Archive | August, 2013

Team coaching: what’s the point?

27 Aug

Coaching one-to-one is a very powerful way to help someone reflect upon issues that affect their performance and well-being. But just focusing on the individual and what is going on for them internally, is only part of the picture. All really effective coaching addresses not only the individual, but the systems, of which they are a part. Sustainable individual change can often only be achieved, if the systems around them also change to support and reinforce new behaviours, priorities and ways of thinking.

Research shows that individual performance is far more dependent on the team environment than had previously been thought. Moreover, high individual performance by one or more people in a team doesn’t necessarily lead to high performance overall – indeed, sometimes the opposite may be the case.

Team coaching has emerged in recent decades as a practical way to apply the principles of coaching to the team as a whole. It enables the team to:

  • Develop a climate of psychological safety, conducive to collective learning. Team members learn to have open dialogue, to share concerns and fears and to work with constructive, empathetic challenge. As a result they build deeper levels of trust and higher quality of collaboration.
  • Gain greater clarity, coherence and consistency around priorities – what’s most important for the team to achieve collectively. One of the signs that a team is successful in this is that individuals routinely put the team priorities ahead of their own personal task priorities.
  • Better understand the processes that underlie how the team works, and identify ways to improve these. Team coaching helps the team question and validate its own assumptions, with the result that radically new ways of working frequently emerge
  • Manage all three types of conflict (task, process and relationship) constructively – so that conflict becomes a driver of performance, rather than a barrier.
  • Understand and value the contribution each member can make at their best, and how to support each other in creating circumstances, where they can play to their strengths
  • Explore the team culture and help it evolve in line with changing environment, while still enabling everyone to retain their personal authenticity
  • Increase the level of creativity and innovation
  • Manage its reputation within and outside the organization
  • Improve the effectiveness of communication, both between team members and with external stakeholders
  • Have a stronger sense of shared purpose
  • Become more resilient to setbacks
  • Adjust its temporal orientation (achieving a better balance between attention to the past, present, near future and long-term future

Because everyone in the team learns and reflects together, teams that embrace team coaching tend to demonstrate more focused, collective energy. As they learn together – and support each other’s learning – they can use real work issues to put the learning into practice, so embedding new skills. Typically, co-coaching becomes a routine activity.

Team coaching isn’t always transformational. Nor is it the answer for all team performance issues – if the team is actually just a bunch of people who work together, but have no desire for collective improvement, then the impact may be very limited. Equally, if the team leader does not accept that change involves him or her as well, team coaching isn’t necessarily a practical approach.

Where team coaching does frequently deliver the goods is when:

  • A new team is being formed and needs to hit the ground running
  • A key team is not working as effectively as it could, and the team leader and team members agree that they want to do better
  • A long-established team has lost its sparkle and wants to regain it
  • A top team wants to become a role model for the rest of the organisation

What team coaching can do in all these cases is to re-energise, refocus and create collective habits of success.


© David Clutterbuck 2013






Why mentoring is increasingly replacing coaching

27 Aug

Mentoring as been around, in one form or another, for 2,500 years or more. Coaching, the new kid on the block, has a history of at most a couple of hundred years. Yet, while mentoring in the past three decades has had great impact on social development, it is coaching that has captured the headlines in the worlds of business, employment and personal transformation.

Now, however, there are signs that the balance is adjusting. To a limited extent, coaching is finding wider application in social change – for example, in supporting people from disadvantaged groups in developing communication skills and performing well in job interviews. But it is in mentoring that the most significant expansion is happening. Indeed, in some countries we now see the partial replacement of some executive coaching by executive mentoring.

This phenomenon is driven by both supply and demand factors. On the supply side, executives at or near retirement, who have interest and skills in people development, increasingly see mentoring as an alternative (to non-executive directorships) way of continuing to use their skills and knowledge.

