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For organisations committed to "growing your own", the best next step is to "grow each other"

Updated at May 10, 2024

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By a mile, the most effective way of introducing Coaching Pairs is for the Chief Executive and Chief People Officer/ HR Director to introduce them as a way of strengthening their wider leadership team.

When a CEO and CPO takes this step, there should be an immediate impact on the culture of the leadership team.

Everyone who reports directly to one of the Chief Officers/ Executive Directors knows that this initiative is so important to the CEO that THEY will be joining in themselves, as part of a Coaching Pair.

They also know that Coaching Pairs are designed to become self-sustaining, with everyone being asked to join a new Pair after 6 months, as a sign of their commitment to building a stronger team.

Coaching Pairs are gradually ROLLED OUT over time, so that they embrace everyone in any sort of leadership position in the organisation.

coaching each other
as equals

sharing insights
after 6 months

then pairing up with another leader in the wider team.

working together in
matched pairs

 

Leaders are matched with each other in Coaching Pairs for six months. You then share key insights at a team Awayday, after which new Coaching Pairs are formed

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The CEO convenes a meeting of the wider leadership team. The team agrees a common approach towards working in pairs, based on the six key elements below.

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Involvement in round one is voluntary.  Individuals joining Pairs are matched with colleagues leading different functional areas, in order to keep Coaching Pairs separate from formal line management arrangements. 

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Each coaching pairs agrees its own way of working together, on the basis that they have at least six meetings across the six month period, each one lasting for around one hour.

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In the afternoon they come together as a single team, with opportunities for individuals to share with the rest of the team any key insights and breakthroughs in their thinking.

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Following the meeting, the CEO and Chief People Officer/ HR Director suggest individual matches for Pairs, with the CEO and CPO matching themselves with other leaders, just as they propose matches for colleagues.  

Anyone who feels they would not be a good match with the person recommended as their coaching partner has the right to make their own suggestion, on the basis that it is not an option to nominate anyone with whom they share line management responsibilities.

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 At the end of this time they come together for a team Awayday.  In the morning they pair up with different colleagues and test out  their top take-aways from their time in their Coaching Pair.

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After the Awayday, any team members who held back from joining the first round of Coaching Pairs are invited to join round two.  The CEO and CPO propose new matches for Pairs and the next coaching cycle gets underway.

We are keen advocates of the principle of VOLUNTARY PARTICIPATION in round one of Coaching Pairs.  This makes it easier for those who favour the idea to own it as THEIRS, and something they want to make work for their own benefit and that of the wider leadership team.

The ambition is that after six months those who sat out the first round will want to join in, having accepted Coaching Pairs as a natural way of developing themselves and each other as leaders.

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The six key elements of working together in Coaching Pairs:

01

TRUST COMES FIRST!

​If we are to be truly open and vulnerable with our coaching partner, we have to trust them.

 

This is why it is so important that any leader has the right to say they are not happy about their proposed match, and would rather be paired up with someone else who inspires trust in them - and they believe trusts them, in return.

02

CHAMPIONING

Trusting our coaching partner is essential to our second core element of championing each other.

If we are to take on board any feedback that we'd rather not hear, we have to believe that the person saying these words is a champion of ours.  We have to believe that they "see us" as a leader with real potential, and we in turn feel the same about them.

03

EMPOWERING

Championing makes possible the third key element of coaching leadership, which is empowerment.

 

We encourage our partner to focus on what they can achieve in their role, appreciating the authority and power of initiative they already possess as a leader.

04

CHALLENGING OURSELVES

These first three elements make possible the centrepiece of coaching pairs, which involves each of us challenging ourselves as leaders.  This requires us to be ready to share a tricky leadership issue that is causing us concern.  

 

If we want our coaching partner to feel they can do the same with us, one of the best ways of encouraging this is to practise it ourselves.  More about this on the next page!

05

QUESTIONING
& ENCOURAGEMENT

The role of our coaching partner in offering questioning and encouragement is crucial to helping us sustain our self-challenge.  Our partner help us avoid the temptation of becoming distracted by side issues, that can so easily happen when we're trying to engage with a behaviour of ours that is compromising our effectiveness as a leader.

These are such important moments, when we are trying to find the bravery to focus on a challenge that we have "danced around" for rather too long.  These are the times when we need someone who knows enough about the job that we do to ask the right sorts of questions, and believes enough in us as a leader to help us do the same!

