Coach or Crash – Developing the Right Culture

Coach or Crash – Developing the Right Culture

From listening to the brilliant Sarah Urquhart I’ve been left with several questions around the place of coaching and the training of coaches within organisations. Firstly… what is culture?

Sarah makes excellent arguments for developing a ‘coach state’ as oppose to a ‘crash state’. These states were represented in the two diagrams below. Looking at them it becomes instantly obvious which type of culture we should want/aspire to. If we all have clarity around the objectives of our team/department and are committed to the agreed outcomes and trust each other’s competency and integrity… coaching will flourish as a way of working, reflecting and continuing to grow.


coaching illustration


These ideas and philosophies help us to develop more of a coaching culture.

This does perhaps assume all parties have been trained about coaching and have experienced it in a truly empowering way.

In contrast, we could perhaps be in a ‘crash state’, this can be described in this way.


coaching illustration


These ideas become a lot more powerful when you start to explore the reality around a working environment where the communication we have with others, is purely transnational and we have a lack of trust etc. So, this is common sense, we want a coaching culture and we certainly do not want a ‘crash state’. But my questions are, how do we know which direction we are heading in?  How secure can a culture be? What small things would need to happen to subtly change the priorities of the leaders within the organisation. How can news and events from those within the organisation and from external sources deviate what were once ‘clear objectives’?

What Direction are we heading in?

If the way we interact and strategically use our time together reflect our culture, then it seems to me that these would be the product of evolving traditions. If traditionally someone always brings in a box of biscuits for the SLT meeting, we may get used to a friendly informal feeling in these meetings. On the other hand, if a business agenda with pre-reading was emailed out before each SLT meeting, the time spent together would have a very different feel.

When a senior leader regularly asks team members to break into pairs and discuss an idea before feeding back key points, we become used to a collaborative working environment/culture. If a leader’s default position is to share information by talking through a slide show with little room for discussion and minimal Q&A at the end for clarity, we become used to a more ‘top-down’ approach.

To comment on any of these practices/behaviours requires care and consideration if they are to get an individual or group to consider the cultural affect they are having. Remarking in the middle of a meeting that ‘Having these biscuits is making us lose focus and less efficient’ might alienate the person making the comment. What if the majority of the team love the informal chance to catch up and speak freely about the ‘state of the nation’. Conversely, pointing out to the leader of an organisation ‘When you send the business agenda, it doesn’t really make us feel empowered’ might simply irritate the leader, who has spent a great deal of time considering the progress made in relation to important targets.

In a business/organisation goals and priorities arguably need to be flexible and evolving, in addition there are so many variables, staffing, budgets, disasters, results, promotion, politics etc. Changes in any of these areas will potentially alter the focus and tone of the interactions within departments/amongst individuals and as whole teams. The information shared with stake holders will also reflect the current culture in terms of the focus and tone.

Detecting Culture

Is it possible to monitor these subtle implicit things that, when added up, create our culture? How disciplined must one be to detach from the highly engaging content of a situation to examine and explore the processes that are at play? I was told recently that Ofsted occasionally go into corridors and measure the volume in decibels. Apparently, they are not concerned with the content of the conversations but one determining factor in the ‘feel of a school’ is the volume in corridors at break times.

I would like to stress I do not know if this is true or not, but it does perhaps help us to consider what skills and processes we need to sharpen if monitoring/maintaining or growing a culture is high on the agenda.

On one hand, capturing data about noise levels and (lets extend the analogy) the average speed that colleagues achieve whilst moving through the building, the amount of eye contact the average member of staff receives on an average day etc. This might all seem very technical, soulless and pedantic. But, with a less cynical approach I might consider that at least its objective. Are we to trust the boss’s intuition to measure the environment and culture?

If we are saying that it can’t be physically measured because its too connected with the way it makes us feel, how can we be objective about that?

If we were to wave the proverbial magic wand and you had all sorts of advanced recording equipment at your disposal, what would you want to measure in your department/organisation?

And to throw another spanner in to the works… think about a complicated organisation like a large secondary school. Is the culture the same in each department? Do the office staff have their own subculture? Do the science technicians have behavioural traditions that vary from those within the music department? What does celebration look like in the PE Department office?

The sit-com ‘The IT Crowd’ was basically designed around the premise that sub-cultures within an organisation can vary incredibly. So, would one set of measures work universally if we wanted to monitor and grow a coaching culture?

I wonder if we truly notice the culture we are in, or if we only notice changes in culture. It does beg the question, ‘What habits have I/we fallen into that have affected the culture in a positive or negative way?’

Moving Forward

So, what to do? If moving towards a ‘Coach State’ is something we want, the first step is explore ‘What’ that really means and why it is important to us. Then, when the vision is clear, we can begin to model the behaviours, processes and practices that we want to see in others.

For example, greater professional ‘Trust’ might be something we want to promote. Why? Perhaps we have seen what micromanaging can do to competent, experienced colleagues. So what do we mean by trust? We may interpret this as increased freedom to investigate and experiment with something that is tried and tested.

This is one way that trust might be defined in an organisation, there are of course multiple ways this can be interpreted, but I think the process is the same, what do we think it means ‘here’, why is it important, and how can we model it.

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Posted by Chris McGeehan

I completed a degree in education in 2002. My first year in the classroom was such a learning curve! My partner (now wife) and I moved in together exactly half way from where we grew up, Coventry. We were up in Lancashire or down in Kent whenever possible really and I felt that supply teaching would be a good way to start my career. In that year I worked in all sorts of schools around Birmingham and Coventry before settling in one school. For the next ten years I took on more responsibilities whilst continuing to develop my classroom practice. In 2012 I moved out of the classroom and into adult learning, writing and running programmes for teachers and leaders in schools, these were all based around a coaching ethos and most of my work became coaching groups, teams, individuals and training others to coach. I have had the privilege of working all over the UK as well as the opportunity to facilitate learning in Dubai, Cyprus, El Salvador and China over the last few years. Most of my hobbies are around keeping fit, I've completed three marathons, a few triathlons and even a strongman competition once (I came 4th). My son enjoys basketball and cycling so it's great we can do those together.