Coaching does not appeal to these individuals for a number of reasons. In particular:

  • The industry is mostly populated by people with little experience of enterprise leadership. Former leaders want to be valued for their experience
  • In spite of the creditable efforts of coaching’s professional bodies to establish standards, the coaching industry encompasses many “fringe” practices, with which leaders generally prefer not to be associated.
  • Many coaching practitioners tend to belong either to the “hard”, results driven school or the “soft and fluffy” school and these two schools have tended to drive the general reputation of coaching. Mentoring occupies a middle ground, more acceptable to pragmatic leaders.
  • Coaching has in some aspects been heavily oversold. For example, the oft-repeated nostrum that a good coach can coach anyone in anything is both dangerous and unethical – the coach has to know enough of the client context to frame insightful questions and ensure client safety.
  • Effective leaders tend to look for results over the medium term and take this perspective into their mentoring; most executive coaching focuses on short- term objectives — often driven by a requirement from sponsors for specific, time-bound outcomes.
  • For many people, their experience of coaching has been that it is primarily remedial.  While this can be highly rewarding work for a coach (from both satisfaction and monetary perspectives), leaders tend to be more motivated by helping others realize their potential. While, of course, this can be part of coaching, its association with mentoring is much more tangible.

On the demand side, most of the same issues are relevant.

  • At the most senior levels, clients increasingly want someone, who knows what it feels like to be in a leadership role. They want someone with relevant practical experience, which can be used in co-thinking about issues. In extreme situations, they may also want direct advice, although effective mentors will typically want to be very sure that the mentee has exhausted their own fund of knowledge and insight before they venture into advice-giving.
  • Buyers of coaching are becoming increasingly more aware of the importance of evidence-based approaches – they are looking for “simple but effective”. Mentoring as a process is much easier to understand and less easy to screw up than coaching!
  • The middle ground between hard and soft approaches is also preferable to more informed buyers of coaching and can be argued to be more representative of the genuine mainstream of coaching as well.
  • Mentoring has gained in credibility precisely because it has not been oversold. Indeed, it could be argued that it has been undersold. Mentoring’s impact on retention of talent, for example, is higher than for any other people management intervention.
  • Corporate buyers are increasingly cautious of “short-term-fixes”. So the longer-term perspective of mentoring provides a useful antidote. There are, however, downsides to the long-term perspective – not least that it’s harder to measure the impact of mentoring (both because results take longer to achieve and because the changes may be less susceptible to quantitative evaluation)

Other issues contributing to the changing balance between coaching and mentoring are:

  • Greater attention to career self-management by both organizations and individuals. The quality and scope of people’s networks is increasingly important in both leader effectiveness and proactive career management. Mentors provide both access to new networks and guidance in how to build and nurture networks.
  • The need for “sounding boards” to help executives and managers think through complex strategic decisions. Mentors can test the mentee’s logic and challenge them by offering different perspectives, rooted in the mentor’s own experience and observations.
  • The moral crisis in business has given rise to a new phenomenon – ethical mentoring. Ethical mentors help mentees to recognise when and how ethical dilemmas arise (build their ethical awareness) and to think through how to deal with specific ethical issues. Could a coach achieve the same? Probably, with appropriate training. The association with mentoring rather than coaching appears to stem from a difference in “brand” – whereas coaching tends to be associated with solving problems, mentoring is more readily associated with developing wisdom.

As the European Mentoring and Coaching Council has discovered, when it comes down to defining the differences between coaching and mentoring, there are in reality few things that stand out as solely the territory of one or the other. The skills sets are very similar, as are the kind of issues that mentors and coaches address. The shift of emphasis reflected here is therefore not earth-shattering – it is simply a rebalancing between two equally powerful, equally valuable and overlapping approaches to supporting people in their development.


© David Clutterbuck 2013

Where next with research in mentoring?

