Avatar photo

Pure or Broad, Specialist or Generalist?

Should coaches be pure or broader generalists when working as part of integrated organisational development processes?

Many coaching assignments are stand-alone activities focusing on an individual working with a specialist coach. However, consider a long-term leadership development programme, comprising a number of interventions, such as facilitated workshops, psychometrics, group projects and coaching. Should “generalists” be used to work across the whole programme, or pure specialists brought in for the various elements? There are implications of each of these approaches.    

For the pure coaching intervention, the coach obviously needs to be a highly skilled specialist. This would be a high quality personal development experience, but would it mean that there is an isolated view, is there the risk that the development may lack an understanding of the organisational context? If the viewpoint of the coachee is the only real reference point, then is there a risk of myopia? Contracting and stakeholder involvement would help reduce this risk.

However, does this still limit the connectivity of a programme as specialists enter and leave and boundaries are established with a stop start feel to the programme?

Generalist picture for Feb blogIf the coach is to work as part of a wider programme then they act as coach/facilitator, a more “generalist” role. They could be involved in overall design and facilitation of the whole programme, delivering workshops and coaching. In this role, the coach/facilitator is aware of the other elements of the programme, but there are additional benefits. In “Challenging Coaching” we talk about the importance of Systems Thinking, in terms of understanding the ‘system’ in which we operate, big or small, short or long term. The connectivity of the ‘system’ of the development programme is clearer as the coach/facilitator provides continuity. Also throughout the programme the coach/facilitator can gather ‘intelligence’, for example what does the nature of the programme say about the culture of the organisation, what does the interaction of delegates say about them as individuals, teams or the organisation as a whole? A coach/facilitator can gain a greater sense of understanding of the politics within an organisation and dynamics of the team. This information is incredibly valuable in understanding the organisational system and so adding value to the coaching and overall development programme.

The continuity of a coach/facilitator is also important and useful in another way. If the coach/facilitator observes something in workshop 1, they can discuss this in detail in coaching session 1. This may be something that a delegate has done or said that was particularly good or notable and connected to the objectives of the development programme. In addition, in a coaching session the coachee (delegate) may agree to take action, for example adopt a new style of interaction, then the coach/facilitator can observe the impact of this at the next workshop.

This does not mean that the pure specialist coach is not as good as a generalist when working on an integrated programme. What it means is that the specialist needs to work harder to understand the wider system in which they are operating. In addition, the coach/facilitator must have the skills to know when to stop facilitating and when to start coaching.

What are your views? Please visit our Linked In discussion group and let us know.