COVID vs the “magic” formula for online collaboration

Want to get started and run your online session? Here is a heuristic formula: COVID®.

Celebrating (C) – a gathering is a celebration, an online gathering follows along so to prepare for this celebration what are the rituals you are looking for and the boundaries you believe are necessary? What are some of the things you can do to keep people awake and listening, and, what are those that will make them fall asleep? Since Easter is coming soon, I recall social etiquette amid other memories.

Giggling around the heuristics of the COVID approach to on-line collaboration.

Organizing (O) – sensemaking to basically ensuring you notice the behavior of people during the call as to consider alternative scenarios. Organizing in this context includes: preoccupation with failure and reluctance to simplify (as explained by Karl Weick & Kathleen Sutcliffe in “managing the unexpected”).

Verifying (V) – verification and validation are separate procedures but powerful when used together in this context: one helps checking that the call or online collaboration (our ecosystem) meets basic requirements we have agreed upon with the audience whilst verification helps to answer if the intended purpose of this event was attained (from the Project Management Body of Knowledge).

Inducting (I) – inducting in this context is about the use of a cognitive coaching approach (praise the work of Arthur Costa and Robert Garmston in Cognitive Coaching). Inducting includes assessing peoples states of mind as a guidance and not a corollary for straightforward decisions on the situation or audience attendance. This includes a constant look and an adaptive approach to different and changing levels of consciousness, craftsmanship, efficacy, interdependence and flexibility.

Deploying (D) – means you need to work as an online collaboration “malabarista”. It means bouncing back and forward between the aforesaid approaches ensuring you keep doing what often aircraft pilots do: observe, orient, decide and act at all times (praise to the work of John Boyd on the ODDA loop).

If you want to praise your Paralaudakian Caucasian ancestors then move quickly to a very simple (and simplistic formula). The magic on-line formula that has conquered the world of online collaboration by storm. Behold for the simplistic details.

Stay safe, stay strong: stay home.

“Magic” Formula = Intro (2-3′) + hygiene factors, housekeeping (tech, sound, resources, etc., 1′) + emotional check up (5′ run all or a few candidates if n<15 if n>15 greet all and wish all are good) + session flow (=up to 15′-20 = 10-15 slides) + breakout meeting discussion for digestion and assimilation (5-10′) + session flow + breakouts (5-10′) + session flow (up to 15′-20 = 10-15 slides) + sensemaking session and key takeaways (10 min, overflow and connection/ transition to the next session, storytelling) + break off screen! 15-30 min + (Magic Formula again no more than 2 cycles of 90-120 (considering 25-30% add time). Total approx time: 240 min max. This includes preparation work on both sides and touch calls or on-line videos to setup and prepare for content: no safe assumptions here: network does not work or is weak, sound does not work, settings are not right – so be there to account for this in video format (pls do not make people read a lot). Post session materials are great as well as recording of the session and schedule (if more than one and global / glocal scheduling on time zone where and when applicable).

So then how do you know you have done a good job? Use the Magic Formula bingo chart. Let your audience tell you if you had a “bingo” collaborative work or not.

Difference between Spreadsheets and Spreadshifting 

Big data has brought many advantages to many areas providing insights and advances in medicine searching for the cure for cancer to the business world with investments and more recently to Human Resources with the advent of People Analytics.

Talking with data brings cohesion, focus to initiatives. It creates rationale and changes the perception of the real world.

But the dashboard that sits at my table does not entertain the coaching session that made Alan change his career and think about his team as a true leader.

The spreadsheet showing the areas where revenue is low and operational cost is high does not help me to drive a complete change management evolution with a team.

Changing lay-outs, creating new workflow, measuring endless times until we fine tune the best solution are the People to People initiatives. And that is not bound to the power of numbers nor it happens in a desk in front of a computer.

Numbers were invented to portray the world we live in, to explain in a simplified way what we could not count. But getting seduced by numbers and the reasoning we derive from them is a dangerous path.