27 Aug

It would be easy to conclude, from the vast numbers of research papers and studies on mentoring, that the field is pretty well covered. In practice, that’s far from the truth. It’s noticeable, for example, that there are far more quantitative studies than qualitative. (The opposite is the case for the parallel field of coaching.) There is hardly any that combines quantitative and qualitative methods. Moreover, mentoring isn’t a single, readily classifiable phenomenon or set of activities. When Kathy Kram did her first, small sample study 30 years ago, she looked at a specific aspect of mentoring (informal, unsupported) in a specific culture (the USA). But the kaleidoscope of mentoring is constantly changing. Across the world, the word mentoring has many meanings, most if not all valid within their context.

A truism often forgotten by academics is that the intent of research is not just about their achieving tenure; it is about establishing knowledge that will have practical application. For a long time, the reputation of academic research was not helped by the divergence between the conclusions of academic papers and practitioner experience in the field, with regard to the relative merits of formal versus informal mentoring. This divergence was at least partially the result of failings in the structure and definition of much of the research, by both academics and practitioners – in particular, simplistic assumptions about what success looks like, and for whom, how many frogs a mentee seeking an informal mentoring relationship has to kiss before they find a prince, and what are the differences between formal and informal arrangements.

Several years ago, I proposed five tests for mentoring research, based on the analyses I had had to make in my own studies.  The descriptions below are taken from my article in the International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching (2003).

  1. Definition Is it clear what kind of relationship is being measured? Some research mixes participants in structured programmes with those in informal relationships and some even with relationships, where one party does not realise they are part of a mentoring duo. Some papers mix in-line relationships with off-line (leaving aside the argument as to whether it is possible to be a mentor in a boss-subordinate relationship).


There are, of course, dozens of definitions of mentoring, yet many studies fail to be precise about which definition they are following. Many, mainly US-originated definitions, emphasises sponsorship and hands-on help by the mentor; others, mostly European and Australian in origin, see such behaviours as unacceptable within the mentor role. Unless it is clear, which model is being followed in a particular piece of research, it is often impossible to draw conclusions with confidence, or to make comparisons with other studies. Meta-studies and literature reviews may compound the problem, because they tend to begin from the (false) assumption that everyone is measuring the same phenomenon.

The issue is made even more complex by the recognition by some researchers in the area that multiple, simultaneous mentoring relationships are also a common factor. Clearly, the dynamics of one relationship within a web of others may be different from those of a single, intensive mentoring dyad.

To increase the validity of research in mentoring, it is necessary in my view to provide a precise definition of exactly what kind of relationship is being measured and to ensure that all the samples lie within that definition. Some research has attempted to get round this problem by asking people about broad helping relationships, but then the data is too general to apply meaningfully to specific types of mentoring relationship. Recognising that mentoring is a class of phenomena and that each phenomenon needs to be investigated in its own right, would be a major step forward in research quality in this field. (An interesting analogy is in the field of medical research, specifically into the origins of autism. Almost no progress towards an understanding of this condition had been made until recently, when researchers began to recognise it as a number of related and interacting sub-conditions.)


  1. Context A wide variety of contextual actors can affect the relationship and the scheme. At a minimum, these will impact upon the intent (their own or that of third parties, such as the organisation) mentor and mentee bring to the relationship.

Other contextual variables include the level of training participants receive, the way in which they are matched (with or without an element of choice) and whether the relationship is supported as it develops (for example, by additional sources of learning and/or advice). Other contextual factors might include differences in race, age or gender.

Trying to account for all the contextual variables that might apply, especially when a research sample is drawn from many organisations or schemes would be very difficult to do without vast sample sizes. This suggests the need for relatively narrow selection criteria – for example, senior managers, in company-sponsored mentoring relationships of at least six months duration with a paid external, professional mentor; or young males 12- 15 from deprived backgrounds at risk, paired with male role models between 10 and 20 years older. The more variables subsequently introduced (eg gender variation), the larger the sample size will need to be to draw conclusions with confidence.


