Rule two: Approach your design with a different mindset

Written by Alistair Gordon, 04 Jun 2020

As challenging as this may be, it’s important that designers embrace the flexibility and new options that small group coaching as an approach gives you. Most particularly, the one size must fit all constraint of workshop design can be discarded. Thank goodness for that.

While these changes we made don’t seem radical now, they were at the time.

There is an opportunity to do things radically differently in small group coaching leadership design, because you no longer need to worry about one size fits all.

Our mantra has been to customise content to the participants, not the organisation. At the front-line, all leaders – whether in blue collar roles, financial services, or health – all need the same basic skills.

This customisation is not achieved by having many curriculums – we have just one. But it is modularised, so participants select different topics that interest them and where they have a high immediate need.

Then the coach customises still further in the actual coaching sessions, by revising (spending not much time) on what they already know, and focusing (spending most time) on the new skills and content they need to master.

EXAMPLE: the school of hard knocks

One client had a group of front-line leaders who had been leading on the front line for three or four years each. But they’d never been on a program, and were proud of the fact that they’d learned to lead in “The School of Hard Knocks”.

The client was concerned that they didn’t believe they needed front-line leadership training any longer - despite it being clear to the client that they were very command and control style managers, needing development as much as any other front-line leader.

We matched a very experienced coach, one famous for “telling it like it is”, one known for high challenge, to this group. It was clear to the participants that we had selected ‘a more senior’ coach for them.

The coach was able to customise content a great deal. “OK, you know how to do this so let’s rush past it, but what about this skill? No, OK, let’s focus here.”

The participants felt the program was “at their level” and the coach “flexed to our needs”. Three leaders who were reticent at the beginning became staunch supporters of the program.

New designs

Every pod can have different curriculum

Topics could be customised to the issues that the three participants in Pod 261 most want to address. These could be very different from the needs of the participants in Pod 262, who want a different group of topics. You can’t easily do this is workshops with 10 to 15 people. You can in coaching pods.

Participants choose their learning path

Participants collectively pick the topics they want to learn. This is a difficult transition for L&D people who are experts in understanding what their participants need – but it’s time to let go. Participants will love you, and respect you, for giving them some control over their own learning. We keep telling them to take responsibility for their own learning, but then control what we teach them. Time to think differently.

Customise the coach to the group

You no longer have to choose a facilitator who will mostly appeal to most participants. You can pick a group of participants that you think will very specifically fit that coach, and off you go. These small elements of flexibility in design that small group coaching offers have big impacts on the participants and their engagement and deployment of new leadership skills.


We deploy two assessment tools. The first, the Development Needs Calculator, is a self-report. It available free on the Fastlead site.

The second assessment is specifically designed Fastlead 360 (we have one for front-line leaders, one for middle managers, and one for sales leaders). They are available at a reasonably small cost. These surveys are multi-rater, so leaders get feedback from their manager, peers and reports.

The surveys are all designed against the topics we cover on the various Fastlead programs, enabling participants to assess their strengths and development areas, and chose topics accordingly. Not every program includes these assessments in their roll-out.

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