Monday 22 June 2020

Pushing Myself and Pushing Them

I have been growing increasingly confident with my online workshops, and today took that to a new level. Previously, my online workshops had involved lots of discussion, and practicing using models and structures, to think about difficult topics; but in the last couple with professors from Cardiff University, I have been getting them to practice skills, which feels like a big step up, in terms of remote delivery.

To be quite honest, I wasn't confident how well this would work.  It was clear to me that I would have to get a few things right for this to work - and then trust the participants to work well together without me eavesdropping (as I usually do when we are working together in the same place).

So I had to be very clear in my own mind, both what they needed to know before the exercise, and precisely how I was going to instruct them to do it.

Today's session was particularly challenging.  We were looking influencing skills. I had to send them much longer pre-reading than I usually do, covering the major styles and the specific behaviours; and I also included the exercise brief as the final page. That was because there was simply too much information for me to explain it all from cold, and still have time for them to practice.

In the event, the session went very well. It was slightly unnerving to put them into groups and then simply wait, trusting them to make good use of the time. But I had decided not to go around the rooms, as I thought that would be disruptive and distracting.

So it was a great relief when they came back to the plenary session, and told me how valuable the exercise had been, and what they had learned from it. It is a great credit to the professors concerned that they were able to practice what is essentially a face-to-face skill in a virtual environment, give each other feedback, polish their skill, and generate and share learning.  I think that was a lot to expect of them, and they rose to the challenge really well.
I still think that this is not the same as spending the time together, not least because it is far harder to have the informal coffee-break conversations.  But I have to admit that it is a far better substitute than I had foreseen, and that it also has some advantages that mean I may well continue to work in this way (although not exclusively) even when it isn't the only option.

Now that I know that we can do serious skills practice, the benefits of relatively short (2 hour) modular sessions that people can do from their own office or home, and which I can facilitate without needing to travel and be put up in hotels, are very clear.  So not quite a complete Zoom convert, but at least a believer in richer approach to mixed delivery.

(images courtesy Chris Mongomery, Austin Distel and Bruno Cervera, respectively, from Unsplash)

Friday 5 June 2020

CPD during my Sabbatical...

One of the ways in which I am using my self-declared sabbatical is investing time in my own development. That includes a Leadership Team Coaching Programme, with Peter Hawkins and David Clutterbuck, a further Time to Think programme, with Laura Williams, and a Transformational Narrative Coaching programme, with Nick Isbister. And in addition to all that, I have also been working to improve my understanding of Trauma, in support of another project I am involved in.

All of these, of course, build on existing areas of interest and are intended to help me to work to an even higher standard with my clients.

The Leadership Team Coaching programme is proving very interesting. Hawkins and Clutterbuck are major figures in the coaching world, and have a wealth of experience as well as knowledge to share. Whilst the format (600+ people on a 90' webinar) was initially hard work, they have responded well to feedback and made the third (and most recent session) very much better. These webinars are supported by smaller online practicum sessions, as well as handout material etc.  I've also agreed to meet a colleague, who is also going through the programme, after each webinar to share insights and challenge each other to find ways to apply the learning, which has really helped to bring it alive.

People who know me will understand the appeal of doing a further Time to Think programme. Nancy Kline's Thinking Environment has proved very valuable in improving my practice over the last few years. So far, the training programmes I have attended with Nancy and with Shirley Wardell have focused very much on the one-to-one applications of the Thinking Environment. This programme, the Foundation Course, focuses on group applications, and is the precursor to the Facilitation Course, which I intend to do next. It will be particularly interesting to do this programme online, as that poses particular challenges to the Thinking Environment approach, particularly as it applies to groups. But, of course, at present, pushing the boundaries of what we can do remotely is particularly important, and I am confident that I will learn a lot from Laura, another expert in the field.

The appeal of Nick Isbister's programme should be equally clear. My own interest in narrative approaches goes back many years - Shifting Stories was in gestation (and procrastination) for many years before I published it in 2016. So when I found out that Nick was doing something similar but distinctively different, I was naturally intrigued.  So I bought his book, and booked a call. We had a fascinating chat, and I booked on to his programme. It's early days yet (I've only completed the first part of the programme, which has been very much about taking stock of my story (or stories) so far, and what I make of myself, as Actor, Agent and Author. But it has already proved a very rich and thought-provoking process, and I am looking forward to crafting my future story with Nick's help. Given how much the world is changing at the moment, this seems a particularly appropriate time to be investing in such thinking.

With regard to trauma, I have been reading Gordon Turnbull's account of his career: discovering the reality of post traumatic stress, and then pioneering approaches to help people to address it. I have also been reading some slightly more technical and academic books on the subject, recommended by colleagues. For me, this is not about developing the skills to work with those suffering from trauma - that would be crossing the line from coaching into therapy - but rather to understand better what the indicators are, so that I can make appropriate referrals, and be clearer about that boundary; and to support me in my work as a coaching supervisor, so that I can help the coaches I supervise to be equally clear about those boundaries and the limits of their appropriate support.