Friday 18 June 2021

Sandwiches and Firefighting


I have been reflecting on the importance of sandwiches this week. Not, as you may imagine, because the fine weather has been tempting me to go on many picnics; rather I am thinking of the sandwich structure of so much effective work.

It started in a supervision session, when I was talking about my coaching practice, and how important I find it to start and end coaching sessions well; with that in place, the middle works well, as does the whole process.  And then I reflected on a second-level sandwich: the importance of preparing well before a session, and reflecting and note-taking afterwards.  With that in place too, I know that I am doing a good job in each session. And of course there's a third sandwich to consider: the initial contracting at the start of the coaching relationship, and the close of the assignment, with consolidation, evaluation and so on. 

And it seems to me that many of my clients would also benefit from such sandwiches: planning before a meeting - and not just what they want to get out of it, but how (and indeed who) they want to be in the meeting. Likewise, after meetings, it is really valuable to reflect and review: did I accomplish what I wanted to; and did I do that in a way congruent with who I want to be? And if so, celebrate and record that, and build on it; and if not, what do I learn from that?

Yet for many of my clients, that feels like an impossible luxury: particularly in these days of Zoom, they zoom from meeting to meeting with little respite; and when asked, talk about the constant firefighting that they have to attend to.

Firefighting: an interesting and vivid metaphor; and not a subject I claim much expertise in. However, I am pretty sure that when firefighters turn up at a fire, they do a little planning before rushing in. One wouldn't want to pour water on an electrical fire; nor enter a structure about to collapse.  And likewise, once the flames are dowsed, I am pretty sure that they check that the temperature has been sufficiently lowered, to leave the site safely. We all know that all it takes is high temperature, fuel and oxygen (and possibly a source of ignition) to allow the fire to break out again.

So I find myself challenging some of my clients quite hard about this; and for some, that is helpful.  But what I know to be truly helpful is to hold myself to my sandwich disciplines: including, it occurs to me as I write this on a Friday afternoon, that other sandwich of ending the week with a review of how it has gone, and what I have learned, and using that to inform my planning of the following week.


With thanks to Eaters Collective and Daniel Tausis for sharing their photos on Unsplash

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