I have recently experienced some of the gifts offered to coaches worldwide to enable them to develop their discipline. These include practitioner research, international conferences, and research grants. My first column for the year discusses the importance of these gifts and how we can make good use of them.
Practitioner Research and Reflective Practice
What do we really know about how coaching works, exactly how well it works, and when it works best? In essence, not much. Our “knowledge” is based mainly on what coaches say they do, or on what they think makes sense-rather than on observation of what they really do, or on research into coaching outcomes experienced by individuals, teams, and organizations. As a coaching practitioner, it is essential to continually research your own practice, ultimately developing your own professional competence through reflective practice.
David Peterson (2009) suggests simple ways to do this. For example, try different techniques in your coaching, i.e., with alternate clients do a background interview that is only one third of your normal interview; see what happens and take notes on what you observe. Secondly, you can generate a list of experimental ideas for your coaching from reading about new techniques, new types of questions, or new processes. Try one new thing every coaching session and record your findings. Thirdly, you can ask your coaching participants what was the most effective thing you (as coach) did in the session, and why was it helpful.
Also ask what was the least effective thing, and why was it not helpful? Record your feedback, looking for patterns, and substitute new processes for the least effective things. Think about participating in coaching research studies, or finding clients from your own practice to participate in such studies. Most importantly, think critically about and read current coaching research, trying to incorporate findings into your own practice.
The general characteristics of practitioner research are that (Fillery-Travis, 2009):
- The research questions, aims, and outcomes are determined by the practitioners themselves;
- The research is usually designed to have an immediate and direct benefit or impact;
- The focus is on the practitioner’s own practice and/or that of their immediate peers;
- The research or enquiry is small scale and short term;
- The process may be evaluative, descriptive, developmental, or analytical.
Coaching in Medicine and Leadership
In late September 2009, I attended and spoke at the second International Harvard Coaching Conference on Coaching in Medicine and Leadership. Coaching has emerged as a competency dedicated to helping individuals grow, develop, and meet personal and professional goals while at the same time building personal and professional capacity and resilience. Although every year coaches are servicing a US$1.5 billion market, the most developed market segment is leadership coaching in organizations-less than 20 percent of professional coaches are from the mental health or medical fields. The Harvard conference was therefore a groundbreaking event, with lectures and workshops by world leaders in coaching and coaching research. There were three tracks: Overcoming the Immunity to Change; Coaching in Leadership-Theory and Practice; and Coaching in Health Care-Research and Application.
ICRF2 London: Measuring Results
In November I participated in the second International Coaching Research Forum (ICRF2) held in London, sponsored by the IES (UK Institute for Employment Studies) and the International Coaching Research Forum (ICRF). ICRF2: Measure for Measure looked specifically at how to design coaching measures and instruments, with the ultimate aim of discovering what makes coaching effective. Researchers from around the world met to discuss three major topic groups: process measures, outcome measures for executive/leadership coaching, and outcome measures for health, wellness, and life coaching. The format for each discussion was:
- Discussion of what inputs should be measured;
- Identification of aspects of the coaching process to be measured
- Identification of outcomes to measure, based on coaching purpose;
- Specific suggestions on how best to measure areas of greatest interest.
Critical issues in measurement and methodology were discussed, the biggest concerns relating to:
- How do we evaluate instruments and measures? What are the important considerations, such as reliability, validity (quantitative research), and trustworthiness (qualitative research)?
- How can we incorporate measures into our research? What are the issues and considerations in research design and methodology for incorporating measures and interpreting results?
- What qualitative research issues have arisen in recent coaching research?
- What are some of the most compelling coaching topics and challenges and how can they be measured?
A final report will be made available on the websites of both the International Coaching Research Forum and COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa) early next year. All of the group forums were recorded, and key points from each discussion will be included in the final report.
GCC Rainbow Convention-Cape Town 2010
These recent conferences have implications for all coaches worldwide, and particularly for the work being carried out by the Global Coaching Community (GCC), an international dialogue aimed at furthering the development of coaching. The GCC’s last convention took place in Ireland in July 2008 and produced the momentous Dublin Declaration on Coaching. The declaration was supported by recommendations from the GCC’s ten working groups, and has been endorsed by organizations and individuals representing over 15,000 coaches around the world.
