A student once asked me why she should do a literature review and my answer was "...to engage in a dialogue with your community and find out what they have uncovered. Once you have done your research, tell them what you have found." Dialogue and collaboration can extend throughout your research life into your practice, and I have been particularly struck by this over the last few months.
It began with the Global Coaching Convention (GCC) in the summer of 2008. The GCC provided us the opportunity to connect with a global community and test our ideas with each other about what was important and why. Then in October 2008, the Foundation of Coaching brought together coaching researchers from around the world as part of the International Coaching Research Forum. This event was generously sponsored by the Harnisch Foundation, and personally attended by its president Ruth Ann Harnisch. Carol Kauffman and Mary Wayne Bush co-chaired the two-day event. Sunny Stout Rostron facilitated a structured workshop to produce 100 research proposals for sharing within the coaching community.
At the Forum, we exchanged ideas, co-created research designs and collaborated, culminating in the creation of an excellent resource for any of us who are thinking of doing research and want some guidance on what to research and how to do it. Each proposal has an aim, identification of a possible methodology and potential outcomes. They are freely available on the Coaching Commons—the web-hub for the Foundation. Have a look, find something you want to do and go ahead with all our blessings (just let us know what you find out!).
Clearly, 100 research proposals do not represent a comprehensive research strategy for the field. This work will need to be done in the future, so that those interested in doing and/or funding research (organizations, professional bodies and individuals) will know what could provide the most impact without duplicating previous efforts.
All other disciplines and professions have research priorities that highlight their real needs from multiple perspectives. Let's take the coaching profession seriously and initiate a collaboration between professional bodies, major buyers and national/internal bodies on this task that would have real value for everyone.
While at the Forum, I was struck by the number of proposals that dealt with coaching within the organizational context, specifically, with the development of coaching cultures. In the UK, the coaching capability of organizations is a "hot topic." I can see evidence that it is also on the agenda in Europe and the US. The rise has been organic, as Frisch identifies in his pivotal work about "the emerging role of the internal coach,"1 and it is obvious, but not expected.
In the postmodern world, just-in-time learning, self-direction, self-efficacy and flexibility are prized capabilities and coaching is seen as an effective method of developing them. The question is: How do we embed coaching within organizations in a way that fits their culture, context and needs and achieves all (or most) of the benefits?
This is not a trivial question. Do we have information on best practice yet? How generic is it? What factors (training, support, buy-in, etc.) are critical, and which are merely nice to have? Does it matter which sector you are in? The list of questions seems endless and we need answers yesterday!
In my own work,2 I have mapped out some of the field through case studies. The biggest surprise was the use of coaching within manufacturing industries (in this case, a diesel-engine manufacturer). In recent years, the market shift in these industries has been so dramatic that the admonition "We cannot afford not to coach" rings especially true.
I was delighted to read the recent research coming out of the Ashridge Centre for Coaching and also sponsored by the Chartered Institute of Personal Development in the UK.3 They looked at ways coaching had been embedded in a range of organizations and identified three basic modes. I will leave you to delve into exactly what they were; however, I wanted to highlight the methodology they used. As we said last time, the controlled experimental trial cannot answer some of the more complex research questions. This is a case in point.
There was no hypothesis here to be tested, but an exploration or "finding out" that needed to happen. There were a range of perspectives at play from the internal coaches, finance directors and managers as well as employees, all of whom had a tale to tell that had to be respected. The researchers were also "in the thick of it," not disinterested observers, and the research process itself needed to be flexible as information came to light. Finally, the researchers were actively seeking to bring about change and wanted to be influenced by the results.
The methodology they chose was collaborative inquiry (akin to action research), in which the organizations being studied actively participate in the research and the resulting change. A multitude of instruments was used (questionnaires, case studies and literature review) to get a rich picture of what was happening within the organizations. This cooperative engagement meant that the results have a resonance with anyone in the field and a practicality that makes the research highly accessible and useful. In short, the research had impact upon practice even before it was fully reported.
So do not be a solitary researcher, but enjoy your inquiry by collaborating till you drop!
Definitely have a look at the research proposals on Coaching Commons to whet your appetite, but also look at the coaching section on the CIPD website—there is a great deal offered from this research sponsor!
1 Fisch, M.H. 2001. "The Emerging Role of the Internal Coach." Consulting Psychology Journal: Practice and Research. 53, 4: 240-250.
2 Jarvis, J., D. Lane, and A. Fillery-Travis. 2006. The Case for Coaching: Making Evidence-based Decisions on Coaching. London: CIPD.
3 Knights, A. and A. Poppleton. 2008. Developing Coaching Capability in Organisations. London: CIPD.