  1. Process provides another set of variables. It is clear, for example, that e-mentoring differs in some fundamental aspects from traditional face-to-face mentoring. Simple process factors, such as frequency of meeting, can have a major impact on outcomes. At the very least, studies need to allow for or try to eliminate such variables. Studies attempting to link personality to success of mentoring relationships, for example, would be better grounded if they also investigated the degree, to which personality factors resulted in specific behaviours, perceived as helpful or unhelpful to the maintenance of the relationship and to the achievement of its goals. (This classification into maintenance and achievement oriented behaviours appears to be very relevant across the whole area of mentoring relationship dynamics.)


  1. Outcomes Much of the research literature uses Kram’s functions of a mentor (or the subsequent recasting of the functions by Noe, 1988) as measures of outcomes. Yet the functions are a mixture of behaviours, enablers and outcomes and so for the most part unsuitable for this use. Moreover, outcomes are almost never related back to goals/ intent.  The reality is that different types of mentoring relationship have different expectations of outcomes; and even different dyads within the same scheme. Failure to recognise these means that the purpose of the relationship is ignored – which suggests the research fails the fifth test, that of relevance.

 It is also remarkable how few studies attempt to measure outcomes for both parties. Yet mentoring is an interaction between two partners, with the outcomes highly dependent on the motivation of both.


  1. Relevance The so-what test is a standard element in guidance on research design, but it seems often to be honoured mostly in the breach. My own experience has been that I struggled to get co-operation from companies until I was able to articulate very clearly the practical value both of the expected research outcomes and of participating in the research process itself. Even then, maintaining commitment for a longitudinal study has proven very difficult. I recommend anyone designing future studies to convene at any early stage of research design a panel of practitioners – those, who the research is intended to inform and benefit – to help shape and ground the project.

The years later these tests still seem highly relevant. Many of the articles I am asked to review for various journals fail on at least one. Perhaps the most recurrent problem is that people tend to see their particular perspective on mentoring as the only one or the “right” one.

If I were to try to define an “ideal” research paper in this field, it would have the following characteristics:

  • Arising out of a specific need to know, from the field (e.g. what works bets in terms of approaches to matching, in what contexts?)
  • Clarity about the type, style and context of the relationships or programme being measured
  • A combination of quantitative and qualitative research methods, so that each can enrich and inform the others
  • A deep questioning of previous research – just how valid is it?
  • A deep questioning of instruments – do they measure what they purport to? Have they been adequately tested on the specific phenomenon being measured in this research? Are there contextual variables that might influence the validity of these instruments in this application?
  • Based in a truly international perspective and literature base (not just US or European)

In short, I’m arguing for rigour and innovation at the conceptual level, as well as in methodology. One way to achieve this is to encourage research partnerships – academics and programme managers within organisations working together to define and implement studies that meet a wider range of informational needs. At the very least, every academic researcher needs a practitioner mentor!

Researchers, who take this approach, can make a major contribution to some of the burning and under-researched issues on the mentoring agenda. These include:

  • The dynamics of multi-cultural, multi-country mentoring programmes – for example, how do you balance consistency with local adaptation?
  • Managing endings in mentoring – it’s now a decade since David Megginson and I did a broad-brush examination of this and our results have never been retested
  • The rising phenomenon of professional supervision for mentors
  • Meta-models of mentoring. Sponsorship and developmental mentoring, or transactional and relational mentoring are separate but overlapping constructs. In many cultures, they are used in different combinations.
  • Mentee competencies. (For example, how can we help people with few social skills and poor communication skills be more effective in their roles as mentees?)
  • Training of mentoring programme managers – what lessons can be learned from experience?

These topics are just the tip of the iceberg. I believe that we are now entering a new era of mentoring research, which is inclusive of and values diversity in approach and concept and where the predominant aim is to bring about positive change in workplaces and society. I am highly excited, for example, to be involved in what appears to be the first programmes of ethical mentoring – where mentors become the moral guardians and support in areas of ethical complexity. I can already see the beginnings of a research design!



