Ruth Moody
August 25, 2022

Step off the online hamster wheel!

Coaching. Great idea, just don’t make me sit in front of another screen for the next 90 minutes, I need a break.

One of coaching’s greatest assets is the chance to pause, but for many at the moment, the thought of another online meeting is a big turn off. How about if we could meet outside?

It’s easier than it might seem.

Not all types of coaching are the same. And while all coaching will have some kind of impact, coaching in the outdoors is different in its intensity and the environment in which the coaching happens.  It also means we can get a break from the incessant video calls and give our brains a chance to reboot and reconnect.

These key differences mean that intensive, outdoor coaching sessions lead to noticeable outcomes that are delivered fast. Half-a-day fast. So, if you’re a senior leader in need of reducing your screen time and dealing with an urgent issue, intensive outdoor coaching could be just what you need. First, it means letting go of any previously held beliefs about what ‘coaching’ actually looks like. It certainly doesn’t have to be on the end of another video call!

What’s so different about intensive coaching?

Taking place over the course of a half or even a whole day, intensive coaching happens away from the office, while walking outdoors. A stark contrast to the usual monthly sessions delivered in a meeting room at the client’s office. That’s why it’s called intensive coaching – an intense period of focus on an issue, or issues, in a short space of time.

The focus is intense, though the experience is not draining – thanks to the environment. And ‘being outside’ doesn’t mean trekking in the Himalayas, or recreating Bear Grylls’ rendezvous with celebrities. It could be a walk through the local park, along a canal path or through woodland. The important thing is that the outside environment permits the coachee’s mind to wander, so ideas can be explored while the mind is simultaneously soothed and stimulated by the natural environment. The end of the day is more akin to stretching well-exercised legs, rather than rubbing the temples to ease a fatigued consciousness.

The intensity and the environment does set intensive coaching apart, yet it’s the focus on what works for the coachee that really makes it different. Not everyone wants to spend six months with something – they may not even have the luxury of that much time. By working in a way that respects their schedule and sense of urgency, intensive coaching offers an alternative to the traditional coaching model, which creates an opportunity for more people to explore and reap the benefits of coaching.

Dealing with urgency in coaching

Intensive coaching, it’s important to note, isn’t a miracle cure. I'm certainly not dismissing the traditional approach, which is very useful, especially, when there are long-term objectives at stake. Or, when the work to be done is around values, beliefs and behaviours – things that can’t be explored in a few hours. Intensive coaching is most often appropriate at a transition moment: a new role, a new team, difficulties with staff or colleagues, for instance. By examining these issues closely, it can help to illuminate an appropriate course of action which can be taken now to cause an impact, instead of months down the line.

Intensive coaching is an effective use of time

Intensive coaching is effective in the sense that it’s fast, relative to more traditional coaching. However, it’s not merely a quick and dirty cheat sheet. The time itself that the coaching session takes – 7-8 hours of coaching in a whole day and 3-4 hours in half a day – is used to best effect also.

As the coach and coachee walk side by side, the conversation meanders and there are natural periods of silence. This frees the coachee (and indeed the coach) to reflect on what’s been said, without feeling like they need to speak or give an answer right away.

As the walk continues, the coachee is able to come back again, and again, and again to the issue. This removes the need for them to reflect separately from the coaching session, in their own time, negating the risk that the coachee will not reflect due to being busy or life simply getting in the way. It prompts them to reflect constantly in the time they have with the coach. As the walk progresses, the external and internal landscape changes, which bring about different trains of thought to be explored.  This leads to some big insights in a short space of time and distance. In fact, people often tell us that they resolve more than they had expected to, that things come up that they had never thought about before. These links are vital clues to what the next steps are.

Numerous issues – or just one?

Everyone is different; everybody brings different things to their coaching session. Sometimes it’s one big issue, sometimes it’s a few smaller ones. Where intensive coaching really comes into its own, however, is in exploring the links between things.

It usually becomes clear, no matter how many issues are on the table, that there are many different threads attached to them, which are all interwoven. Of course, the threads are already there; what the coaching space does is gives the coachee the time to notice them. This leads to powerful breakthroughs, as apparently disparate events and ideas are suddenly revealed to be connected. Making a change in one area, then, has a ripple effect across them all.

Intensive coaching from the coachee’s perspective

So, what’s it really like? Is it genuinely possible to condense coaching to just a few hours? I think it is. What’s telling though, is that the individuals that have undergone intensive coaching have first-hand experience that says that it does work!

All the people that have done this type of coaching with me, reported that they wouldn’t have had the same breakthroughs in a typical coaching session in an office. Each person had had some kind of coaching before and felt that intensive coaching was much more effective.

It’s no accident. Exercise improves blood flow to all areas of the body, the brain included, which enables clearer thinking and an opportunity to recover from the intensity of online interactions. The outdoors allows the mind to roam freely, meaning that novel connections are made and new perspectives arise. Plus, away from the office (maybe even without a phone signal!), there are no distractions or back-to-back video calls. Coachees won’t be interrupted, meaning that their train of thought continues to its natural conclusion. All of these factors create circumstances which are much more conducive to finding new and effective ways to move forward. This is what makes intensive coaching such a powerful way to deal with issues that require prompt attention.

What should you expect from your coaching provider?

It takes skill to hold a coaching space for an extended period. And while coaches of all different disciplines and backgrounds will be equipped with the same essential skills, those that suit intensive coaching best are those that understand the ebbs and flows of conversation, and how to navigate them successfully.

Intensive coaching isn’t right for everyone, in every situation. The usual caveats apply when you are looking for a coaching provider. A thorough needs analysis is a must – a programme that’s unique and tailored to your needs, or the needs of the organisation, is vital if anything is to be achieved. And intensive coaching doesn’t just have to be a standalone event! It can work just as well as a kick-start to a longer coaching programme.

What matters, is that it meets the needs of the person being coached and impacts on them and the organisation. A responsible coaching provider won’t try to shoehorn you, or whatever issue you’re dealing with, into an intensive coaching scenario. They’ll suggest it because it’s the most effective way to help you.

There’s not just one approach to coaching

Traditional coaching happens over a longer period. And while it produces some great results, it isn’t the right way for everyone. People respond differently, and many short sessions might not work for you. The situation will have an impact also. Examining beliefs and creating new behaviours, building confidence and such work, typically fit a longer schedule. Big transition moments, and dealing with all the accompanying strands that go with that, in one fell swoop, is where intensive coaching really shines because senior people don’t always have the time to explore something at a more leisurely pace. Which is not to say that intensive coaching is a sprint; neither is it a multi-day hike. It’s more of a cross country affair, requiring focus, stamina and an experienced guide to keep you on track.

If you or one of your leaders is in clear need of a chance to pause and step off the online hamster wheel, give me a call on 07931 502519 – I'd be happy to explain more. Not only will it help you deal with whatever is weighing on your mind or hanging over your list of priorities, you might just find that it gives you an insight into more than you expected!

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