Maximising the benefits of a diverse team

Mathew Syed, the world-renowned journalist and author in his opening speech to this year’s Challenge Partners annual conference, described his work on growth mindsets and creating diversified teams. Mathew’s work on growth mindsets has been adopted by a number of schools. 

I was particularly drawn to Mr Syed’s point about using diverse teams for problem solving. Over the next three blogs we will explore examples which came to mind as part of those reflections.  

Brokering and matching client and coach

The process many of us use for coaching includes a range of possible solutions, including those known as blue skies. We arrive at these solutions after assisting the client in describing the context and refining the problem they are trying to resolve. It is here where the coach can make some suggestions. This has to be done in the awareness that the basis of good coaching is for the clients to own their problem and its associated solutions. The role of the coach is to assist them in this through a series of questions. 

We found early on in the London Challenge that the experience of the coach and the relationship with the client was critical.  As this varied considerably we would need a pool of coaches.

We quickly came to the conclusion that the matching process between coach and client was critical  in deploying expert coaches to work with headteachers in under-performing schools or in a new headship. This stage was known as brokering. In the selection of coaches we sought diversity of experience and demographic, yet insisted on commonality in training and track record – all coaches were required to have run an outstanding school. The training was non-negotiable.  It ensured they all reached a set standard which included being able to role model outstanding practice. 

We quickly learnt that the matching process is an art rather than a science.  

The matching process would take place at a meeting chaired by Dame Sue John. In attendance would be the appropriate London Challenge Adviser and the members of our team who had an understanding of our pool of coaches and the nature of the client. While gender, age and ethnicity came into the equation in making our selection, they were not as important as the potential degree of empathy or the diversity of ideas the coach might bring to the needs of the client.  We learned very quickly that an initial bad experience for the headteacher being coached often resulted in them rejecting the entire approach. We decided that, though time was of the essence in making these deployments, successfully and swiftly implementing the matching process was far less costly than trial and error. 

When the matching process was complete, coach and client would be informed and given expectations agreed with the London Challenge Adviser. This included the issues facing the school and the expected acceptable performance including timeframe for these issues to be resolved. It was made clear to the client that during this timeframe, confidentiality around coaching conversations was paramount to prevent conflict of interest.  

When the coach accepts the excuses the client provides for their under-performance, it is time to consider changing the coach.

My role was to monitor the effectiveness of the work of the coaches. Once the coaching process commenced we would meet every six weeks.  At these individual meetings we would consider the performance of the work, discuss progress and agree on the effectiveness of the coaching process.  During these conversations I learnt to focus upon the coach’s assessment of the problems that needed resolving. If the coach thought the excuses for under-performance were still reasons that could be resolved I considered them on track. However, if they had now accepted these reasons could not, then there was a problem. I would challenge them on this and we would work through possible alternative solutions. If at the next meeting this situation had not been resolved then I would think seriously of recommending to Sue we changed the coach. 


If you are an expert coach – How successful are you in ensuring that the ownership of the problem and its solution sits with your client?  Can you offer your own ideas without taking over?