We may end up convinced that numbers are more important than People and iluded that we can drive change with them.

Coalescense: more than collaboration

It came recently to my acquaintance that chemistry shares an important similarity with the business world.

When everyone is talking about the difference between collaboration and cooperation seldom we remember that what persists through time is our real target.

We look for the right teams, the right resources, the right capabilities for the right projects. 

Coalescense is  when different elements of something join together and become one. 

The suffix “co” means “together.” The other half of the word comes from alescere, a Latin verb meaning “to grow up.”

I believe the right cooperation and collaboration only make sense if that team together grows.

If they grow individually and as a group with what they do and what they wish to accomplish.

On the other hand coalescence is an outcome hence not a proxy of means to end but the end itself.

Question is: are we looking for team coalescense or collaboration? 

The engagement of art and the art of engagement

If you ask an artist how her creations come to fruition she most likely will tell you: “…at start: obviously messy, intangible, unclear, cluttered, complex, unknown.” 

As she gets immersed into the process of creation she evolves to a level where the truth emanes out of simplicity giving birth to something new: clear, uncluttered, inevitably simple, yet so powerful: art.
The ease of which she (the artist) goes from scratch to a masterpiece is an astonishing journey we are yet to understand. One thing I got from artists: they try. Some try really hard, every single day and learn from what they do.

I try to look at employee engagement the same way. An ecosystem that at start: looks messy, intangible, unclear and specially complex. 

We don’t need complex analysis that go from correlations, matrices, regressions and complex predictive algorithms. This may lead us to the mercy of implacable numbers.

To engage, we need simplicity, we need to try and learn. Question is: have you tried? 

Have your say.

The visual (cognitive) coach

Visualization allows us to connect things faster. This is not new. As it is also not new the fact that words get lost in translation. And it is widely accepted that images prevail across languages, dialects and cultures.  

Even language before becoming codified with the sumerians and latter phoenicians was provided with a set of drawings. Chinese characters are the best example of that. 

So when you read about how a mathematical genius like Daniel Tammet calculates solutions using literally astronomical numbers you wonder… how does he do it? 

If you ask him he will tell you – he visualizes it. Literally. It seems number 15 is a beautiful number. 

And given our natural ability to perceive images faster than words no wonder why some multiply drawing with better,  simpler and faster results than using a typical algorithm to do it. 

Having said so I thought if we could visualize the coaching process or if by any chance we could help others seeing their own way…visualy. 

It seems someone else thought about and she makes a living out of it! 

There is community of visual coaches who ensures visual cues really help with the coaching process.  

We are about to start! 

How do you want to be remembered? 

At the beginning of his perennial book Steve Covey depicts the farewell ceremony of a man’s lifetime. He is bringing a point on how our circle of influence can impact positively people’s life. Those lasting memories prevail through time and space and are extremely powerful in growing your own self as a person and a human being as well. I never thought about Steve Covey as a coach but being highly effective seems to help others around you too. I believe coaching can do that for you if you do it altruisticaly having the coachee in mind and leading by example. Has Michael Jackson once sang: ‘if you wanna make a change start with the man in the mirror’. 

I miss everyone from my coaching class: wishing you all Merry Christmas and a happy new year wherever you are on planet earth! 

The interplay between coaching and other interventions 

I am fascinated by transitions from hierarchical to flat organizations. My experience on the floor has made me cognizant that coaching demands special conditions that do not happen frequently at your workplace.

Therefore, either you fight a battle of titans between time and space or you find other forms of support services we may use for the benefit of that intervention. 
So what other methods may complement coaching within the plethora of situations we have at the workplace and how do they match and connect to each other? 

How would those methods support your holistic role whilst coaching a whole team? 

And first of all why is this important? Well… we hear about perfect ventures whereupon employees love each other and life feels like a fairy tale. 

