Sunday, 18 February 2018

A community of practice or a working psychological group? Group dynamics in core and peripheral community participation

In this article, just accepted for publication in Management Learning, we describe the Silver Academy, a project involving over 100 unemployed and self-employed managers over the age of 50, who came together with the purpose of sharing knowledge and experience in starting up their own businesses. The starting point for the study was whether this group of demoralized managers who had recently experienced traumatic redundancies from highly paid and prestigious jobs could function as a community of practice  – whether, in other words, they could function as a community not only supporting each other emotionally but sharing knowledge, skills and networks in radically restarting their lives outside the corporate world. During the project we noted that the Academy successfully matched the notion of a community of practice, in that participants built mutual relationships, shared engagement in activities and came to regard themselves as a ‘forum’, ‘support network’ and a ‘community of interest’.  However, applying Bion’s (1961) theory of groups, our study challenges the homogenous and consensual notion of a community of practice, illustrating how, through unconscious group processes, some group members exhibited work-group mentality and the capacity for realistic hard work (and leadership), while others were caught in a basic-assumption mentality, prone to feelings of anxiety, guilt and depression, or in the words of one participant becoming  ‘a group of lost souls’.  As a longitudinal, three year study, in contrast to the more commonly undertaken cross-sectional studies, ours reveals many of the intricate dynamics, fissures, splits and conflicts in a community of practice that tend to go unreported.

We believe that our research has considerable value at a time of great dislocations in employment patterns, when automation and artificial intelligence will draw increasing numbers of people (including professionals and managers) to situations similar to those facing the members of the Silver Academy. Forming communities of practice aimed at sharing knowledge may be a first step towards discovering new meaningful work opportunities and restoring their careers. The success of such communities of practice, however, will depend on the extent to which they will manage to channel their energy and creativity to productive ends while managing collective and individual anxieties.

Wednesday, 4 February 2015

Transforming Farm Health and Safety: The Case for Business Coaching

A. Blackman, R. Franklin, A. Rossetto and D.E. Gray  (2015) ‘Transforming Farm Health and Safety: The Case for Business Coaching’. Journal of Health and Safety. 21(1): 35-46.

Abstract. In the U.S. and Australia, agriculture is consistently ranked as one of the most hazardous industries. The cost of injuries and deaths on Australian farms is significant, estimated to be between AU$0.5 billion and AU$1.2 billion per year. Death and injury in agriculture also place a significant financial and social burden on the family and friends of the injured, the community, and the health system. This article proposes that if farmers were to employ coaching in their businesses, they would benefit from advances in safety practices, resulting in associated improvements in overall farm productivity and a reduction in injury costs to the wider community. A coaching model is presented to demonstrate what an effective coaching process would need to include. An agenda for future research areas is also provided.

Keywords. Business coaching, Coaching, Extension, Farm/agricultural advisory services, Farm/agricultural coach, Farm/agricultural extension, Farm/agricultural innovation.

For a copy of the full articles, please go to:

Tuesday, 8 April 2014

Coaching unemployed managers and professionals through the trauma of unemployment: Derailed or undaunted?’

This article, written by D.E. Gray, Y. Gabriel and H. Goregaokar has been accepted for publication by Management Learning.

AbstractThe economic crisis of 2008/9 has increased unemployment amongst managers, particularly older managers, a group empirically under-researched. This longitudinal study assesses the efficacy of executive coaching for a group of unemployed professionals who participated in an intensive coaching programme aimed at reintegrating them into the economy. Results suggest that the majority were positive about coaching, a process that helped them to reflect on and learn from their new circumstances. Findings also contradict other studies, indicating cautious, cool and even hostile responses to coaching. The study highlights the mental fragility of previously successful, now unemployed managers.  From a policy perspective, interventions should start earlier (before employees leave an organisation) and finish later. From a social science perspective, executive coaching represents a modest but sometimes effective initiative to help unemployed professionals to re-write their life stories to make sense of their experiences.

Keywords: Executive coaching, unemployment, executive outplacement, managers, longitudinal design, storytelling

Saturday, 18 January 2014

Publication of new article: M.N.K.Saunder., D.E. Gray, and H. Goregaokar, (2014) ‘SME innovation and learning: the role of networks and crisis events.’ Journal of European Industrial Training.38(1/2) 136-149.


Purpose: To contribute to the literature on innovation and entrepreneurial learning by exploring how SMEs learn and innovate, how they use of both formal and informal learning and in particular the role of networks and crisis events within their learning experience.

Design/methodology/approach: Mixed method study, comprising 13 focus groups, over 1000 questionnaire responses from SME mangers, 13 focus groups and 20 case studies derived from semi-structured interviews.

