The Milton Court Theatre at London's Guildhall.

Tuesday 19th January 2016

Coaching's new audience

Guildhall's Helena Gaunt on coaching in a creative environment

What happens when coaching is used in a creative institution? London’s Guildhall School of Music & Drama is one seat of learning using coaching to boost its creative output. Professor Helena Gaunt, Vice Principal and Director of Academic Affairs, shares her experience of adapting coaching to suit a more creative sensibility.

Gaunt: ‘Challenges’

Commercial savvy has traditionally been the domain of the business school. However, we knew it could work in the Arts. We took a decision to develop coaching skills in twelve members of our staff with a direct responsibility for mentoring students.

The project has not been without its challenges, but the impact on our staff and students is evident. As well as giving them practical strategies as managers and collaborators, it has given them new perspectives on their careers and has even changed the way they think and interact in their personal lives.

Key coaching skills are good listening, open questioning and an ability to both support and challenge your client in an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust. At Guildhall, the project originally focused on these basic skills, conducted through a highly practical course combining group coaching exercises and contextualised theory. We worked alongside our consultancy, Linden Learning.

Twenty-five hours of the course were spread over the academic year. There were five three-hour seminars, and the final sessions incorporated supported self-reflection and observed coaching practice. Each session addressed actual ongoing issues at the university.

A life lived in the Arts is all-consuming. A creative mindset differs from that of the corporate professional and performances and rehearsals do not respect a five day working week. There were practical challenges, therefore in implementing the programme, but working with performing artists provided an opportunity for Linden Learning and ourselves to be creative with the project in ways which were advantageous for all.

Growing waiting list

Good administration and flexible scheduling was the biggest challenge due to the extraordinary demands on the teachers’ time. Once established, however, it was clear that our coaching students were able to enhance practical exercises with their performing skills.

Workshops saw senior members of staff as enthusiastic champions of the project with a willingness to throw themselves into the work. This enthusiasm was reflected in general teaching practice and in collaborative work with their peers. Word got round and the waiting list for the courses began to grow.

Guildhall’s Milton Court

Feedback is as relevant in the Arts as it is in business. Constructive criticism from our participants, therefore, was invaluable to us as the course grew to accommodate one hundred and sixty students in 2015. It enabled us to see how we could adapt the training process and make it ever more accessible to people working in artistic fields.

Now the course comes with a manual, and staff see the programme as an opportunity to develop new skills together. “I now delegate more,” said one participant. “It’s a very different way of communication as a team,” said another.

The scheme continues to go from strength to strength – so much so that it has inspired nine members of our staff to take ILM Postgraduate Diplomas in Coaching and Mentoring. Attendance remains good and there have been several breakthroughs with students who had been struggling with difficult issues.

The aim is now to get the scheme accredited which will mean it will have the potential to be open to participants outside the Guildhall students and faculty. We are also considering developing our own postgraduate diploma. It will be a game changer, I’m sure.

I leave the last word to one of our members of staff – “This course has the potential to change your life…. the more open you are to it, the more you will learn and benefit from it and the more the people in your life will benefit from it too”.

About the author

Helena Gaunt

Professor Helena Gaunt is Vice Principal and Director of Academic Affairs at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama where she provides strategic leadership in academic development, research, enterprise and internationalisation. She is a National Teaching Fellow (2009) and Principal Fellow of the Higher Education Academy.