External Interference and the problems it causes in coaching

Written by Matt Somers on . Posted in Coaching principles

External Interference and the problems it causes in coachingIn my last post I introduced Tim Gallwey’s simple equation for coaching for performance:

POTENTIAL  = Potential – Interference

Previous posts have dealt with definitions for potential and performance so let’s now turn our sights on interference.

Let’s talk firstly about what I call external interference. By this I mean the things that go on around us at work which may make it difficult for us to work near to our potential. Once again we’ll refer firstly to a typical list of such things produced by the many people I have asked to consider them:

  • Management
  • Restrictive policies and procedures
  • Blame culture
  • Ideas not accepted
  • Lack of opportunity

Let’s deal with each of these in turn.


Now how’s that for irony? We, the very people who are supposed to mobilise the abilities of people at work are seen as actually getting in the way. This seems to be due to the prevalence of Theory X thinking amongst the management ranks. This style of thinking and subsequent behaviour is perpetuated by a lack of alternative role models. I remember once attending a meeting to discuss the possibilities of implementing a coaching programme for a prospective client. After the usual small talk his opening line was ‘Well I’ve brought you here because I used to get them working by shouting at them, but apparently you can’t do that anymore’ Well, shout at people all you want but is this really how we’re going to tap into their discretionary effort?

Restrictive policies and procedures

 Obviously places of work need rules and systems and to establish acceptable practices. Without them there would be anarchy. But in these times when competitive pressures are increasing the need for people to work with their imagination and to think creatively such rules can be overdone. This is not restricted to obviously creative endeavours like marketing or advertising. From the factory floor to the retail sales floor we need people to be able to take action and make things happen particularly if directly involved with customers. So many practices from signing-in sheets to six-page expenses claim forms seem to be there because of a lack of trust in the workforce. Why would any organisation employ people it can’t trust?

Blame culture

 What happens in your organisation when things go wrong? Is judicious risk taking extolled in the business plan and then utterly condemned in practice? Against this background is it any wonder that people keep themselves small, safely tucked up in their comfort zones and keeping their ideas to themselves?

Ideas not accepted

 On a similar note, what happens in your organisation when somebody has a good idea? Is there a means to capture ideas, to nurture them and let them grow, or are they left to wither on the vine choked by and endless stream of position papers, inception reports or suggestion scheme submissions.

This factor is exacerbated the greater the distance on the hierarchy between those who generate ideas and those who can chose to act upon them. It is once again ironic that in most structures it is the former who are closest to the customers and that latter who are many steps removed.

Lack of opportunity

 This can come in many guises. Perhaps you’ve got great potential but because you weren’t hired on a graduate intake stream you are barred from applying for the top jobs. Perhaps your circumstances make it difficult to attend the training programmes you’d need to progress. Perhaps you’re too young or too old, too black or too white, under qualified, overqualified, inexperienced or over experienced, a female in a male dominated set-up or vice versa. Even today there are so many discriminations that still prevail, despite the efforts of many to eliminate them. The simple truth is that it is clearly nonsense for any organisation to deny itself access to talent wherever it may lie.

These are but examples of common sources of external interference and I realise many of you reading this will have limited ability to influence them in your own organisations, Nevertheless, I would encourage you to grasp any opportunity to examine these areas to see whether they encourage or discourage high performance and make changes where you can.

We must accept that some of the issues we’ve spoken about in this section are a necessary part of the fabric of working life. In many ways its people’s reaction to them that is more crucial and that is what we’ll consider next.


Matt Somers is the UK’s leading trainer of managers as coaches. His coaching skills training programmes, books, articles and seminars have helped thousands of managers achieve outstanding results through their people.

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