Clutterbuck, D (2003) The problem with research in mentoring, International Journal of Mentoring and Coaching (e-journal)

Noe, R.A (1988), ‘An investigation of the determinants of successful assigned mentoring relationships’, Personnel Psychology, 41, pp.457-479


When coaches and therapists work together

27 Aug

An increasingly common issue in my supervision is whether and how a coach or mentor can work alongside a therapist. How do you decide when it is appropriate to continue the coaching relationship and when you should withdraw until the client is in an appropriate state of mind to make effective use of the coaching opportunity? How wary should the coach be of interfering with the therapy? If the client wants to continue the coaching sessions, but the therapist is opposed, where do the coach’s responsibilities lie?

Some of my thinking around this issue so far revolves around context and this perspective seems to provide a basis for enabling coach and therapist to work in a complementary manner. To become a fully functional individual, a client needs to influence their internal context (the way they think and behave, their neuroses etc) and also their external environment (how they ensure that the people and systems around them are supportive of the internal changes they want to make). The issues of personal values, identity, life purpose and so on fall somewhere in the middle of these two perspectives.

It is understandable that some therapists would regard as intrusion or interference attempts by coaches to dig into issues such as these, while the client is undergoing therapy. And responsible coaches are equally wary of stepping over a line marked “amateur psychologist”.  Yet this caution may narrow the scope of their usefulness to the client, because understanding the client’s internal context is essential to helping them develop coping strategies for the external challenges.

I have increasingly come to the conclusion that coaches and therapists can achieve more for the client by working together. For example:

  • When a coaching client is referred to a therapist, the coach will often have a great deal of contextual information and insights that they can share (with the client’s permission), enriching the therapist’s understanding, particularly of the client’s external environment
  • When a client is not making progress and it appears that this is related to an internal psychological dysfunction, a therapist may be able to guide the coach on whether and how coaching can still be beneficial
  • The coach’s understanding of the work environment that the client operates in can support the therapist’s efforts by exploring practical changes in, for example, work routines, time management, negotiating workload with others or making career choices.
  • At a very general level, therapy tends to be problem-focused, while coaching (when done well) and mentoring are opportunity-focused. Great coaching conversations are punctuated by the laughter that comes from insights – a lightness and irreverence that may not be so easy to achieve (or desirable) in a traditional therapeutic environment. (Yes, I know there is also something called laughter therapy, but that’s not at the core of therapeutic practice)

Tripartite meetings between client, coach and therapist are still relatively rare, but appear to be valuable when they do occur. I am increasingly convinced of the need for a protocol that establishes good practice and expectations for coaches and therapists to work together. If both seek to achieve the best possible outcomes for their clients, then it is hard to see how that is achieved with rigid separation of the two roles.

I would welcome the thoughts of both coaches and therapists – and colleagues who span both worlds – in developing a deeper understanding of the issues involved here.


© David Clutterbuck 2013




The competencies of an effective team coach

27 Aug

Team coaching requires a portfolio of skills beyond those in one-to-one coaching. Most of these relate to the difference in context between individual conversations and group dynamics. For example: 

  • Managing varying paces of learning. In team coaching, it is common for some members of the team to come to conclusions about the way forward, while others are still at the early stages of thinking it through. The team coach has to have processes that prevent this difference in pace from becoming a cause of conflict, and use it constructively to help the team come to better decisions overall.
  • Managing sub-groups. Many teams divide into sub-groups. These subgroups can sometimes vary according to the topics under discussion, or the nature of perceived threats; and they are not always obvious Being aware of these sub-groups and preventing them from hijacking the coaching conversation requires a string understanding of group dynamics and how allegiances change. In order for the coach to make the team aware of these behaviours (so they can consciously seek to change them) the coach has to be hypersensitive to them first!
  • Confidentiality. What gets said one-to-one often isn’t appropriate to say in front of the whole group. Yet the coach will typically be privy to a number of individual confidences from members of the team. Managing this takes delicate judgement and skill.
  • Facilitation. While the role of team coach is not the same as that of a facilitator (one of the key differences being between solving a problem and building capability), he or she does need a good grasp of facilitation skills and a toolkit of team facilitation techniques and methods.

