Fostering individual and team learning from outside our comfort zones

By Elisabeth Goodman, 27th June 2020

I enjoyed my first experience of “Coaching in the Workplace, 2020” this week: a joint conference by the Association for Coaching and the Institute of Coaching, delivered this year through a digital platform.

I learned about more than can be covered in just one blog, but was particularly drawn to this  blog’s theme that applies not only to coaches, but to any individual and team in the workplace.

VUCA and the DNA for learning

Inevitably, at this time of Covid-19, a common theme of the conference was that of VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, Ambiguity), and how our individual experiences of the pandemic have accelerated our learning in so many ways.

Illustration based on my notes from David Peterson’s presentation at “Coaching in the Workplace” 2020.

David Peterson’s DNA (Diversity, Novelty, Adversity) model is a very useful synthesis of how the nature of the pandemic has accelerated our learning through adversity.

In response to a question from me during the Q&A session after his presentation Peterson suggested some playful small ways in which we can do this:

  • Read a novel or magazine that you would not usually read.  Think about the target audience and what value they would derive from that. [Diversity and Novelty]
  • Challenge yourself to only use 3-word questions in your coaching interventions. (Tell your client that you are planning to do this before-hand!). [Novelty]

Peterson summarised this perspective for learning in terms of:

“There’s no comfort in the learning zone, and there is no learning in the comfort zone.”

I’ve been reflecting on how I’ve been experiencing this form of learning during the last 3 months or so.

For example:

  • It has coincided with completing the taught component of my PG Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching, and the University of Chester.  Completing a course of this nature involves a lot of personal reflection on every aspect of one’s own life and nature – and that process is continuing.
  • This was accentuated during the pandemic by the abrupt interruption of the end of my course, and then being plunged right into the experiences and insights of a completely different set of people with whom I completed the course.  How I responded to this emotionally was a surprise to me and another source of learning.
  • I found myself PIVOTing (another popular acronym at the moment – Purpose, Innovation, Vulnerability, Opportunities and Threats) and converting my courses so that I could deliver them via the internet. This involved rising to the challenge of learning new technology and how to use it effectively to deliver a positive learning experience for my clients.
  • And of course there has been further reflection associated with working from home, the changes in the dynamics of interactions with family and friends, changing the nature of my leisure activities – experiences very familiar to all.

The Summer issue of Project (the APM’s journal for project professionals) abounds with stories of how project managers and their teams have accelerated their learning during this time.  It includes some individual learnings that project managers have shared as tips for the present time, some of which will continue to apply as we go forward:

  • Create positive habits such as having a designated workspace if working from home; using the time saved from commuting for learning and development; develop a routine; take regular breaks and exercise; ensure you schedule in time to keep connected with your colleagues.
  • Put extra measures in place to provide direction and support for your employees such as regular one-to-ones, company-wide updates, newsletters that celebrate employees and provide resources for wellbeing, in-house training.
  • Make the most of video calling to reduce travel time and the environmental impact of travelling.
  • Take the time to personally engage with each person that you interact with, and say thank you, every day.  It helps people to feel valued, they feel good, they will be more motivated.

How have you been experiencing VUCA and what learning have you been gaining associated with the DNA of it? To what extent has this stretched you outside of your comfort zone?

The “antidote to VUCA” and learning in teams

I was excited by the “antidote to VUCA”, which came up in a session at the conference that featured Georgina Woudstra, Founder and Principal of Team Coaching Studio, in conversation with Carroll Macey.

They described this antidote as:

  • Vision – to anticipate issues and shape conditions
  • Understanding – to know the consequences of issues and actions
  • Clarity – to find coherence, align expectations and check for understanding
  • Agility – to prepare, interpret and address opportunities

Woudstra’s organisation focuses on team coaching, so it’s perhaps no coincidence that her antidote sits well with what would also foster a collaborative and learning approach in teams.

In fact there are strong echoes for me with the “5 Behaviours” developed by Patrick Lencioni and colleagues (, and which I and my Associates at RiverRhee are starting to explore through team coaching with our clients.

The “5 Behaviours” are those that enable a team to:

  1. Start from a position of trust where people have the courage to be their authentic selves (equates to ‘Clarity’)
  2. Be comfortable with conflict in the form of open and honest discussions that take account of everyone’s views (equates to ‘Understanding’)
  3. Be committed to priorities and decisions made by the team, without them needing to be reached by consensus, and to review these on a regular basis (equates to ‘Vision’)
  4. Be individually and mutually accountable for following through on commitments, and to learn from the impact of these (equates to ‘Agility’)
  5. Achieve results through the previous four behaviours

Woudstra (2019) describes team coaching as :

“Partnering with the team, unleashing its potential to collaborate, to achieve its collective purpose.”

Accelerated learning at this time, as exemplified by the many case studies in the current issue of Project is surely at the heart of a team’s ability to achieve it’s purpose.

Has your team been operating outside of its comfort zone? To what extent are you adopting the “antidote to VUCA” to support your team’s learning?



Peterson, D. (2020) The DNA of VUCA: coaching leaders to deal with chaos, complexity and exponential change in Coaching in the Workplace. Performance. Culture. Mastery. Association for Coaching and Institute of Coaching (digital conference).

Project Me (2020). Project, Summer, Issue 3030: 63-64

Woudstra, G. (2019) cited in Woudstra, G. (2020) Sitting in the Fire: the journey to team coaching mastery in Coaching in the Workplace. Performance. Culture. Mastery. Association for Coaching and Institute of Coaching (digital conference).

Woudstra, G. (2020) Sitting in the Fire: the journey to team coaching mastery in Coaching in the Workplace. Performance. Culture. Mastery. Association for Coaching and Institute of Coaching (digital conference).

The Five Behaviors – (Accessed 26th June 2020)

About the author

Elisabeth Goodman is the Owner and Principal Consultant at RiverRhee Consulting, a consultancy that specialises in “creating exceptional managers and teams”, through courses, workshops and coaching, and with a focus on the Life Sciences. RiverRhee is a member-to-member training provider for One Nucleus.

Elisabeth founded RiverRhee Consulting in 2009, and prior to that had 25+ years’ experience in the Pharmaceutical Industry in line management and internal training and consultancy roles supporting teams on a global basis.  She is developing her coaching practice, with a focus on helping individuals to develop management, interpersonal and communication skills, and to deal with change.

Elisabeth is accredited in Change Management, in Lean Sigma, in Belbin Team Roles, MBTI (Myers Briggs Type Indicator) and is an NLP (NeuroLinguistic Programming) Practitioner. She is a member of the APM (Association for Project Management) in which she was a founding member of the Enabling Change SIG.

Elisabeth is also a member of the ICF (International Coaching Federation) and is working towards her PG Certification in Business and Personal Coaching with Barefoot Coaching and the University of Chester.

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