If you build your business from scratch you can place the blocks you want where you want. The most difficult part is to handle the ones that exist already and manage to shift the course of the organization by working with the people, process for a profit. 

Therefore from absolute workplace harmony to workplace caos the amount of time and type of approach varies. 

In a competitive place where everyone fights each other all the time the opportunity to coach is close to zero. Then probably mediation and even some counseling would precede the coaching process.  

Then again, is the group is stuck though lots of conversations happening? Probably,  evaluating and collaboration would make more sense.  

There is no magic formula so far unless the book I am reading tells me the opposite: see here.  

You can’t coach all times

When you listen to life coaches addressing you on YouTube you wonder if Coaching is the sole way of interaction. Then finding those coachable moments in the conundrum of stress that abound in most corporate worlds becomes a witch hunt too. So I wonder…Is coaching there to be your guiding light at the end of the tunnel? Can you coach yourself to increase your self-awareness? Can coaching be combined with other methods enhancing your performance as a coach?

Coaching can be a tool for yourself and others if you base your actions on the principles of trust, learning and autonomy. But practicing self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying is what makes the difference. So what are the methods that when used together allow us to improve our coaching skills regardless if you are coaching yourself, another person or a group of persons? According to Costa and Garmston there is a interplay between cognitive coaching, collaboration, consulting and evaluating. Question is: how to manage all the above at the same time whilst facilitating thinking? 

From Agile to Cognitive Coaching

For the past year, I have been exploring and practicising Agile and Coaching as a collective application of Scrum principles in several HR teams. 

I had as a reference two books: one is the Essential Scrum by Kenny Rubin, a bed side companion for scrummers at all levels and another book called Coaching Agile Teams by Lisa Adkins. 

These are great books: the first provides a very comprehensive approach to what is scrum from an overview to a very comprehensive approach to deployment. The second one, more about Scrum teams start-ups facilitation and managing the whole Scrum process as a proficient Scrum Master. 

On another note, and looking into collaborative thinking processe I found out that Collaborative Thinking is considered a procedure wherein a group combine their strengths and backgrounds to produce ideas addressing a specific problem. It is clear the driver of this collaboration is a challenge or an opportunity.

And whithim the realm of my endeavor I found a particular paper written by Costa and Garmston that changed my perspective on coaching teams. It deboned the framework of interaction between the facilitator and a group. So cognitive coaching is a path to develop self-directed learning in any individual. It encompasses three major pillars: trust, learning and autonomy. In doing so, cognitive coaches embrace and master self-managing, self-monitoring and self-modifying.

1. Self-Managing means approaching tasks with clarity of outcomes, a strategic plan, and necessary data, and then draw from past experiences, anticipate success indicators, and create alternatives for accomplishment.

2. Self-Monitoring: refers to establishing metacognitive strategies to alert the perceptions for in-the-moment indicators of whether the strategic plan is working and to assist in the decision-making processes of altering the plan if it is not.

3. Self-Modifying: They reflect on, evaluate, analyze, and construct meaning from the experience and apply the learning to future activities, tasks, and challenges.

Why was this important?

Cognitive Coaching was correlated with increased student success as well as impacting teacher thinking, causing teachers to be more reflective and to think in
more complex ways. Teachers were more satisfied with their positions and with their choice of teaching as a profession. School cultures became more professional. Teachers collaborated more improving professionally and personally. 
So can this apply to the corporate world benifiting the business? I believe Agile coaching to be a new artifact assisted form of cognitive coaching. Therefore, from agile to cognitive coaching I found my way through, but the story isn’t finished…

Is coaching taking over?

I recently came across a paper by Angelina Rosha and was amazed by the fact that coaching is taking over many other areas we believe not to be connected with coaching. And after reading the paper I had this burning question: is coaching taking over?

