Navigating the coaching ‘Chemistry Call’

‘How do I manage a chemistry call?’ is a question which often comes up in supervision.

selective focus photography of black rotary phone
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A chemistry call is often the first point of verbal contact between potential coach and coachee.

The coachee may well be speaking to a number of coaches to check for ‘best fit’. ‘Best fit’ can be anything from; price and affordability, availability, professionalism (e.g. does the coach have a supervisor, insurance, sector organisation membership etc) to a ‘sixth sense’ that the potential relationship feels comfortable/easy/safe.

For the coach, it can sometimes feel like an ‘interview’, so it is easy to fall into the trap of trying to ‘impress’ in some way; we might over promise or try to demo our skills for example. Some coaches offer a free taster session: although we did hear of a coachee who managed to achieve a full coaching series by calling in a number of free sessions with different coaches!

So – this is what we have noticed over the years, helps establish, a best shot chemistry call;

a) Know how to describe the role and what coaching means to you. share your ‘style’ (if you have one!).

b) Have all logistics to hand; costs, availability, venue, contracts, options

c) If the potential client is happy to share, check out what they hope to gain from the coaching. This helps ensure form fit e.g. someone may really be wanting a mentor.

d) Listen actively, reflect back, invite further questions – try to avoid drifting into coaching.

e) Be yourself and confident in your offer. Try not to be attached to the outcome. Explain what you do rather than ‘sell’ what you do!

Developing a coaching culture


The Workhouse Museum – Ripon Museum Trust

This article first appeared in the Association of Independent Museums (AIM) Summer newsletter 2017. Reproduced here with permission of AIM.

Given the rapid pace of change experienced by the UK museum sector, having a workforce that is prepared to adapt and respond is critical. Recent research commissioned by AIM and other partners, Character Matters: attitudes, behaviours and skills in the UK Museum workforce, highlights two key challenges.

They are how to develop the ‘personal qualities’ and skills of the existing workforce, and how our organisations can become ‘more flexible, agile and entrepreneurial and supportive of their workforce?’

Greater use of coaching and offering leadership training to a wider range of staff are recommended by the report, and AIM member Ripon Museum Trust’s experience of this highlights how museums can build their resilience by adopting a coaching culture and ethos.

Ripon Museum Trust (RMT) is a small independent museum group with three sites that tell a story about law, order, poverty and social justice – the former courthouse, prison and police station and workhouse. Alongside the museum’s core staff team of three, more than 100 volunteers deliver the museum’s activities. In 2015 RMT was awarded a grant from Arts Council England’s (ACE) Museum Resilience Fund to develop its leadership skills and culture with the aim of making best use of all the human resources available to the museums.

A central aspect of the project involved a four-day coaching and leadership skills course developed by Relational Dynamics 1st for a group of staff, trustees and volunteers. The course offered a foundation in coaching skills and approaches (active listening, effective questions, the GROW* framework, setting and reviewing goals), and training in advanced communication skills including giving feedback, difficult conversations and building trust.

The group explored styles of leadership, and were encouraged to develop their self-awareness and understanding of others; what we refer to as ‘relational dynamics’. Participants also practiced coaching and being coached by one another, individually and via group coaching or ‘action learning’.

What is a coaching style of leadership?

A coaching style of leadership encourages and requires all of us to be involved and take responsibility for achieving success through developing high levels of trust and distributed decision-making, recognising and supporting everyone’s potential and focusing on improving performance at an individual, team and whole organisation level.

In a workplace with a coaching culture we:

share a sense of purpose

are clear how our roles contribute to the bigger picture

are willing to try new things and go the ‘extra mile

have autonomy in how we deliver our work, and,

take pride in doing our jobs to the best of our abilities.

