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Business, Future Edition, Specialty COACHING AS A MINDSET HACK


By: Phillip Crockford •  2 years ago •  

At VTeaming, we have been pushing the boundaries of coaching. We coach leaders to cultivate a growth mindset by developing dispositions: essential soft skills for learning, leadership and teaming. Drawing on the work of thought leaders like Amy Edmondson, Fernando Flores, Robert Dunham, Reg Revans, Sylvan Tomkins, Daniel Kahneman and many others, we coach small teams as they work to accomplish assignments inside the immersive simulation environments offered by MMOs (massively multiplayer online games).

As a complement to executive coaching, regular workshop-style and online blended learning, this deeply experiential approach provides the high level of immersive engagement and psychological safety needed for the skilful coach to prompt the coachee to observe emotions and learn in action with others – from both success and failure.

Accelerating Change: The context for the future of coaching

Coaching is an idea whose time has come, principally because it is such a powerful and adaptable approach for coping effectively with change in any field of endeavour.

Change has always been part of the landscape of life, but now human activity is actually accelerating the pace of change.

In every area of life, old ways of living and working are going away as new ones emerge with increasing rapidity.

In the space of two or three generations, we humans have become so numerous and so energy-intensive that climate change is attributed to our collective activity and even the ecosystem services that support us are compromised.

Other unknowns are in the mix: gene technology, mass extinction, AI and machine learning, social media manipulation.

Entirely new phenomena like these make our future even more ambiguous and uncertain.

Communications technologies and digital transformation amplify and accelerate: global economic activity has increased seven-fold in the last fifty years.

The hyper connectivity of communication technology is accelerating the swirling currents of social change in ways that many of us have difficulty coping with.

Coaching is a key for developing dispositions

To thrive and flourish in this volatile, complex world, people need to develop their human skills, soft skills: the skills for learning and relationship.

There are many frameworks for soft skills, for example the “Four Cs”: critical thinking, communication, collaboration and creativity.

The common thread is that they expand self-awareness and they engage our mindset, our emotions and our abilities for learning, for working with others and for learning while working with others.

In these conditions, coaching comes into its own because expanded self-awareness is at the heart of effective coaching.

It is also essential to the development of “soft skills” or dispositions.

Dispositions go deeper than absorbing information and technical know-how. They involve our mindset; our moods and emotions, our attitudes.

This makes the coach approach ideal.

Shifting the mindset requires transformational learning

We don’t develop dispositions in the same way as we acquire technical skills. They must be learned experientially, in action, engaging the body and the emotions.

You can’t learn to ride a bicycle from a video. You have to ride the bicycle. Same for the dispositions that we need for learning and working together effectively. They need to be developed through experience and practice.

It’s the nature of transformational learning: unlike informational learning, it can’t be tested in exams and quizzes and essays. For our dispositions, the test of learning is doing.

The game environment can provide safe experiential learning conditions for coaching and cultivating dispositions.

For six years we have been researching the optimal combination of factors for developing dispositional skills that are valued in the global teams.

For adult learners, they fall into two groups, essentials and accelerators:


‣ Recurrent practice

‣ Reflective practice

‣ Motivation

‣ Psychological safety Accelerators

‣ Coaching

‣ Somatic and mindfulness practice

‣ Formative assessment

‣ Coactive vicarious learning

‣ Transfer of learning

‣ Action learning

‣ Behavioural feedback technology

This is not mere gamification.

We are skilfully and selectively using the psychological safety and immersive engagement of the MMO environment to give our customers a powerful opportunity to build selfawareness.

Specifically, awareness of how they show up in action with others in the domain of complex knowledge work, whether it be software development and IT, financial services, energy and infrastructure, or clinical care.

The name of the game is coordinating commitments and learning with others.

What about the coaching itself?

Setting the foundation, co-creating the relationship, communicating effectively, facilitating learning and results, all while in a virtual immersive simulation, presents a unique challenge for a coach.

Although most of our coaches have a coaching qualification, they need additional training to be effective in this environment.

We build on the ICF core competencies framework and cultivate additional know-how in the ontological (second-order learning) approach, as well as a practical formative assessment framework.

Additionally, coaching a group is substantively different from coaching individuals.

The coaches learn to leverage what Christopher Myers calls co-active vicarious learning to multiply the benefits of learning together.

Coaches need not be gamers, but they do need reasonable competency in the game environment and they need to be comfortable with the other technologies we use.

We begin to train coaches experientially, where they learn to refine their coaching sensibilities for the MMO environment.

Initially, they work on letting go of preconceived models and ideas from coach school and instead learn to develop the same dispositions, skills and sensibilities that we are developing in our customers.

Fortunately, the way the program is designed, they are able to get a great deal of coaching observation and practice in a short period of time, as much or more than the best face-to-face coach training programs.

The learning model we employ calls on the coaches’ skills for co-designing accountable actions, and then holding participants accountable for putting their learning into real-world practice. The weekly rhythm of the program involves bringing real-world experimentation and outcomes to the table with the team.

Yes, but does it work?

For our full programs, we see significant overall improvement in pre and post assessments of team learning and social intelligence measures.

We are now using technology to measure “speaking up” and do sentiment analysis and so far, the results seem promising, both in terms of improvement and as a formative assessment approach for adult learners.

But for our team, the best outcomes are in the stories we hear from our customers, who like this work because the effort they put in gets them producing outcomes quickly.

Examples we hear about regularly include: resolving issues with stakeholders, reducing process cycle time (devops), making meetings shorter and more satisfying, using influencing skills to manage upwards, strengthening learning practices to accelerate technical skills development in previously lagging team members, making escalations more productive, improved velocity (software), resolving, conflicts with “difficult people”, building confidence and autonomy in reports, driving stalled initiatives… anecdotally, it’s a long list.

Who is best fit?

It’s early days, but we see this as a scalable and highly effective approach for globally distributed teams in many sectors. In our individual customer base, we are attracting a mix of high potentials with 5-8 years’ experience and senior managers with 15-20 years who are ready to level up their leadership.

Because their function is viewed as a cost, it’s often challenging for HR partners and managers to innovate outside the boundaries of the established one-to-one coaching and informational learning variants like workshops, LMSs, blended learning, micro-learning.

Tech companies are early adopters: they are less afraid of relatively untried approaches and they know that a soft skills advantage can really accelerate innovation and execution.

Clinical personnel use simulations extensively in their technical training and early indications are that they are amenable to this approach. Financial services and professional services are other sectors characterised by accelerating change, digitization, lots of remote workers, and diffuse networks of value creation.

Down the track, we see strong opportunities in higher education to improve job readiness and are keen to collaborate with other providers as we further develop the platform.

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