Findings: SMEs have a strong commitment to learning, and a shared vision.  Much of this learning is informal through network events, mentoring or coaching.  SMEs that are innovative are significantly more committed to learning than those which are less innovative, seeing employee learning as an investment.  Innovative SMEs are more likely to have a shared vision, be open-minded and to learn from crises, being able to reflect on their experiences. 

Implications for research: There is a need for further process driven qualitative research to understand the interrelationship between, particularly informal, learning, crisis events and SME innovation.

Implications for practice: SME owners need opportunities and time for reflection as a means of stimulating personal learning – particularly the opportunity to learn from crisis events.  Access to mentors (often outside the business) can be important here, as are informal networks. 

Originality/value: This is one of the first mixed method large scale studies to explore the relationship between SME innovation and learning, highlighting the importance of informal learning to innovation and the need for SME leaders to foster this learning as part of a shared organisational vision. 

Categorization: research paper.

Monday, 18 November 2013

Ridler Report 2013: Trends in the use of executive coaching

I was fortunate to attend a presentation last week (given by Clive Mann, Managing Director of Ridler & Co) on the latest edition of the Ridler Report.  For those who are unfamiliar with this study, this is the fifth report of its kind, analysing strategic trends in the use of executive coaching from the perspective of users (organisations).  For the latest version of the report, 145 organisations completed the questionnaire including Barclays, the BBC, Boeing, Deutsche Bank, News International and various NHS organisations. The report covers themes such as:
  • What qualities do sponsors most value in coaches?
  • Trends in the use of internal coaching
  • Size of external coaching providers - bigger in not necessarily better
  • Contracting arrangements for coaching assignments
  • Situations in which executive coaching is used
The report also includes some in-depth case studies.  This is a unique study of its kind, and can be found at:

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Article in Coaching at Work, December 2012

I recently had an article published in the magazine Coaching at Work, looking at a new, growing phenomenon - Flash Mob coaching.  This seems to be 'taking coaching to the people', popularising the art of coaching.  Here is the article:

Flash mob - the future of coaching?[1] – David E Gray, University of Greenwich

A new phenomenon may be about to hit the world of coaching. We are more than familiar with delivering business coaching, executive coaching, life coaching, sports coaching or one of their many combinations or hybrids.  Now enter Flash Mob Coaching (FMC). The flash mob has been with us for a few years. First created in Manhattan in 2003, flash mobs are a group of people who congregate suddenly at a pre-arranged place to perform a brief and seemingly pointless act often connected with entertainment, satire or free expression. The event itself is usually organised via social media sites such as Facebook, or through viral emails (messages that, largely because of their popularity, get passed from one person to another). Flash Mob Coaching gets a group (mob) of coaches out onto a city street to engage people passing by to experience a free, ten minute coaching session. One of the UK's first Flash Mob Coaching events took place in September during the International Coach Federation's international conference. 

The brainchild and inspiration of Shivani Mair, 38 ICF attendees answered the call and turned up to the briefing session. Some were new to the UK and all were certainly new to FMC. Afterwards many talked about being out of their "comfort zone", whilst others commented on being at the "growing edge of coaching". Many felt the sense of danger and personal challenge - "It was an experiment for me".

Shivani briefed the coaches, setting out the aims of the event, one of which was to develop themselves as coaches and to have powerful conversations. Clearly some were petrified by the prospect! However, having pulled on their ICF teeshirts, off they set for Hammersmith Broadway.

Over the next hour and a half, 64 members of the public experienced a ten minute, one-to-one coaching conversation as they stood on a busy UK high street.  Of course, many more people than this we're approached, and all coaches experienced multiple rejections (which some coped with better than others).  But what comes strongly through the feedback from both coachees and coaches is the level of learning and inspiration that resulted for both parties. 

Evaluation through emails and video clips (a film crew were on hand to elicit immediate feedback) provided powerful stories and testimonies of impact.  As one coachee commented, "Just keep doing whatever it is you are doing 'cos you have no idea how deep what you are doing  is. It's amazing". Others talked about boosting confidence and gaining the inspiration to take action. For others, the coaching brought out something that they had been holding back for some time. The session provided insights and the opportunity to reflect.  Let's remind ourselves - these changes were achieved in ten minutes or less!

And what about the coaches? There was a strong air of realism in the responses.  One commented that "street coaching is not for me", while another reflected on how constant rejection drained her energy levels. But others found that people would tell them their deepest thoughts within 3 minutes! They learned to overcome their fear of approaching people. "Stop worrying and just do it". The session has inspired participants to commit to launching FMC in Belgium, Sweden, the USA, Germany and Ireland.

Coaches spend a lot of time marketing themselves, hoping clients will come to them.  Perhaps in FMC we have found the vehicle for taking coaching to the people.



[1] This article appeared in Coaching at Work, December 2012.


Monday, 15 July 2013

Social media and research

For those interested in promoting your coaching and mentoring research, I would recommend the following web sites:

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