Running a coaching network – Coffee with Lauren McWilliams

29 August 2018
Lauren McWilliams

by Lauren McWilliams

Former Events and Projects Officer at the CHS Alliance

Lauren McWilliams joined the CHS Alliance in July 2016 as the Alliance’s Events and Projects Officer responsible for managing the coaching component of the Start Network’s Talent Development Project. After the project came to an end in December 2017, she transferred to the Membership Team providing support to members and working with organisations that are interested in improving the quality of their work and their accountability by joining the CHS Alliance. Lauren who has been an invaluable member of our team, will be leaving us at the end of August to further deepen her knowledge of and support in-country development projects in Tanzania with Raleigh International Trust. We caught up with her over a coffee to hear about her experience of managing a coaching network.

Tell us about the coaching network that the CHS Alliance ran last year as part of the Start Network’s Talent Development Project.

This was a cross-cutting strand across three international capacity building programmes; the Humanitarian Trainee Scheme led by Save the Children, the Context Management and Leadership Programme led by Oxfam, and the Leadership for Humanitarians delivered by Relief International. The CHS Alliance recruited and trained 75 national staff in Kenya, Ethiopia, Jordan, Bangladesh and DRC as coaches and recruited an additional 40 coaches who were already qualified. In total, these 115 coaches delivered coaching sessions to 416 programme participants between 2015 and 2017.

What advice would you give to someone who is running or coordinating a coaching programme?

Running a coaching network was truly a unique learning opportunity not just for me but for the whole humanitarian sector as well. I can summarise the most important learnings and recommendations in eight points:

  • Participants should be carefully selected and once recruited they need to understand what coaching entails. Based on evidence from the Talent Development Project, mid-level and senior-level participants benefitted more from coaching than entry-level trainees. Coaching encourages participants to draw on their own experiences to make improvements and shift their mind-sets. We found that the entry-level humanitarians usually had less experience to draw from and would maybe have benefitted more from a mentoring approach.
  • Manage expectations of the coaches and participants so that everyone is aware of what they are expected to put in and gain from the sessions. This needs to be continuous and not just at the start of the programme.
  • Offer coaching to participants in their own languages. On the programme, this allowed participants who were not so confident or able to express themselves in English to build a stronger relationship with their coach.
  • Full management support will mean that the in-house coach or the coachee is allowed to treat coaching as an integrated part of their work rather than an ‘extra’.
  • Allow for an introductory session so that subsequent sessions can focus on the coaching. Often the first sessions were spent on introductions and building rapport.
  • Develop a feedback mechanism for coaches.  Coaches requested individual feedback and this is important for coaches to improve on specific areas.
  • A coaching database included a profile on each coach to assist programme managers do their matching. However, the quality and quantity of the information on our coaches varied greatly. This could make it hard during the matching process. Develop a template which coaches can fill in and provide relevant and useful information.
  • Don’t underestimate the resources required to keep a coaching programme going. Coaching was compulsory for all programme participants, however, not all participants were interested in receiving coaching sessions for various reasons. As a result, we had to allocate a lot of time and resources to continuous follow up to ensure that sessions were completed.

For a full review of the operating model that was used for coaching on the Start Network’s Talent Development Project including a list of recommendations, you can access the operating model review on our here.

What support did you offer to coaches?

New coaches received a two-day coaching induction delivered by professional coaching consultants, a coaching toolkit, and three ‘coaching the coach’ sessions over the course of their first year. Following feedback, we organised a series of webinars to further develop skills, improve technique and enable them to have a space to discuss their coaching practice with each other. Each in-house coach was provided with day-to-day support via email or Skype.

The experienced coaches required less training and a different kind of support. We provided an orientation webinar and also organised a series of webinars so that they could discuss challenges and best practices and use these as an opportunity to connect with each other.

What did the coaches say about the programme?

Overall the coaches were happy and said that it had been a valuable opportunity and a skill that they would continue to use in their own workplace with their teams and peers. Some said that they would have liked to have more practical help to develop their coaching expertise; that they would have liked more practical tools such as reading materials, additional training courses and tools to help with the planning and time management of sessions. They also suggested more networking opportunities

How does this fit into commitment 8?

Commitment 8 of the CHS says that staff should be supported to do their job effectively and be treated fairly and equitably. The coaching programme had a dual mandate in developing the capacity of programme participants as well as some of the coaches who were national staff members.

Participants reported enhanced performance in the workplace through the application of new skills and knowledge as well as associated workplace improvements.

Participants on the Senior Leadership Project indicated that coaching, along with the other training they received as part of the programme, had enabled them to develop their knowledge and skills such as prioritising and managing critical situations, time-management, delegating work, working collaboratively, and coaching team members. This reportedly resulted in workplace improvements such as adopting a priority time matrix and using coaching in their teams to increase effectiveness and impact of their work.

Others also indicated that coaching had enabled them to develop their humanitarian competencies and enhanced their skills and knowledge regarding decision making, stress management, accountability, effective use of resources, stakeholder relationships, and leadership. This meant that they were able to better develop accountability frameworks, internal and external communications guides, standard operating procedures, work towards the 9 commitments of the CHS, and apply coaching skills to the workplace.

The coaches reported that they frequently applied their coaching skills to their normal workplace environment and that they would continue to coach in their own organisations once the Talent Development Project ended. In addition, many said that they would try to introduce a coaching programme in their own organisation and seek opportunities to coach in other organisations.

Lauren, good luck in Tanzania, and don’t forget to take with you a few copies of the CHS booklet to spread the word!