Snapping point

  A recently appointed sales manager at a big financial institution, found herself unable to make sales calls for fear of failure. As a result, she was in danger of having the lowest performance in her team. Coaching was suggested to help her overcome it. Sarah has just moved to a new role running a corporate sales team for one of the large banks. This was an exciting opportunity for her to develop her career and she was looking forward to the challenge of running a new team. Yet, she still had to make sales calls. This was not something […]

Right on time

Right on time

Diana Hogbin-Mills is instilling a coaching culture at Network Rail that is collaborative, challenging, accountable and customer-driven. Her aim is to have everyone capable of being coach-like; her goal to make the railway operator safer and more inclusive

Changing the culture in an organisation as large as Network Rail, which employs 34,000, is no mean feat. But it is one Diana Hogbin-Mills is helping to achieve.

The head of talent and executive development, who joined in February 2012, is playing a key role in bringing about a gradual shift from the traditional male-dominated, more directive culture, to one in which employees are becoming ‘coach-like’.

Of course, whenever the organisation gets it wrong, the press is quick to pounce. It was recently splashed across the headlines after being fined for failing to meet punctuality targets. But it has shown itself willing to address its mistakes.

Network Rail also hit the headlines in July when the Transport Salaried Staffs Association launched an equal pay claim, the largest in its history. The claim involves 30 women, but could cover 3,000 if the case is won, according to the union.

Whatever the outcome, Hogbin-Mills stresses that diversity is higher than ever on the agenda, and that now is a really good time for women to join the organisation, especially those interested in engineering and technology.

She acknowledges that Network Rail may not immediately come to mind when thinking about companies contributing to the UK’s economy.

Fear factor

Team coaching is “not for the faint-hearted”, says Declan Woods in the first of this three-part Team Coaching Special Report. Anxiety stifles effectiveness and can start in the team itself or even the team’s coach. Part 1: How do we turn an anxious moment into a positive performance?

Most of us spend significant amounts of time at work in teams. It is received wisdom that teams should function effectively. Often, however, they do not. A key reason is the presence of unbridled anxiety. Teams are increasingly calling on coaches to help them become more effective. But what if the team coach is having an anxious moment?

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is our response to an actual or perceived danger. When faced with the reality of having to present to a large audience, for example, most of us would be anxious. The ‘threat’ is external (to us) and tangible. This is object anxiety. Neurotic anxiety, though, is internal – within our psyche – and, although out of sight, the physiological effect on us can be the same as in object anxiety.

Anxiety might start with one person in a team (or with the team coach) and can easily spread to others through, what Hirschorn (1990) calls an “anxiety chain”.

In this way, anxiety can become pervasive, which can prohibit a team from achieving its aim or tasks.

So far, anxiety has been presented in a far from fetching light. While it can lead to serious, stress-related health consequences if unchecked, the energy of early anxiety can also be channelled to good effect. It is also an invaluable data point. Looking for cues and signals of its presence can generate valuable insights for a team. So, anxiety can be very useful.

Although I used the word “anxiety”, of the coaches we interviewed* all bar one replaced it with the word “fear”, suggesting a more extreme form of anxiety was being experienced by the team coaches. So what caused this among highly experienced coaches?

Why team coaches?

While the coaches were typically unclear about the precise source or trigger for their fear, most associated it with performance anxiety. Common phrases were: “…Will I deliver or won’t I deliver what I set out to do?” or “Can I cope with this or am I out of my depth?”

Bitter sweet

Team Coaching Special Report Part 2: Jenny Campbell shares lessons learnt during a team coaching assignment that she came to regard as a ‘poisoned chalice’   It should have been a really superb piece of work: contracted for 10 days of team coaching to help the board of a large public sector organisation reshape its strategy and structure to better face the challenges ahead. I was excited and expecting an excellent piece of work. In the end, it was good for the client, but it wasn’t great. In other words, it was good, but it wasn’t consistently experienced as good, […]

The extra mile

  Team Coaching Special Report Part 3: Linda Feerick and Liz Gooster explain how tough, physical activity can help teams shift their performance to a higher level – and why it all starts with trust and vulnerability   Trust is often cited as a key requirement for high performance. Mature teams certainly work hard to eradicate any vulnerability. Yet its very presence can raise performance. Teams may rediscover such ‘vulnerability-based trust’ (Lencioni, 2002) by taking on a shared new experience, such as an outdoor activity. It increases self-awareness and generates insights about self, one another and the team as a […]

inside out, outside in: five years on

  Five years ago, Sara Hope swapped her role as internal coach at KPMG for the life of an independent coach, while Louise Buckle stepped into Sara’s shoes after six years of successful independent practice. Here they share their insights and experiences of how the market has shifted in that time, how coaching in organisations is adapting to the contextual changes in the workplace, and the new questions we need to explore in the profession   Louise’s story Being inside   At the Coaching at Work conference last year, I drew attention to the paradox that those who were there […]

Mentor with care

  Flexible, simple and individually led: these are the hallmarks of learning disability charity Mencap’s mentoring scheme. Head of learning and development, Alton Hobbs, talks to Liz Hall Mencap’s mentoring scheme is one of the largest for an organisation the size of the charity, which employs around 8,500 staff and some 800 volunteers, most of whom work to support people with a learning disability to live their everyday lives. The mentoring initiative, now in its third year, forms a key part of the organisation’s top talent programme, designed to help staff fulfil their potential and reach their aspirations. It has […]

At My Best® strengths cards

Coaching at Work road-tests:At My Best® strengths cards Get better soon 1 The tool What is it? The At My Best® strengths cards consist of 48 individual cards with a photograph on one side and a single-word strength on the other (eg, Insightful, Curious, Spontaneous, Calm). Each pack comes with a small introductory booklet and access to a range of online example exercises.   How does it work? The cards are designed to promote reflection and discussion around what your clients do best. They can help to do that in variety of ways – the instructions emphasise that there is no […]

HOW TO…  use polarities

  By Bridget Farrands   Complex and ambiguous situations indicate that polarities are present – and that the coach will need to take many viewpoints into account. Conventional problem solving won’t work. By managing polarities well, the coach can get the best from a situation that has no right or wrong answer   What is a polarity? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the state of having two opposite or contradictory tendencies, opinions or aspects”. Problems that ask for ‘both–and’ solutions, where an issue can’t easily or quickly be reduced to one clear outcome, are usually a sign that […]

Book review 2

Title: Towards Sustainable Decision-making in Politics: Coaching for Politicians Author Elke Esders Publisher CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform ISBN 978 14960 3397 0 Usefulness  3.5   Translated from its original German, Esders locates her work with Members of the European Parliament, in a practical guide for those taking up positions as MEPs, and coaches bringing their skills to the political field.  Working through a typical term of office, she describes issues of relocating, appointing staff, defining a political portfolio, building supportive networks, maintaining political integrity, and seeking further office. Esders offers activities, questions and tips for negotiating the political landscape, and […]