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SHARING ACCOUNTABILITY
 for ourselves and the rest of the team

These five elements lead in to the final core element of coaching leadership: a genuine sense of shared accountability.

 

We each know that, as individuals, we will be held to account for how we handle the challenges facing us.  

 

We also know that we will be held to account AS A TEAM.  Every one of us shares responsibility for each other's successes and failures.

 

This helps us to leave behind the blame culture that exists in so many teams.

Creating your own "bubble" for reciprocal support, with no hierarchy

Coaching Pairs are intended to create more of a level playing field among members of the wider leadership team, minimising the ways in which hierarchy can stifle honest and open conversations. 

 

This is why it is fundamental to Coaching Pairs that in each pair we coach each other, irrespective of our particular position in the leadership team.

 

During our time as coaching partners, we are EQUALS in offering each other support and drawing on each other's wisdom and insights.​

In 2022/23 we tried out Coaching Pairs with one leadership team without making this explicit.  We were struck by how quickly everyone slipped into the habit of letting the conversation in their Coaching Pair reflect the organisation's hierarchy. 

 

So the most senior member of each pair took on the role of coach and their "junior" partner acted as their coachee.   

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This is why our advice is that​ from the outset, you should encourage everyone joining a Coaching Pair to see themselves as entering a hierarchy-free zone.

 

This helps to establish the principle that Coaching Pairs are designed to enable ALL OF US to grow as leaders through all that we can learn with the support of our peers.

 

 It is no accident that the very best teams are led by people who are only too happy to remind their team of how much they all depend upon each other for their success.

No need for experts
or 'gurus'!

When leaders work together in Coaching Pairs, they know that their coaching  relationship is genuinely two-way.
 
Neither of them are under pressure to claim to be an expert or some sort of guru figure.  

They're helping to create a culture of coaching leadership that should become self-sustaining over time, without having to pay for external coaches.

More and more of those teams that use external coaches are told that the costs are so high nowadays that anyone who's "doing fine" doesn't need coaching.

This rationing of external coaching support has resulted in many leaders being given the message that if you under-perform you might be given a coach, and if you're doing quite well you'll be left to get on with it.

Hardly the best way of  developing a high performance, high trust culture!

New feedback pairs for the Awayday

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We recommend that as part of your planning for the Awayday at the end of the 6-month cycle, leaders should be asked to nominate two colleagues in the wider leadership team - other than their coaching partner - who they would like to work with in a feedback pair.

 

The idea of asking for two names is simply to signal that you don't expect to be able to pair everyone up with their first preference. 

Early on in the Awayday, 45 minutes or so should be set aside for leaders to work in your new pairs.

 

In each pair, you take it in turns to share your key leadership take-aways from your time with your coaching partner.

 

We suggest that you concentrate on:
 

  • one or two aspects of your leadership where you now feel MORE CONFIDENT, and

 

  • one or two aspects of your leadership where you're still working to IMPROVE YOUR PERSONAL STYLE in some way. 


After your personal review, you each ask your feedback partner whether these outcomes ring the right bells with them.

 

  • Do they have any ADDITIONAL INSIGHTS that could support you in stepping forward more confidently as a leader?

 

It helps a lot if you can make a point of saying that you'll do all you can NOT to respond defensively to whatever they have to say.

 

After all, you nominated the person you're now asking to give you some honest feedback!

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Sharing key insights
and breakthroughs

Where team members share insights with each other in this sort of way, it's important for everyone to have the chance to hear some of the messages that others have taken away from this experience.

This is why we suggest that during the second part of the Awayday, the CEO should ask whether anyone would like to share one or two personal insights they have gained from the conversation they've just had.

Whenever a member of a leadership team shares a personal breakthrough in this sort of setting, this helps with  forging a stronger sense of oneness among the team. 
 
Once a few people have been brave enough to share a personal breakthrough, others should be ready to share some aspect of their own leadership challenges - if not this time, then at the Awayday after the next round of Coaching Pairs.  

On the next page we suggest how to make best use of your time in Coaching Pairs.  PLEASE make a point of skimming this  page before your first session with your new coaching partner.

You just need to send round a link!

We have written this page in the way we have done to make it possible for leadership teams to use it as your own personal resource. 

 

You literally just need to send a link to this page to everyone who will come within the scope of your new Coaching Pairs, and hopefully this will help with setting the context and explaining the process.

 

All we ask is that you let us have some feedback, please (Pete's email address is immediately below), so that we can learn from your experiences.

We will update this page regularly, in the light of different leadership teams’ experiences.

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