The other day I was asked to provide my thoughts on what makes the best coaching workshop or 1-2-1 sessions.  Interesting question, but one it didn’t take me too long to answer, as this is something I’m passionate about.  Coaching is successful when I can see those who are attending really getting to grips with the information and making what we’re learning real to them, and real in their working environment.  It’s about helping them to connect in their own minds the information we’re discussing with their jobs back at the office, and how they can integrate the two.

I’ve been very frustrated as a leader when I would see my management team coming back from a training course, all guns blazing, really enthusiastic about what they can do, only for day-to-day to take over and all the information and plans forgotten (usually within about 2 days!).

One company I know did try to include the categories of their leadership training course in the appraisal documents, to ensure that the tools did at least get spoken about again.  However, that was all that happened, as there was no call to action and no practice of the techniques encouraged.

You may have experienced training courses, conferences and presentations where you were dictated to, shown some graphs/tables etc, but it feels separate from you, not relevant or of interest. Asked afterwards what it was about, it’s difficult to recall.

Galileo Galilei quote:  “One cannot teach a man anything. One can only enable him to learn from within himself.”

Our brain is always looking for patterns and enjoys searching for those “a-ha” moments which occur when various ideas that were not linked before come together in the form of a new idea.  When coaching and training, this is what we’re looking to achieve for each of the individuals – their own “a-ha” moments, learning, linking and applying the information to their own experience.

However, once that is achieved, the idea, behaviour or habit needs to be hardwired in our brains.  We need to give it enough attention over enough time and embed it in our brain as long-term memory, otherwise it will be lost again.  Think about an idea you had, but you didn’t write it on a priority list, you didn’t discuss it, you didn’t action it.  Did you forget about it?  Almost certainly yes!

Through recent research in Neuroscience, coaching has been scientifically proven to reduce stress, which leads to more sophisticated thinking, emotional intelligence, empathy and creativity.  Coaching also helps create positive new neural pathways and build crucial connections, which are important for leaders to become more open to learning and obtain lasting change in behaviour and skills.

So, for coaching sessions to be successful in the long term, I would consider the following:

Learning:  How to help the attendees do the thinking on the subject, providing time to reflect, avoiding advise but asking questions about their thinking process, discussing options and solutions out loud.  Also, we need to take account of learning styles (visual, auditory and kinaesthetic), and opportunities for their real life application, rather than just theory.

Embedding:  One difficulty is remembering to remember about your new plan or action. This is why it makes a difference having someone to discuss it with, asking you questions about it, to create even more and stronger links.  Who can support and what format should that be in?

Timing:   Creating new ideas takes a lot of energy and focus, so it’s important to give the brain time to digest (think of information just like food, your body needs time before the next large meal).  Therefore, there should be a 30 minute break for every 1.5 hours of learning.

All types of learning and coaching benefit from this approach.  For instance, self-awareness programmes need to help the attendees to connect with the information, understand how to use it, what does knowing that about themselves actually mean, how can they decide to review it, what will they do to track their progress.

I’d be interested to hear your experience of learning something invaluable in a coaching environment?  What process did you go through, and how can that help you in the future?

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