One technique to facilitate change discussed in my book, “Executive Coaching and the Process of Change,” is reflection. Here is an example to illustrate how reflection was used to help a coachee develop stronger teamwork in his department.
Bob was an aspiring executive in his family business. He was struggling to develop his department into a cohesive unit. His coach asked him to reflect on previous experiences with dysfunctional teams. At first, he could not recall a negative group experience. With some prompting from his coach, he related his experiences playing professional basketball in Europe. He had been a college star basketball player and spent two years in Europe playing professional basketball.
His experience in Europe left him discouraged about team play. His teams were dysfunctional and never jelled as a unit. The result was a poor record and a bad experience. When he described what happened, he related that the teams were made up of players from different countries, speaking different languages. The consequence of these heterogeneous groups was poor communication and every player independently working on his own agenda.
We talked about what could have helped the team, and he came up with several suggestions, such as more team meetings, interpreters to help overcome language barriers, stronger emphasis on team play, and better preparation for rival teams. All suggestions were aimed at investing time and energy into building a stronger team. Using these suggestions, he began to see how things may have been different if this approach had been applied to his basketball teams. His insight helped him to develop a new approach to his current work team. He agreed to make changes based on his reflections and ideas that could help develop teamwork in his department. At our next meeting, he articulated how he applied this new approach and the initial positive reception he received from team members. Several weeks later he reported a major breakthrough in aligning his team toward group goals.
The insights gained from reflection can be powerful. Through practice and continued reflection with a coach, newly learned behaviors can be established to replace old behaviors that were less effective. The coach and coachee need to continually monitor whether the new behavior is making a difference, and modifying the approach as needed. Recognizing and acknowledging progress is rewarding and will serve to reinforce change. This progress should be documented and kept on record to provide evidence of change.
In summary, reflection works in coaching by articulating the coachee’s experiences, both past and present. The coach will need to ask probing questions to help the coachee gain a deeper understanding of the experience. Creating new approaches to the reflected experiences will help the coachee to conceptually apply new behaviors to the reflected experience. Finally, applying the new behaviors to new situations, along with continued feedback about its effectiveness, will increase the likelihood that the change will be reinforced and sustained.