The word etiology comes from the name of an Hungarian village called Kocs where it is said the best carriages in the 16th century were produced. Later the word ‘coaching’ was known as a play of words but often associated with supporting university students and academic attainment. Later the word ‘coaching’ as we know today came to be known in the 20th century by the hand of Timothy Galleys (1974) book The Inner Game of Tennis and John Whitmore’s Coaching for performance (1988) presenting the G.R.O.W. model.

As the activity of coaching spread across different areas – two coaching streams came to fruition: one, goal oriented coaching aiming at relatively immediate results, and another on personal development coaching, which is focused on coachee’s long-term deeper understanding and self-awareness. This explains why we have such a diversified universe of institutions teaching coaching and more recently certifying professionals. Likewise, professional coaches come from all paths of life enriching the field of coaching and its momentum towards society.

In short, coaching was a deductive and goal oriented intervention that later evolved from a directive to non-directive intervention with a myriad of approaches to consider (Rosha, 2013). The question is: will it take over all other areas of targeted intervention? The comparison between all types of intervention explains visually that coaching can indeed embrace all. So what do you think?

Coaching, Mediation, Mentoring, Teaching, Consultancy, Therapy, Counseling, Training = Coaching?

Following my previous post on ‘Is coaching taking over?’ I decided to explore the differences and commonalities of coaching towards consultancy, counseling, mentoring, mediation, therapy, teaching and training. So let’s see if coaching is taking over…

Coaching and Mentoring refer to what we are supposed to achieve making clear the current and future state of things. Coaching bridges the gap allowing the coachee (client) to find their own way and is based on present and work related issues. Mentoring  is about assistance, guidance, advice in the assumption that leading by example and asking the mentored to follow his steps success ensues. Mediation is interestingly different. It is a process (people, process, problem) wherein you have at least two parties and a mediator. The mediator identify issues, develop options, consider alternatives, enlighten both parties about the consequences of those options and then creates a common agenda of consensual actions and connects them to desired outcomes. This translates into win-win agreements. Mediation is focused on resolving conflict, coaching starts with the individual and in that assuming the coachee has the potential to prevent the conflict to happen. Therefore, “same, same but different” (in aims).
Consultancy and coaching have a similar focus – business. Notwithstanding, coaching is focused on the development of the individual and his/her skills themselves whilst consultancy strives for providing answer to burning problem or question. Consultancy – training blended both and placed corporate training between consultancy and teaching. Teaching and skills training are activities aiming at transferring knowledge through a sequence of activities and interactions. Some more interactive and agile other unilaterally communicated to people who are expected to learn and demonstrate – trainee or students. Coaching on the other hand provides support to enhance coachee skills and inspire him to maximize his/her personal and professional potential. Soft-skills training is indeed closer to coaching. Nevertheless, a primary assumption that sets coaching apart is that the coachee is the expert not the trainer or teacher. Last but not least, the difference between counseling, therapy and coaching. Coaching is focusing on growth. Both therapy and counseling like in Mediation deal with a problem. Coaching explores the problem as an opportunity to evolve. Is constructive and positive.

Cross-reference on Coaching semantics and other intervention methods


Counseling Mentoring Mediation Therapy Teaching


Coaching Both focus on business but provide different ways to solve them.

Coaching understands that the individual has the solution whilst consultancy the consultant has it.

Counseling aims at fixing the problem usually ending up with one solution. Coaching aims at exploring the problem with the intent to have the coachee finding his own solutions. Mentoring is about following the steps of the wise more experience mentor. Coaching is about allowing the coachee to find his own way. Very close to coaching but aimed at solving conflicts. So mediation would be more reactive alas Coaching more proactive in that the coachee awareness shall prevent conflict to happen. Same as Counseling aims at fixing the problem. Usually more serious and involving physiological or biological implications Coaching aims at healing using coachee own awareness power of healing. Transferring knowledge assuming the teacher knows and the student is ignorant. In coaching the coachee not the coach is an expert.

Hard skills or job related training is similar to teaching. Soft skills training is closer to coaching assuming the trainee needs nurturing of his natural abilities.