Henry Mintzberg is Canada’s most celebrated management thinker. He and colleagues have recently developed a method to help organizations become a community of collaborative leader-managers.
“Organizations are communities of people, not collections of ‘human resources’,” Mintzberg contends, “and community is built through an engaged management that cares, not heroic management that cures.” Leaders versus managers is a false dichotomy, he advises. “Who wants to work for a manager who does not lead, or follow a leader who can’t manage? Organizations work best when they are communities of committed people who work in cooperative relationships, under conditions of trust and respect.”
CoachingOurselves was conceived by Phil LeNir, a manager who couldn’t afford high-priced consulting help, but had Mintzberg as a stepfather. Together they designed a process where management teams work through key issues, using a guided conversation that draws on the participants’ strengths, experiences, and knowledge of their organization.
Here’s how it works. The management team takes responsibility for developing themselves as managers and improving the organization’s performance. They set aside 90 minutes and work through an issue together. The process is one of grounded reflection leading to insight, which leads to collective action.
Mintzberg shared some examples. “In Zimbabwe, one of the issues addressed was time management, the length of time spent in meetings. The whole team opened up to the fact there were too many hours spent in unproductive meetings. In Brazil, a new CEO began sharing his reflections in the second CoachingOurselves session, this dramatically decreased the time needed to build cohesion with the team. They then tackled the production process, reducing it by a third.”
“Groups tend to do one or two a month,” Mintzberg advises. “They get better at it as they go along, complaints are drawn off early in the process, and there is a natural progress, with people sharing stories of how they have applied what was learned and agreed on. Most managers these days live a boot camp like existence; what they need is to pause, step back, and reflect thoughtfully on their own experience. Success stories are useful.”
Creating thinking points
Alberta Health Services has been using the process for a year. AHS wants to become the best health care service in Canada. Formed in April 2009, it is still digesting the amalgamation of 13 regional services into a province-wide $9 billion, 117,000 staff organization providing hospital, ambulance, clinic, lab and research services to 3.7 million Albertans. Acting CEO Chris Eagles was originally a doubter, but has now embraced the process: “It has given us a common language of management. It is a structured conversation but does not impose a structure. It draws out our experience, relates to our felt needs. We’ve received good feedback on its use, and it is helping us plan our future agenda. Assumptions are disclosed, and we learn about each other’s personal journeys.”
Eagles ponders: “You wonder, how can something this simple work? But it creates thinking points. The first session can be awkward, but by the second we focused on the change agenda, building new teams, gaining a better appreciation of the leadership issues and organizational structure needs. The process promotes better leadership through engagement; it gives the opportunity to express common concerns.”
Executive vice president Mike Conroy describes the impact: “At the outset, bringing together 13 different entities required that programs be established to support the development of our staff and leaders. The CEO did not want to wait until all organization-wide programs could be put in place; he wanted to expedite support for leadership and team development. The advantage of using CoachingOurselves is we could easily deploy it throughout the organization and teams could choose modules based on their self-assessed development needs. A Silos and Slabs exercise was used organization-wide, and that helped us realize the importance of collaboration across the organization. We subsequently mapped the other modules to our new leadership competencies. People are now engaged around self-assessment and improvement linked to those competencies.”
What Conroy likes about the process is: “first, the modules are easy to deploy, and because of their thoroughness and quality, don’t need significant infrastructure to support implementation; second, they are aligned with our competencies; and third, they are high quality, written by leading experts on the topic.”
The concept is disarmingly simple. Managers naturally meet to discuss issues of concern. They always have. They always will. Guided conversations help them be more productive in those sessions – making it into both an ideagora and an action forum.
Paul Crookall is a management consultant and executive coach (firstname.lastname@example.org).
For more on CoachingOurselves see www.CoachingOurselves.com
Coaching Others, one example of the 50 topics, has a quick overview of coaching that is a distillation by one of the top experts in the field. Team members are asked to consider what makes a coach effective. They then share those observations and compare them to the features of a good coach as described by the expert. Next is an exercise: in pairs they interview the other person about one of the best (or worst) coaching experiences, then reverse roles before returning to the larger group to describe their partner’s experience using the first person voice, as if they were the interviewee.
The group then discusses what they’ve learned about coaching in their organization and what it takes to be an effective coach. They ask: “Who might I help through coaching, and how?” and “How can we coach each other in this group to be better managers?” The “wrap up” discusses the process.
Five managerial mindsets are helpful in the process: the reflective mindset (managing yourself); the analytic mindset (managing your organization); the worldly mindset (managing in your context); the collaborative mindset (managing relationships); and the action mindset (managing change).
Development is best when there is both a coaching impact (the learner becomes the teacher back on the job) and an action impact (the learner implements change).