal wave of coaching interactions, amplified and spread beyond simply your interactions, but scaling far and wide to those of others, across departments, teams and the whole workplace. What positive impact would that have, not simply on you and your co-workers, but on the organization’s success as a whole? 

Most importantly, remember one of the most important Ericksonian Solution-Focused principles, which is that change is constant and inevitable. The dust on our new reality has settled. The concept of our workplace has shifted, and subsequently, so has our culture. It is important we protect and nourish it during these, and future challenging times. Many may no longer physically travel to our workplace, we continue to do so mentally - from our kitchens, living rooms and home offices. Our workplace is alive and kicking, in the collective consciousness of individuals. 

Milton Erickson once said ‘Coaching turns problems into challenges, challenges into opportunities and opportunities into gifts’. The shifts and challenges facing professional workplaces will continue to occur. However, by equipping yourself with coaching skills and contributing to a coaching culture, you can ensure they are seen as opportunities, helping yourself and others continue building resilience in face of change and turning these opportunities into your unique gifts.

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