From big coaching set-back to huge business support insight

Choices in Business Support - coach, mentor, train, peer-suuportWhat started out as a big set-back for a business support project we are doing for a startup, ended in a huge insight into what makes such interventions work, or what makes them getting stuck. It lead me to find new value in facilitated peer support.

About three months ago, we started with business support project for a new startup client. During the initial period we got to know the people, explored their individual natural strengths and focused on what were needed for the sales drive as soon as the product was done.

I was tasked to work with the inventor and CEO of the business.

Now, from experience I know that my first choice in selecting an appropriate approach is between playing the role of (a) the supportive but inquisitive coach, or (b) the guiding but firm mentor… The choice being between offering (a) probing questions, leaving the client to create the picture; or (b) firmly drawing the outline of the picture for the client to choose the colour combinations.

I started out with a “coaching approach”, but in this instance, I realised the creative spirit of the inventor is running way ahead of the business needs. No new ideas are needed here. What is needed is to trade with the product that is already developed and to follow the approach best suited for this business. They needed to be selling so that they generate funds, while also learning about how the market responds to their product.

Mentoriship vs Coaching

The inventor was setting out to develop internal distribution and sales capacity – but he was doing it with a very inexperienced junior team. The signs were there, I thought this is not likely to deliver the results… I thought I needed to shift from being the supportive coach, to being the guiding mentor. And so I did by becoming more directional. My questions were interchanged for statements; supportive comments became definitive truths…

And this is where I made the mistake!

The client needed more directive support – offered through mentoring. But he was not ready to receive it. He needed a supportive space to explore – which is best offered by another approach.

At first I thought my mistake was that I should have stayed in the “exploratory” space, but I moved into the “directional” space. I thought I made the mistake of becoming a mentor, while I should have been a coach.

But is there perhaps another option I did not consider, which may have provided better results?

Facilitated Peer Support

Interestingly, this is not the only choice we have when selecting our interventions. We do not only have to choose between being more “supportive” or more “directive”. We also have the choice of working either with (a) individuals one-on-one or  (b) in a  group context.

In many instances the need to work with groups is dictated by the lack of budget for individual work. There is just not enough money to go all the way for working with each individual, therefore group work is chosen.

But what if we start thinking about this a bit differently? What if we consider group work as a better suited option too?

Group work should not be considered a necessity when it is impossible to afford the services of a good professional. It should be an option for the important reason that it offers a better solution.

This is where I gained my insight into better business support practice through the set-back of the business support project with the inventor. In his instance, I am sure, he would have responded very differently in a group.

In a group context the inventor may have allowed the learning process to evolve much further than what happened in the individual context – he bluntly decided that I’m “trying to take over his business” because I shifted my approach to more directional guidance. That was of course the reason for my intervention’s failure – he rejected the shift.

However, in a group context he would not have been so quick to say no and reject the help at hand.

Preference for group work

In  working with groups, those in charge of the intervention, also have the choice of being more “directional” or being more “exploratory”.

As a result we end up with a choice of four “types” of intervention:

  • Mentoring: collaboration is low (more individualistic) and where exploration is low too (more directional).
  • Coaching: collaboration remains low  (still more individualistic), but exploration increases (consequently being less directional).
  • Training: clearly training is a collaborative intervention (it is not aimed at individuals, but rather groups), and it is very much directional (content is offered).
  • Peer Support: this is an often neglected approach, where both “collaboration” and “exploration” are high.

Would shifting from “coaching” to “facilitated peer support”, rather than into “mentoring”, not have delivered very different results for the intervention with the innovator?

I think it would!

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