It is now South Africa’s turn to host this pivotal event and help take the dialogue forward, and so the GCC Rainbow Convention will be held in Cape Town during 10-16 October 2010. The convention will showcase the results of pioneering practitioner research being undertaken by “pods” of coaches around South Africa. It will also continue the development work undertaken by the GCC’s ten working groups, as well as host specialist workshops on aspects of coaching practice.
Grants from the Institute of Coaching
Another boost to the professional development of coaching practitioners is an endowment of US$2,000,000 from the Harnisch Foundation to the Institute of Coaching based at Harvard Medical School/McLean Hospital. The Institute is able to translate this generous endowment into grants totaling US$100,000 per year to fund rigorous research into coaching, thereby helping develop the scientific foundation and professional knowledge base of the field.
The Institute offers four types of grant, with deadlines for applications on the first day of February, May, August, and November each year:
- Graduate student fellowships of up to US$10,000 for high-quality research projects. To qualify, applicants must be Masters or Doctoral candidates looking for financial support for dissertation research on coaching.
- Research project grants of up to US$40,000 annually for individuals who would like to conduct empirical research in coaching.
- Research publication grants of up to US$5,000 to assist with the writing, editing, and publication of coaching research in peer-reviewed journals.
- Travel awards to cover travel expenses related to presenting coaching research at the annual Harvard Coaching Conference.
Please visit http://www.instituteofcoaching.org/ to learn more about the Institute’s various grants, membership programs, current research, and publications and for information on the recent Harvard Conference. As a Founding Fellow of the Institute of Coaching and a member of its Research Advisory Board, I am keen that all practitioner researchers in coaching are aware of these research grants. It is crucial that we begin to build the body of knowledge on what is working and what still needs work within the discipline of business coaching worldwide.
How Can You Play a Part in the Development of the Field?
Our goal in developing reflective research and enquiry is to make a substantial contribution to the emerging practice of coaching worldwide (Stout Rostron, 2009). Your gift to our emerging discipline is to play a practical part. For example, you can:
- Participate in WABC activities to develop the field;
- Offer to participate in coaching research studies (see box below);
- Continue to develop your own reflective practice;
- Write up your own cases studies for coaching journals;
- Apply for a research grant for one of your studies through the Institute of Coaching;
- Attend conferences and stay abreast of current research practice;
- Find out how you can participate in the GCC Rainbow Convention in South Africa in October 2010.
Systemic Team Coaching Research Survey
Professor Peter Hawkins, creator of the Seven-Eyed Supervision Model1and founder of the UK Bath Consultancy Group, is currently writing a new book on Systemic Team Coaching to be published by Kogan Page in 2010. He would like this book to best represent what is known and practiced in the field of team coaching. He is asking thought leaders, leading researchers, and senior team coaches to contribute from their experience. All contributions will be fully acknowledged and you will be referenced. Everyone who fills in the questionnaire will also be invited to the book launch in the UK in autumn 2010. Key questions are as follows:
- What is the most common difficulty you have noticed in teams being effective?
- What is the best way you have found to address this difficulty?
- If you were responsible for teaching a new cadre of team coaches in just three months and were restricted to teaching them only five things, what would they be?
- How do you define team coaching?
- What three issues or questions do you think most need addressing in the field?
Please email responses to: Professor Peter Hawkins or send to Barrow Castle, Rush Hill, Bath, UK BA2 2QR.
This article first appeared in Business Coaching Worldwide (Feburary Issue 2010, Volume 6, Issue 1).
Fillery-Travis, A. (2009). Practitioner Research Workshop, GCC Rainbow Convention, notes.
Peterson, D. (In press). “Executive Coaching: A Critical Review and Recommendation for Advancing the Practice.” In Handbook of Industrial and Organizational Psychology, edited by S. Zedeck. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association.
Stout Rostron, S. (2009). Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching. Johannesburg: Knowledge Resources. Available from http://www.kr.co.za/.
Wilkins, N. (2009). “Countdown to the GCC Rainbow Convention!” COMENSAnews, November. Available from http://www.comensa.org.za/.
1Hawkins, P. and Shohet, R. (2007) Supervision in the Helping Professions. United Kingdom: Open University Press.
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA
Dr. Sunny Stout Rostron, DProf, MA is an executive coach and consultant with a wide range of experience in leadership and management development, business strategy and executive coaching. The author of six books, including Business Coaching Wisdom and Practice: Unlocking the Secrets of Business Coaching (2009), Sunny is Director of the Manthano Institute of Learning (Pty) Ltd and founding president of COMENSA (Coaches and Mentors of South Africa).