Many of the standard approaches and qualities of one-to-one coaching are also essential in team coaching, but they tend to demand a higher level of skill. For example:

  • Listening is a core competence for all coaches. However, the team coach needs to listen both to the person talking and to everyone else in the room. Being aware of their silent conversations, through observing body language and intuiting the mood of the listeners, isn’t easy – especially of the speaker is particularly passionate or persuasive
  •  Using silence effectively is a sign of a confident and mature coach. But creating silence in a group situation, especially when the team is composed mainly of activists, is much more challenging.
  • Powerful questions are often at the core of coaching. In one-to-one coaching, the emphasis is usually on the coach finding the right question at the right time to stimulate learning in the client. In team coaching, the emphasis is more firmly on helping the team find its won powerful questions. the story. Coaches help individual clients to articulate, reflect upon and learn from their own story. The same principle applies to team coaching – but everyone has a slightly different (and sometimes radically different) perception of the story. The team coach has to help them accept and integrate each other’s version of the team story into a narrative that helps make coherent and compatible future choices.
  • Identity. Coaches help individuals articulate and understand their own identity. Achieving this awareness as a team tends to be more complex.
  • Conflict management. The one-to-one coach frequently helps clients to work out strategies for dealing with conflict in the workplace (or elsewhere). Those strategies are “opaque”, in the sense that they are known only to the coach and the client. In team coaching, conflict management strategies usually have to be transparent, because all the players are in the room and part of the conversation. Handling the emotional energy in such situations is a skilled task!

These differences make it essential that coaches, whose experience has been mostly in one-to-one environments, preface any move into team coaching by undertaking additional training to equip them for the extra demands of this more complex role. In doing so, they often find that those extra skills add to the impact of their one-to-one coaching.


© David Clutterbuck 2013 

Skills of a multicultural mentor

27 Aug

Studies by two professors at French business schools[1] identify seven characteristics of a multicultural manager:

  1. Sensitivity to one’s own and other cultures
  2. Cultural awareness and curiosity
  3. Cultural empathy
  4. Multilingual skills
  5. Contextual understanding and sensitivity
  6. Semantic awareness
  7. Ability to switch among cultural frames of reference and communication modes

Their observations and analysis provide a valuable foundation for selecting and developing mentors for cross-cultural learning alliances. In selection, it is logical that relationships are likely to have higher rapport and greater intensity of learning, if mentors are able to recognise and value the cultural perspectives that mentees bring to the mentoring conversation, to empathise with different ways of interpreting events and to recognise when linguistic differences may lead to divergent interpretations of meaning.

The qualities identified in the French study can be described as multicultural intelligence. This is valuable in any organisation that encompasses a variety of cultures. Even where the language is the same – for example, US and UK English – lack of cross-cultural awareness can be a barrier to effective operations. I have been involved in a number of instances of communication failure, where US and UK nationals have taken radically different and, in some cases, opposite meanings from the same words or phrases. (For example,  “put an issue on the table”, which may mean deal with an issue now or park it, according to your cultural upbringing!)

The problem is that only a small proportion of coaches and mentors within companies typically have high levels of multicultural intelligence. Even amongst people, who have spent considerable periods as expatriates, multicultural intelligence can be relatively low – especially in multinationals, where expatriates live in relative isolation from their host cultures.

Some of the general steps, which organisations can take to support coaches and mentors in developing multicultural intelligence, include:

  • Basic cultural awareness training – certainly not a complete solution, but a useful starting point! At the minimum, this should include an understanding of cultural dimensions, differences in body language and cultural values. (The work of Philippe Rosinski on coaching across cultures is a valuable resource for coaches and mentors.)
  • Using managers, who have high multicultural intelligence to coach and mentor peers
  • Reading anthropological literature about specific cultures and one’s own culture – for example, the book Watching the English, by Kate Fox, raises awareness how perspectives and behaviours that are considered normally by English natives, can be confusing to people from other cultures
  • Encouraging coaches and mentors to develop at least conversational competence in languages, other than their own. Bilingual and trilingual people frequently think differently in each language, because each evokes different patterns of association.

