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1 June 2020


It's background and value today

In my April blog, I looked at the key coaching skill of Listening and this month I am looking at another key coaching skill, which is Facilitation. 

Good facilitation skills in coaching are key as the coach’s role is not to advise the client, as may happen in mentoring or consulting, but to facilitate him or her to identify their coaching objectives, to explore them, understand what is possible and identify how they will go about achieving their goals. The responsibility for this sits with the client, as the coach facilitates the process of the client developing their awareness of the key challenge and their appetite for resolving it.

The thinking behind the use of facilitation in coaching was in part influenced by a change in sports coaching in the 1970s, as captured in a book by Timothy Gallwey (pictured), called The Inner Game

Gallwey, a tennis coach, was moving away from the classic 'tell them how to do it' style of coaching to a new style that asked the tennis student to think about what was holding them back from being better. In his book, Gallwey states that “The opponent inside one’s head is more formidable than the one on the other side of the net”. 

Gallwey describes in The Inner Game how he came about this approach:

“As a young man on sabbatical, I spent a summer as a tennis coach. At the outset of one particular tennis lesson, I decided to delay teaching only to find that the student increased his rate and enjoyment of learning much faster than he had when I was actively teaching him. Feeling a bit threatened that I wouldn’t get due credit, I stopped and realized I was more committed to teaching than to the student learning. I decided to reverse my priorities.

“Where does learning happen, and what’s going on inside the head of the student while the ball is approaching?” It was obvious. My should and shouldn’t teaching instructions were creating self-doubt, self-criticism, too much effort, and overly tight strokes.

When I replaced the traditional control mechanism of should and shouldn’t with invitations to try heightened awareness and relaxed concentration, the student learned naturally by using what felt good and what worked. This is how we all learned as children to crawl, walk, and run. In the use of simple awareness, three things reliably increased: rate of learning, enjoyment of play, and the student’s confidence that they could learn from experience.”

In his book, Gallwey refers to the “opponent inside one’s head” as Self 1 or the inner critic; the tension, fear or self-doubt that can prevent an athlete’s latent potential, Self 2, from being realised.

He also shares an equation: Performance = Potential (Self 2) – Interference (Self 1). 

Gallwey's role as a coach was to facilitate his clients to identify their interference (inner critic), verbalise and question it and, in doing so, to release their full potential to improve individual performance.

This facilitator approach became popular in sports coaching and was recognised by the business world as it then crossed over into business coaching. 

When I coach a client today I am consciously facilitating them in the process of developing their awareness of what they want to achieve, how they are going to do this and what is holding them back. Modern business coaching is developing to focus on more than just how clients might be holding themselves back, but also on the system in which they operate and the blockers and support that they need to be aware of to be successful. 

The process of facilitation is underpinned by the active listening skill that I discussed in April, in that I need to be listening intently to the client (managing my own Self 1, inner critic, so that it doesn’t distract me) so I can support him or her through their thinking with appropriate and timely questioning.

It is not uncommon for us to lose track of where we started as our thinking kicks into gear and it is the coach’s role to maintain that thread and be able to guide the client along, refocusing as they go.

A well-facilitated coaching session with an engaged client will fly by and be a pleasure to be part of, for both parties, as the client gets into their stride thinking through their challenge, supported and facilitated by their coach.

I hope this has given you some insight into the importance of facilitation in coaching and in understanding how it can help a client to better understand their challenge, and in doing so to develop greater responsibility for resolving it. 

If you have any questions on this blog post or any other element of coaching, please get in touch.

From the author:

As coaching is not an advice-giving service, these blogs are not written with the intention of proposing solutions to common leadership challenges. Instead, they are thought pieces with the aim of prompting the reader to think more deeply about the topic and reflect on whether it warrants further exploration, with or without a coach.

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