Using Coaching to Build Learning within Organisations

We all learn differently

We all learn differently

Businesses now find themselves increasingly operating in an era of global, information technology driven markets.  The so-called knowledge economy where ‘most UK jobs will be professional, managerial or associate professional (nurses, technicians etc) and the most productive, fastest-growing sectors of all economies are knowledge-based.'

Success will depend on how efficiently and effectively organisations can apply new information to current systems and processes via its people. This is a dynamic and ongoing process with new information constantly being produced, meaning that learning needs to be continuous. 

Darwin is credited with saying “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” Great quote, but what does this mean in practice?

The subject of change and how we respond to it is fascinating and huge. There are countless articles, books and courses on change out there. Yet far too many organisations and managers seem to not have the right strategies in place to help guide their teams to navigate change positively. I’ve often posed the question - Why is this?

One of the conclusions I’ve come to is that businesses are too busy to really dig down and understand this, as they are caught up with the fall out of more change and its immediate impact on their business.

As with most things related to coaching and its practice I like to break the issue down and look at the constituent parts. The issue is how to ensure you have a learning organisation; one that can respond to the ongoing challenge of change. The following diagram is from Eric Parsloe and Monika Wray’s book on coaching and mentoring for improved learning [1].

Figure 1. A model of the learning organisation

Figure 1. A model of the learning organisation

They credit the model as being based on the work of Peter Senge and Graham Guest. Guest added the 3 dimensions of coaching, mentoring and benchmarking to Senge’s existing work on the learning organisation. My understanding has been that the other 5 elements can be split into individual, team and organisational.

Mental models and personal mastery are individual. The mental models element is an important reminder that all individuals will make sense of the world through their own mental models and based on assumptions and previous experience. These can be partly responsible for explaining why companies can end up with differing views to the same information. It should be noted that not all learning is positive and therefore mental models should be explored and challenged from time to time. Personal mastery is a commitment to and discipline that ensures that exploration of and clarification of a deep personal vision.

Team learning and building a shared vision are team focused. Team learning is recognising how to develop a team and the associated processes accompanying this. Building a shared vision is aiming to ensure that the vision is clearly understood across all mental models, is inspirational and bought into.

Lastly, systems thinking operates at an organisational level. This level of thinking is holistic and views deeper patterns and connections across a system (a set of interrelated or interacting elements) where the focus is on integrating information from different sources and different types.

Coaching and mentoring can help with individuals and teams to improve performance and manage change.  Sir John Whitmore’s definition of coaching might be useful as a reminder. Coaching is "Unlocking a person’s potential to maximize their own performance.  It is helping them to learn rather than teaching them." Whereas, mentoring is offering direct advice and training from your own experience of the subject. Benchmarking can involve bringing in some form of measurement and learning from another organisation or area of an existing business that helps to show the right standards and helps to adhere to them to deliver results (e.g. ISO9002). 

Learning is at its heart a personal journey with different styles. This model hopefully reminds people of the elements that are needed to be an effective learning organisation in today’s fast moving market environment.

If you’re not sure how coaching could help you or your team develop and apply better learning strategies then get in touch. It’s free to talk to me or my colleagues, and we love to help clients learn and apply or as we say to Know+Do.

[1] Parsloe, E., Wray, Monika. (2000). Coaching and Mentoring – practical methods to improve learning. Kogan Page.London.