Serious play at Coaching Development’s Alum Day – Sunday 29 October 2017

I am utterly grateful to my first Coach, Alma Neville (who is sadly no longer with us), for introducing me to Coaching Development’s Coaching Skills1 course in 2005. I completed my training in 2006 and am so glad to attend the Alum Days2 that Coaching Development offer to alumni. They are rich experiences, in addition to providing Continuous Professional Development. What is particularly great about them, and what drew me to train with Coaching Development, is the ethos of developing Coaches, rather than just teaching coaching skills. The training is definitely about “moving beyond technique” and developing “the deeper awareness, attitudes and skills essential to effective coaching”3.

That we put meaning onto objects allows us to use objects to explore, express and, perhaps, transform ourselves. The whole of the Alum Day involved this kind of work. I am very excited about bringing this object work into play with my Clients, if that is how they would like to work. The exercises can work well for individuals and teams. I have shared my own experiences below to show how these kinds of exercises can be used for exploring and for transformation.

The Story So Far and The Story I Want

I had a powerful transformation during one of the exercises at the Alum Day. We were in pairs playing with buttons and I’d assigned ‘the story so far’ to one button, ‘the story I want’ to another button, and ‘options’ to a bunch of other buttons. I moved the buttons around, believing the ‘options’ I’d set out had to take place before I could get to ‘the story I want’. Suddenly, I swept the ‘options’ aside and asked myself, and my coaching partner, “what happens if I put ‘the story so far’ on top of ‘the story I want'”?

“What happens if I put the buttons together?”

I did it and clasped my hands to my head, “I feel like my brain is reorganising itself!” Suddenly, I realised I didn’t need to get to ‘the story I want’ because I was already there and always had been. This realisation blew my mind. Tears formed as it began to settle in me. No need to strive for something that was always out of reach. My Coach asked what the future holds for me now. “I have no idea,” I laughed, “and I love it!” I laughed some more, “I really believed this other stuff,” I moved the ‘options’ buttons around in wonder. At that moment, Colin, our Facilitator, declared it was time to swap roles.

No Content Needed for Transformation

The amazing thing to me about this exercise was there was no need to state content. The buttons did take on meanings but the meanings didn’t have words attached to them other than the labels I’ve used to describe them here. I am still unable to give them words to describe what they actually meant, so I think what I worked on, inadvertently, was something from a time before I could speak. I feel like I’ve caught up with myself; some kind of integration is taking place. I feel better. I keep checking to see if the change is still in place and it is.

Serious Play for Exploring and Building Identity

An exercise that I loved during the Alum Day, was the serious play with Lego. Colin, our Facilitator, asked us to make models of ourselves as Coaches from the pile of Lego in the middle of the room and then partner with another person to explore the models. The photo below shows my model of me as Coach. I had no idea what I was going to build but I knew my mind would make meaning from it. This exercise can be used with teams to understand each person’s mental representation of the team or organisation and then to create a shared team or organisation identity.

Julia Fry as Coach – a Lego model representation

The flag pole without a flag represents silence which has a direct connection to the red flag, which is intuition; the connecting line shows a relationship between silence and intuition. When I get into a place of silent not knowing, my intuition prods me to make an observation, or ask a question, or blurt something and it is often a catalyst for the Client. The flags also represent my appreciation of the Client as she / he shows up, and the wonder and curiosity I feel as I coach. The orange bricks represent what the Client brings and some of the ideas are connected. It can feel a bit messy in the middle of a session as we let go of the old and allow for the new to come in and the black lines in the middle show this. The plant shows the growth of a new idea, and also represents the client’s growth within the relationship. The board is a metaphor for time as a container; it contains the relationship, the process, and the sessions that we co-create.

Clean Language

These two exercises were part of a schedule that included Clean Language, which I was very excited to be able to practice, given the amount of work I’ve been doing with my colleague, Veronica, on using Clean Language Questions4 in our workshops5. We found that nearly everyone preferred being asked the questions to asking them, because of the clunky feel to them. It takes practice to get used to them. Clunkiness aside, it’s striking how little a Coach needs to do for someone to get to an entirely different place from the one they started at. I’m reminded, once more, of how important the Coach’s quality of attention is and once that’s in place, a Client will make the shifts they need to. Again, we started with objects – buttons – and used Clean Language to explore the meanings we gave them.

Exercises like these can go as deep, or stay close to top level, as you need. Using objects to explore our mental maps and meanings is a useful way of bypassing the stories we tell ourselves and others. If you would like to find out more about how I can partner with you in these ways, please do contact me for a free initial consultation.

I feel enriched and so very thankful for the support I have received.

1The Coaching Skills course is now called Professional Coaching Skills (Part 1 Diploma in Coaching).

2The Alum Days are offered at various times throughout the year and are free to alumni of the Professional Coaching Skills programme.

3Quotes are from Coaching & Our Philosophy on the Coaching Development website.

4I’ve written a blog post about Clean Language Questions. You can read it here.

5For more information on the workshops we facilitate, you can go to our website, The Inner Resources Workshop.

2 thoughts on “Serious play at Coaching Development’s Alum Day – Sunday 29 October 2017”

  1. What a fantastic piece of work Julia. So insightful and interesting.

    Well done and I hope this confirms you are where you should be and doing what you should be doing! Veronica


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