Coaching Circles

Written by Vernon Cheung

May 17, 2017

Research shows that Coaching Circles are regarded as one of the best ways to develop people and build strong, resilient organisations.

Coaching Circles is a modality that involve groups of managers working together to coach and dialogue in a supportive environment as each in turn raise a challenge that they are struggling with in the workplace.

A step up from action learning?

Action learning has been recognised since the 1950s as one of the most powerful, action-oriented problem solving tools available to organisations. Michael Marquart, one of the leading theorists in the field, says that it is the “primary methodology utilised by companies around the world for developing leaders, building teams and improving corporate capabilities”.

Action learning almost always involves small groups of people solving real organisational problems in real time. The key to its success lies in the fact that it creates safe spaces, which allow people to participate and ask questions.

Coaching Circles do this and more. As with action learning, Coaching Circles involve small groups of people, who share a project or an activity, and meet regularly to work on problems.

Three flies with one stone

Unlike action learning, which has problem solving as its prime goal, Coaching Circles have a triple focus:

  • solving problems
  • empowering individual members of the team
  • teaching and embedding coaching skills in the organisation during the process
How do Coaching Circles work?

Under the watchful eye of a skilled professional coach trained in this methodology, participants in the circle will raise a topic and others will ask insightful questions designed to shed new light on the issue and help their colleague arrive at their own solution. The questions are also designed to reveal limiting beliefs and assumptions that could be blocking their colleague from solving the problem.

Coaching Circles, like action learning, create a haven for real-time problem solving and learning, whether personal or professional, by allowing participants to reflect on their behaviour and receive immediate feedback.

The benefits of Coaching Circles

A study that was done by an MBA graduate, Nadia Barsch, reveals that:

  • 90% of participants felt that the Coaching Circles offered the ideal space to make mistakes and be corrected in a safe environment
  • 100% of participants thought that it enabled them to develop a sense of camaraderie and teamwork
  • 100% felt they developed more self-awareness along with better listening skills and skills to ask the right questions of others
  • How does this translate into organisational benefits?

    The answer is simple: Expanded networks and greater tolerance across the organisation leads to better teamwork, communication and problem solving.

    Coaching as a business tool

    When making coaching an integral part of a business strategy, there are three keys to success. Firstly, cycles of action – processes of action, reflection, and learning that focus on reality – have to become embedded in the coaching programme. Secondly, there has to be constancy between observance of behaviour and real-time feedback. Thirdly, the capacity to ask in-depth questions has to be nurtured to improve an individual’s understanding of their true circumstances – professional or personal.

    Coaching is a powerful tool for unlocking talent and is a core skill to have internally. Developing in-house coaching expertise – rather than buying in external coaching – saves money, whilst boosting in-house human resource capabilities.

    As the demands on top talent increase, so too does the need for effective talent management interventions. Coaching Circles, which synthesise two already proven techniques – action learning and integral coaching – appear to allow organisations to tap into the best of both worlds and develop individuals while building more resilient organisations.

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