coaching with IDF

It’s now end of Day 3 and I am exhausted.  It’s the good kind of exhaustion – the one that comes from having put a lot of work into something and then seeing it spring to life. The last 3 days, I have been a volunteer trainer for Coaching the Global Village and delivered an intensive and experiential learning workshop for Integrated Development Foundation(IDF), a Bamenda-based NGO.  All in all, I think it went quite well… but I would venture to guess, as with most things, that not all of the learning was done by the participants!

Caroline in action

Over a year ago – just a couple months after arriving in Cameroon – I made the connection with Coaching the Global Village.  I had originally hoped to partner with them to offer coaching training with my first partner organization in the Far North.  When that didn’t pan out, my very good friend Catherine suggested her partner organization.  And what a coup this was:  IDF was not only thirsty for coaching knowledge, but had been looking for ways to bring more leadership, empowerment and “real” participatory approached to what they do.

For the last few months, I have been pouring over the tools and methodologies that Coaching the Global Village uses in various places around the world to prepare for the delivery of the workshop.  I fretted over how to adapt to the Cameroonian context, and I worried about how I could best share my knowledge and passion of coaching for development to a diversified group of participants.

In the end of course, the participants and I just had to jump in and trust the process.  And I am glad we did. IDF’s coordinator had to miss the first day of training to attend a seminar held by one of their funder organizations.  So to make up for it, we started working together one-on-one a couple of days before.  Her enthusiasm was contagious and her desire to learn evident.  And the time with her got my brain in the right setting.

By Friday morning, the butterflies in my stomach were still having a grand old time, but that didn’t last too long.  Within an hour or so, I got in the zone and started to speak from the heart about what coaching is and what it requires.

The 6 participants were attentive, motivated and didn’t back away from trying any of the crazy activities I proposed. The mindful meditation exercise was admittedly strange and unusual.  Then the paper tearing activity – eyes closed and no questions allowed – was decidedly far fetched but instructive and amusing. But real coaching happens when we get to the heart of the matter – and in this case, the hearts of people and communities in which we seek to build leadership and empowerment.

Participant explaining his tree - roots to branches

To be fair, it’s rather unusual in Cameroonian culture to talk about one’s aspirations – the kind that make you not only dream up a grand future for yourself, but also express this in visual form!  But nevertheless, when one wants to learn how to coach for leadership and development, it can’t be helped.  One of the exercises had the participants draw a tree that represented them:  their roots were values, the trunk their strength, the branches their goals and the ground the nutrients that supports the tree.  To all of our great amusement, we realized that it was easier to think of nutrients as manure (having one farmer in our midst), and so,  somehow… I ended up being someone’s manure!!!  Great vote of confidence for me even if a little strange…

We progressed through the tools in the “Creative Leadership Conversations” models provided by Coaching the Global Village.  We worked on trust and relationship building, purposeful listening, the art of inquiry, goal setting and the importance of personal accountability. It was in the section on giving feedback that cultural differences came into play the most.  While the participants had been working quite well, and tried very hard to apply the coaching skills they were learning, giving feedback became a true experiential learning moment. At the start of the session, I asked people how comfortable they were giving feedback.  Everyone indicated that they thought it was OK.  I had expected that.

After I presented them with some coaching tools in this area that would help build trust and lessen defensiveness in the face of hearing difficult feedback in the person we are coaching, we did a role-play to practice.  The first role-play had one person telling another that “their children are drinking and cavorting in the village and what are they going to do about it?”  (Ouch – too big of a subject to be a good example of giving individual feedback).  The second role-play was a report on “the unfortunate demise of an HIV client that didn’t take good enough care of themselves”.  (Oh-ho – who’s the feedback for?  The person who died?  Opps)  It took the third try for the concept to finally make it home:  feedback in coaching is holding the mirror up to the person we are coaching to give them an opportunity to learn or to grow. With a lot of exercises and even more practice coaching each other, all of the participants made huge strides.

With each recap of what we had worked on and each debrief of our experiences, the participants started used magic words:  “the coach isn’t there to lead but to steer”, “the coach isn’t giving knowledge, but helps the coachee find it for themselves”, and “coaching is a tool for empowerment”.

Teamwork towards a successful future

Music to my ears.  And the fact that they were saying it so freely and naturally told me I was getting through – even if it wasn’t always on the first try! Twice participants showed me that they weren’t just regurgitating what I had been repeating again and again over the 2 ½ days.

One participant, a former community volunteer who is now on staff, told me that he could see how what we have done in the workshop could really be useful in assisting a family member.  “He’s lost and unhappy because he doesn’t have a direction.  He does things, but he can’t see the purpose, so he feels bad.  With the coaching exercises we did, he could see his destination and would be happier”.

Professionally, however, I got a big boost when one of the board members told me that he had done coaching training previously, but that he had not been able to put it into practice.  That training had been for 3 hours a day, every week day for a month, yet hadn’t caught on.  “What we had done over these 2 ½ days”, he said, “makes so much more sense.  I can do this better now.  I understand much more”.

Showing off their certificates - a happy day!

Not to be entirely egocentric, but a big pat on the back for me and for the tools from Coaching the Global Village. This workshop was a lot of hard work and a huge test of my skills in coaching and even more in facilitating the sharing of coaching.  However, whenever one is able to share something that brings them joy… well… then I guess I have done my part in coaching a little corner of the global village towards a better future!


Post script:  the above post was written before I even looked at the evaluations – just in case any self-delusion is required!


~ by Caroline Spira on May 30, 2011.

2 Responses to “coaching with IDF”

  1. Thanks for sharing Caroline. I am impressed by how much time you spent preparing for the Coaching workshop! I took CCL’s Coaching Essentials workshop last year where we were introduced an early version Coaching Conversations model.

    I noted that you talked about trust. I would be curious how you approached that as an activity or exercise and what worked in your local context.

    Continued good luck!


    • Hi Kathy!
      Short answer on trust – not enough. But we’ll continue to work on that in the next few months. I plan two more follow-ups with the group: the first for one-on-one coaching with each participant at their work sites, and the other for a recap/enhance session in a few months where we can strengthen their understanding and skills. Some concepts were just too foreign to be immediately absorbed, others have to be experienced first before they can become honed. To be realistic, if they only walk away now using only 20% of what we worked on, and then we reinforce with another 10% through the follow-up, we’ll still be in the major league best batting averages!!!
      I didn’t take CCL’s workshop and worked only from the model itself, with some of the tools being new to me as well. Also, I found that even the ones I did know needed adapting to the context and the levels of education of the participants plus a healthy dose of adaptation to my style of delivery. Not having the visible gray hairs to deliver certain messages, I had to come up with ways to instill enough confidence and/or curiosity in the participants so they would go along with it… just long enough until it became clear and could be understood. With only evenings and weekends for this work (still have a volunteer placement to deal with!!!), and the lack of abundance in the intercultural coaching department… I am still thankful that the time it took to get ready also helped me grow a little…

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