Coaching Cafes: how to facilitate better conversations & collaborations

Updated: Jan 22


Do you want to improve problem-solving, accelerate learning, improve collaboration, build trust or see greater accountability when taking ownership of personal, social, community, organisational and societal opportunities?


If you do, then give the Good Life + Work Project Coaching Cafe concept a try.


You might have heard of World Cafes or David Gurteen's Knowledge Cafes, both of which are valuable when you need to get conversations started. However, there's an opportunity to improve the way you swarm team intelligence through conversations and collaborations in a Coaching Cafe.

Does a productive cafe need to be more than a talking shop?


As much as I love both World & Knowledge Cafes, you might find that they miss the opportunity to move a good conversation to action. In response, I used my experience of coaching methodology, adult learning and decision-making to evolve the World and Knowledge Cafe toward actions based on choices, motivation and commitment.


Instead of a discussion group that comes together to talk about what is happening and why it is happening, which can end up as a bit of a talking shop, a coaching cafe moves to action by exploring:

  • what is the reality of the presenting opportunity (stay positive - every challenge brings an opportunity)?

  • what is motivating you to take on this opportunity?

  • what could be done (options)?

  • what you want to do?

  • and what you will do?

How to facilitate a conversational coaching cafe


Facilitator

  • Grab the group's attention and introduce an opportunity (e.g. an opportunity around improving knowledge sharing).

  • Important note: make sure you create a hook to the individual benefits to be gained from taking on the opportunity.

  • Monitor time.

  • Ensure participants are engaging with the coaching process.

Groups

  • Groups of 4 (4 is optimum because you need variety in the coaching/questioning process and time for people to listen and contribute). Important note: a coaching cafe can be run anywhere and, therefore, you don't need tables.

Timing: total run time 60-70 minutes

Maximum 15 minute focus on a single person because the mind will wander after 12-15 minutes to conserve energy (e.g. ego depletion)

  • 10 minutes for opportunity identification and scenario support (flesh out the context: what, why, how, when, where, who)

  • 5 minutes to identify what the individual feels or thinks they could do, wants to do and will do

Movement

  • After 15 minutes, the person who has been coached moves to bring fresh questions to another group

Coaching cafe approaches to questioning:

  • avoid asking closed questions, except when seeking a definitive response as a prompt for a more meaningful question

  • focus on asking "what" questions over "how" questions (e.g. "how did the meeting go yesterday?" [cognitive system 1 or automatic response = fine], compared to, "what was the number one thing that you took away from the meeting yesterday?" [stimulating cognitive system 2 response = giving your question energy and thought])

  • avoid "why" questions (e.g. "why did you do that?" might create a defensive response, which creates barriers to understanding and action)

  • you cannot reject an idea, only build on it. Acceptance is a lesson from improv acting, where the secret is avoiding rejection of an idea or object, which could shut down the conversation. Instead accept the idea or object and move it into a new space.


For example, "I can see why you would consider Sylvester Stallone to be one of the worst actors in the world because I agree, Rocky 5 is one of the worst movies of all time. I do wonder though, does his performance in the original Rockydemonstrate that he is a better actor than we give him credit for?"


  • establish trust by not asking a question that you wouldn't answer yourself

  • use "if... then..." question (if x occurs, then what impact does that have on you/your team/your family)

  • no judgements

  • work to make the person feel psychologically safe (e.g. practice awareness, empathy & compassion)

Concluding the coaching cafe


Facilitator reminds people of the initial opportunity and the participant's commitments to exploring:

  • what they could do

  • what they want to do

  • what they will do

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