The Three Zones of Caring
The Continuum of Caring
"Coaching is not so much a methodology as it is a relationship - a particular kind of relationship. Yes, there are skills to learn and a wide variety of tools available, but the real art of effective coaching comes from the coach's ability to work within the context of relationship."
The Lean Coach should be clear about his or her zone of caring. Is the focus on individual development, the development of teams, or on changing the architecture of the organization - the systems and structure? They are all important. But the assignment must be clear.
There are numerous ways to describe the continuum of relationships between coach and client: from short-term to long-term, from focused on today's problems to developing strategic systems and culture. For the sake of simplicity, I will divide this continuum into three zones: Blue, Green and Red Zones of Caring.
Although you may be operating predominantly in one of these zones along the continuum, you will find that they often overlap. They are also additive, not mutually exclusive. If you are a highly skilled coach operating in the Red Zone, you may also function in the Blue and Green Zones in response to the needs of the client.
Why Caring Matters
If you are a coach, who or what you care about is central to your ability to affect change. Those who are trained in counseling or coaching understand that the relationship between the coach and client is based on trust, and trust is established by demonstrating caring or empathy for the client. The degree to which I feel that you care about me and my success will determine the degree to which I am likely to share my own concerns and follow your advice. If the focus of the coach is outside of the client, on the needs of someone else, there is little reason to expect the client to accept responsibility for self-reflection or change.
Relationships are highly intuitive and they are based on far more than the simple words spoken or questions asked. Clients have an intuitive sense of the motivation of the coach. A coach without self-awareness of his or her own motivations is not likely to build a trusting relationship with the client.
1. The Blue Zone: Individual Habits
Some coaching focuses entirely on habits that impact the performance of the organization. While developing these habits may contribute to performance, there are many other drivers of the culture not addressed by this method. Some coaching in this zone is driven by the needs of the organization and not the needs of the individual.
There are a couple obvious limitations to Blue Zone coaching. First, it demonstrates a superficial caring for the individual client. It is not about the person, but about habits of improving performance. The focus is on the "object" of performance, not the complexity of the person or of the organization’s culture. There is a top down assumption that the challenge is set at a higher level of management, assuring that it is not the client’s needs but the needs of the organization that are being addressed. By definition then, it is not about what is important to the client, but what is important to someone else. The focus is also on improving short-term performance and not the nature of the organization's structures, systems, and capabilities that will ultimately determine long-term performance.
2. The Green Zone: Teams and Processes
Every family therapist has experienced Mom or Dad bringing Johnny to therapy because there is something “wrong” with him. Johnny is misbehaving, he is broken, please fix him! It doesn't take long for the therapist to discover that Johnny's behavior is perfectly rational given the system in which he lives. We all adapt to the system in which we live, and a crazy system produces crazy behavior as viewed by an outsider. You can't fix Johnny without fixing the family system, the behavior of Mom and Dad.
Organizations are like family systems. It is the first learning organization, the group of people on whom we depend the most and who depend on us. It is the group to which we belong, the team, whether the senior management team or the front line team doing the value-adding work. The functioning of this team is the key to the functioning of the entire organization. You can't improve the performance of the organization without improving the behavior and norms of the natural work teams and leadership teams.
There is some confusion about the nature of work teams. While there has been a lot written about self-managed, or self-directed teams, having implemented team systems and trained teams for many years, I can definitely say that there is no such thing as a totally self-directed or self-managing team. The senior management team is directed by the owners of the organization, and every team below receives direction, and operates within boundaries determined at the level above. However, teams may still be empowered and self-directed within those boundaries. The nature of self-dire