Within the coaching or mentoring relationship, coaches and mentors can be proactive in developing their own multicultural intelligence. Based on the seven characteristics from the French study, they can, for example:

  • Take opportunities to explore and appreciate the culture of the coachee/ mentee and how it differs from their own. For example, they can explore issues such as:
    • What is a typical day in their traditional environment?
    • What values do they hold most dearly and why?
    • What are the most vivid stories they tell to their children? (Myths and parables are invaluable for understanding concepts of relationships, social exchange, duty and so on.)
    • What does the coachee/ mentee find strange about the culture of the coach/mentor?
  • Cultivate cultural curiosity. If one looks for them, there are multiple opportunities to learn about other cultures at work and in other environments, such as on holiday. At work, people tend to sit for lunch with people from their own culture – that’s a habit that can easily be broken with forethought. On holiday, we tend to have very shallow interactions with locals, but taking an interest in their culture is almost always rewarded with a warm response. Ask the coachee/ mentee to recommend a few books, which have been translated from their language into yours and read them with an eye to what you can learn about that culture.
  • Practice cultural empathy. This requires moving beyond intellectual curiosity to engaging with and appreciating the richness of the other culture. Asking oneself the question: “If I had grown up in that culture, how would I be looking at this issue?”
  • Use the coaching mentoring conversations as an opportunity to learn some basics of the other person’s language. This is not just about being able to say please and thank you, when visiting their part of the world.  Conducting the session entirely in the coach’s or mentor’s language is a subtle indicator of power in the relationship.  Learning some of the other person’s language helps to counterbalance this and emphasises the two-way learning nature of the relationship.
  • Create opportunities to view issues through the lens of the coachee’s or mentee’s culture.  Whenever they seem to be making less progress than they should, the coach/mentor should consider the possibility that there is a culturally-based barrier. This is a time to dig deeply into how they make sense of the situation, what real or imagined constraints they perceive, and what values they perceive to be strengthened or undermined by the options available to them.
  • Seize opportunities to discuss the subtleties of language – how the meaning of words or phrases changes slightly in translation. For example, there may be one word for something in English, but two or three, with subtly different meanings, in the other language – and vice versa. These discussions can provide some of the most valuable opportunities to identify different patterns of thinking. Similarly, it is helpful to develop sensitivity to the meaning of metaphors in different languages and cultures. For example, in much of Europe, the owl is the symbol of wisdom and intelligence, being closely associated with Athena, the Greek goddess of wisdom. In Hindu mythology, the owl is associated with (among other things) transition, because it accompanies the soul of the departed into the next world. In North American Indian mythology, it is a malevolent harbinger of doom.
  • Develop the habit of thinking about how people from a different culture would approach issues. Use your coachee/ mentee to help you develop this ability. Ask them: “How would people in your culture typically go about this?” Experiment with different speeds of talking. Identify the limitations of typical styles of thinking in your own culture and practice applying alternative modes from other cultures. For example, a manager from a Western culture, used to applying linear, cause and effect logic, might consider an issue instead from a ying and yang perspective, in which opposites can co-exist.

While it is ideal for coaches and mentors to have developed these skills before they enter into a cross-cultural learning alliance, for most the relationship is their opportunity to acquire multicultural intelligence in a relative safe environment, where experimentation is both accepted and a reinforcement for the rapport between them and their coachee/ mentee. The coach/ mentor is therefore strongly recommended to create and share with the coachee/ mentee a personal development plan built around their increasing multicultural intelligence.


© David Clutterbuck, 2013

[1] Hae-Jung Hong, Rouen and Yves Doz, INSEAD  (2013) L’Oreal Masters Multiculturalism, Harvard Business Review, June, pp 114-119