30th June 2022Developing a coaching culture in the workplace

First published in Charities Management on June 28th 2022


“We know that truly diverse organisations have increased innovation and they have higher levels of retention. We know that individuals are ten times more likely to leave an organisation based on a toxic culture than anything else, research has shown us that. We give so much energy to a pay and reward environment, when actually the culture of an organisation is a game changer.”

This was a direct quote from a speaker at a session which I chaired recently and, as an accredited coach, it made me think about the importance of building a coaching culture in the workplace. They rightly pointed out that building a coaching culture better positions organisations to grow and nurture their existing talent; research does prove this statement. But what exactly is a “coaching culture,” and how can leaders truly make this part of their everyday environment?

Before I can explain that though, just a few words on what coaching is all about which is probably easiest to describe by saying what it isn’t. It isn’t telling someone else what to do. It isn’t directive either softly or forcibly. It isn’t mentoring where someone will share their knowledge and experience and say ‘have you thought of this’ or ‘I would do this’. Its about asking the right questions and providing the space for the coachee to find the answers from within themselves. The logic being that if you find the answers yourself, you are far more likely to own that answer than if someone just tells you what do to. You feel invested in it.

A coaching culture in simple terms therefore means supporting your team so that they learn new skills and become greater contributors to the organisation. It is about empowering the team to become more engaged with their work, encouraging them to contribute to new ideas and change. An engaged team will improve morale because they feel they are part of something and making a change or a difference. Given it is critical that charities deliver on their purpose, it feels even more relevant that their people really feel part of a culture where they themselves can make a difference and see a direct impact on the communities that they serve.

I have set out a few thoughts and ideas that will hopefully help charities think about how to build a coaching culture in the workplace.

Advocate change: Find yourself a coach as this will show you really believe in coaching and that coaching is for everyone. It will also show that you are prepared to take the time to invest in yourself by having regular coaching sessions. Others will feel therefore feel they also have ‘permission’ to invest in themselves.

Find your first followers: Clearly those individuals in leadership would be a good place to start to really advocate the start of a change programme. Teach your first followers the coaching techniques so that they are bought into the culture change from the start. This includes the core techniques of listening, asking open questions, encouraging reflection and the power of silence. If leaders begin to apply this knowledge, this will then naturally guide them to coach their team members and gradually a coaching culture will start to permeate across the organisation. Think also about your volunteers, how best can they be part of this change; this is vital as often volunteers can be the life blood of a charity.

What questions are you asking your teams? Coaching is all about asking the right questions. The secret is to ask open questions when a team member comes to you so the how, the what and the why and equally powerful is the “Tell me about….”. This enables the individuals to think about the situation for themselves and to find their own solutions. Other questions such as “How can I support you?” mean that you don’t give yourself the responsibility of solving every problem or issue, it moves the responsibility to them to find the solution. You may have the answers but help your teams to grow and develop by finding them for themselves.

Finding a regular time to coach: We are all busy people with day to day pressures and it’s very easy to use this as an excuse in terms of not having time to spend on ourselves. However if you dedicate time to coaching and also make sure that your team members see this time as something they can spend time on themselves without feeling guilty about doing it, then it will become part of the organisation’s culture. It’s about making sure people see the benefits of coaching each other, that it is a good thing to build into their week.

Build it into people’s objectives: We have all heard the saying, “What gets measured gets done” which inevitably means regular measurement keeps you focused. So if charities build clear goals around coaching into individuals’ objectives, this will create a sense of everyone being given permission to do it. If it’s seen as a ‘nice to have’, it’s less likely to be accomplished. It should be a part of an organisation’s overall talent strategy and if people are made accountable, it is more likely become something that happens.

Don’t simply answer questions: If someone in your organisation asks you a question, turn it around and ask them what they think will work. Empower them to make those decisions and over time they will start to bring you answers rather than questions. If you then start to encourage this behaviour, there will be a ripple effect, and their teams will start to do precisely that as well. This is an important point when it comes to empowering people. If you’ve given your team autonomy and have empowered them to work through tasks on their own, supplying them with answers to every question they have would defeat the benefits of self-discovery. Providing answers is essentially telling them what they need to do, which undermines the whole idea of autonomy and empowerment.

Support people if they fail: If somebody gets something wrong, stand back and think to yourself “what response from me will help that person develop and remain motivated.” Often it might actually be to remain silent. In many instances, people will be aware of their mistake and if you remain silent, this gives them the chance to sort it out and may just make them feel better. This will then help enable them to get it right next time. Sometimes silence is golden.

In essence therefore a coaching culture helps everyone to perform at their highest level by enabling them to develop and learn new skills. It is very much about learning and recognising that not everyone needs to be Mary Poppins (practically perfect in every way) and indeed that would lead to a very dull world and one where growth would probably be inhibited as making mistakes and learning from them is a great way to continually grow.

To discuss your specific circumstances, please get in touch with Carol Rudge.

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