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Finding the Coaching Rhythm is Key

Karin Wilms Nov 3, 2021

EthicalCoach at DEC

The coaching journey was set in a challenging context of a global pandemic coupled with political unrest. The DEC team faced many challenges in this period, yet stayed committed to the coaching. Berhanu Demissie, Executive Director of DEC, reflected that he and his team were able to unlock the potential in themselves, and that this ability is trickling down into the organization, reaching the communities DEC is serving.

The Coaching Journey 

It was a bumpy journey, set in the context of a global pandemic with lock-down measures and political unrest with a two weeks long internet black-out, directly affecting the framework in which the team coaching would take place. Berhanu Demissie, DEC’s Executive Director, adds that in the beginning the EthicalCoach co-coaches and the DEC team “were in a different boat of expectations. Some were in a training boat, others in a coaching boat”. Through contracting, and re-contracting at different levels, the coaching team of Pete Williams and Pretty Mehta, and the DEC team managed to better understand each other, and moved forward to having coaching conversations with, where it was appropriate to serve the needs of the team, some training components. 

To reach this level of understanding, Berhanu shares: “We were able to see the potential in ourselves and in our coaches. There was an interest to support each other.” Pete Williams explains that “this process took time and was complicated by the lock-down hindering face-to-face meetings-, and the internet shut-down slowing down the coaching traction.” Nevertheless the co-coaches were able to create the space to find solutions to overcome these challenges, and the DEC team articulated their need for face-to-face coaching and wish to express themselves in their own language, Amharic. 

A Shift Takes Place

Once they shifted from virtual to in-person coaching, all members of the DEC leadership team wanted to participate more and share what was emerging for them. Having one coach present in the room with the team (Pretty) enabled higher levels of commitment and focus. Berhanu emphasizes that speaking Amharic and having face-to-face conversations created more understanding and gave the team more time and freedom to express themselves and share their experiences. Pretty says “the team was letting us into their stories on how they function as a team. They seemed comfortable speaking about their learning journey, showing humility and vulnerability.” She sees the team connect on a different level and enjoys the natural flow of discussion. “By being able to freely express themselves in Amharic, they were able to show who they were”. It led to a few “good bonding sessions”, as she calls them, “there was no pausing because of the internet, no turning off the camera. The relationship between all involved was different, and so was the conversation.” 

The Fruits of Coaching

This shift was a tipping point for the co-coaches and the DEC team to get in a constructive coaching rhythm, resulting in tangible impact on the team and the organization as a whole. The first thing Berhanu noticed is the fact that the communication style changed. “We are more appreciative, we call each other more often, and we share more information. As a Management team, we now also have a Telegram group.” He also sees how he and his team are more supportive to one and other. Berhanu explains that “previously, if someone in our organization was not able to deliver, I would do it myself.” The same held true for the other managers: all had a tendency to fix things rather than support others to do what needs doing. “But,” he continues, “now we try to find the potential in other members and we encourage team members to deliver. Through the coaching we created a more supportive environment. We delegate tasks and follow-up.” He then laughs and says “we got energy from the coaching, and we are ready to transmit what we learned!” 

This trickle-down effect has indeed been visible in different departments, showing a level of ownership of the coaching process. Berhanu ends by saying “when we work with the communities we serve, we also look at ways to unlock their potential. This way, we will have a positive impact on their lives.”

Key Learnings

  • Contracting, and re-contracting at different levels is important for coaches and the team to keep understanding each other; 
  • It is essential to find out what is needed to make the team feel safe, for them to be able to express themselves fully (e.g. language, digital/live meetings);
  • Depending on the context and needs of the team at any given time, the coaches could flex between coaching and training as appropriate to reinforce the team’s learning;
  • The coaching had a natural rhythm to it, to which the coaches became attuned as the programme progressed;
  • (Team) coaching can be a bumpy journey: coaches and teams should not be discouraged by this! It’s part of the coaching process and these ‘critical moments’ can lead to higher levels of connection and impact.

By being able to freely express themselves Amharic, the DEC team was able to show who they are.

Pretty Mheta

Karin Wilms, Consultant Organizational Development, Interim Manager and Coach. Karin Wilms holds two masters degrees and has over 12 years of work experience in international cooperation. She has worked for multiple NGOs around the world and has lived in Africa for over 10 years. Currently Karin is working as an independent consultant in the field of organizational development, interim management, and coaching. Her clients consist of embassies, companies, and non-profit organizations. She received her coaching accreditation through the European Mentoring and Coaching Council (EMCC) and finds joy in working with individuals and teams through life and leadership coaching.