External evaluation of the project revealed how coaching skills are already improving RMT’s resilience. Through developing a core set of organisational values and associated behaviours, RMT was able to clarify its vision and clarity of roles, and job satisfaction increased during the lifetime of the project. RMT now enjoys higher levels of trust between staff, volunteers and trustees which enables greater autonomy which in turn leads to a culture where people feel motivated to test new ideas and take the initiative.

The legacy of the project continues and staff and volunteers now have the skills and tools to continue their own development; for example the museum director has created an action learning set for other culture and heritage leaders in Yorkshire, and museum staff now deliver a half-day ‘coaching skills for leadership’ course in-house which forms part of the induction for new volunteers.

RMT’s coaching approach led to articulating and measuring the museums’ impact through research, and using study trips to increase awareness of how other museums are working with volunteers. The learning generated directly contributed to a successful £400,000 application to the Heritage Lottery Fund to acquire a new building which formed part of the original Workhouse.

RMT is bringing its coaching approach to how it develops this new site, and is planning to recruit a ‘collaborative curator’ who will ensure the wider community is involved in developing a shared vision for the redevelopment of this new site by piloting new uses in partnership with the local community.

Further information: 

*GROW – Goal, Current Reality, Options, Will – a widely-used coaching framework developing by Sir John Whitmore and Carol Wilson.

Want to know more about the project? Arts Professional also published an article in 2016, including RMT’s work with Relational Dynamics 1st.


Spring 2017 newsletter


The first few months of 2017 have kept the RD1st team busy! We ran our first public course in Scotland at CCA Glasgow in March and the National Theatre in London also kindly hosted our popular one-day coaching course. In February and March Tate invited Emma and Claire to deliver two days’ training in coaching and Action Learning facilitation for over twenty members of the Plus Tate network. March also saw RD1st complete a year-long training programme for over 150 managers at Royal Opera House, working closely with RD1st alumni Greg Jauncey, HR and Training Manager at ROH.

In early April fifteen newly accredited RD1st coaches joined our ranks – welcome to RD24! And Deb has recently returned from Tripoli in Lebanon after delivering part one of the main course with RD1st International trainer Dina Abu Hamdan.

This week sees the start of our first course specifically for artists, in partnership with and resourced by A-N: the artists information company, following a successful pilot programme last year.

Since we expanded the RD1st team two years ago we’ve been keen to develop some new opportunities for alumni. A number of new short courses are listed below. Over early Summer we’ll be putting the finishing touches to a new advanced course for later in 2017/18 – watch this space!

In our future newsletters we hope to share with you stories about ways in which people are using Relational Dynamics coaching skills and approaches. Given our current focus on artists, we wanted to share an interview with Joshua Sofaer about the ways in which he uses coaching as part of his creative and professional practice.

We hope you will find the opportunities and news below interesting. If you have anything you’d like us to consider for a future newsletter – an article, a blog post, an opportunity, a rant even – please get in touch.

Wishing you all a lovely summer

Deb, Isabel, Emma and Claire
The RD1st UK Team

Opportunities for RD1st alumni

Are you interested in joining an Action Learning set?
A newly formed Action Learning set of senior arts and heritage leaders in Yorkshire are looking for new members. Their next meeting will be held on 4thJuly in Ripon, please contact James Etherington to find out more.

Introduction to Group Coaching – 7 June, London
This new one-day course offers the opportunity to explore and refine your coaching skills in the context of group coaching. We explore the role of the facilitator in Action Learning and how to create and facilitate your own sets. Participants will have the opportunity to practice 1-2-1 coaching, group coaching and facilitate an Action Learning set.

‘Brilliant way to build on coaching skills and explore ways to take them forward to benefit workplace and beyond.’

‘A great way to freshen up your coaching skills and listening skills and fab intro to Action Learning.’

To book follow this link – NB early bird prices have been extended to Friday 5th May.

We have spaces for RD1st coaches wanting supervision. We offer duo or trio supervision packages from £60 per hour, enabling costs to be shared between two or three coaches. Please contact Deb for more information about RD1st supervision.