The manager as coach: visual thinking tools and the wheel of anything

By Elisabeth Goodman, 13th April 2020

Visual thinking tools are something that many of us use in our day-to-day work

Visual thinking tools
Visual thinking tools – illustration by Nathaniel Spain in Elisabeth Goodman’s “The Effective Team’s Facilitation Workbook”, RiverRhee Publishing 2018

Readers might remember when Tony Buzan’s mind-maps (Buzan, 2000) were all the rage, and in fact you may use them still for planning out pieces of writing, taking notes at meetings, or revising for assessments.

Edward de Bono’s “six thinking hats” (De Bono, 2016) are very popular too for facilitating creative group thinking, and he has written at length about a range of other thinking tools (DeBono, 2006, and Goodman, 2015).

Anyone who has experienced a Lean and Six Sigma workshop (Goodman, 2015), or a Knowledge Management workshop (Goodman, 2016) will also be familiar with visual tools for instance to improve processes, to solve problems, or to reflect on what they have learnt.

The advantage of visual thinking tools is implicit in their description:

  • They enable all those involved in a discussion to express and to see exactly what is in everyone’s mind
  • They make it easier to draw out and make new connections between everyone’s ideas

There is room for all sorts of different thinking styles.

Those who are big picture thinkers will be able to see the big picture.  Those who pay more attention to detail will be able to work in the detail.

Those who need to see things to help them think, will certainly see what’s involved.  The group’s conversation around what is being shared will help those who need to hear it.  The conversation will also help with the active exchange of knowledge, ideas, opinions.

In face-to-face discussions, those with a more tactile approach will have the pens, flip charts etc. at their disposal, and of course all those involved will feel the mood too.  (These last two are more difficult where meetings are conducted virtually as in the current pandemic, but we facilitators, group coaches and one-to-one coaches are working on that!)

So a manager has a wealth of potential tools to choose from to support visual thinking with individual direct reports, or with their teams.

The “wheel of anything”

Readers might have come across “the wheel of life” which is a very useful tool for those who are, literally, at a cross-roads in their lives.  It helps you to explore the balance between what is happening for you for example at work, with your family and friends, with your health and well-being.  Reflecting on this balance helps you to consider what you would like to do to adjust that balance: what you would like to put more or less emphasis on, and how you will do that.

The wheel of life

The idea of a “wheel of anything” (Barefoot Coaching, 2020), enables you to populate the different segments of the wheel with all the topics that you would like to explore, using any number of segments.

I have found that the “wheel of givens” (adapted from Human Givens, 2018) has been particularly apt with some of the people I have been coaching at this point in time, when everyone’s lives have been affected in some way or other by the Covid-19 pandemic.  The topics this explores are:

  1. Security
  2. Attention
  3. Autonomy
  4. Community
  5. Privacy
  6. Meaning and Purpose
  7. Intimacy
  8. Status
  9. Achievement and Competence

The definitions used by the Human Givens organisation for these nine emotional needs are quite specific but, as with everything to do with coaching, they could be adapted to suit an individual’s preference.

Adapting the wheel for your use as a manager

As a manager, you can choose to use any version of the wheel that seems most helpful to your direct report, or to your team.

For your direct report you can ask them for example: “What’s important to you at this point in time?”  They can then divide their wheel up into the appropriate number of segments, label them with each item they’ve identified, and then evaluate each in terms of how well they are going, and what they would like to do differently.

For your team, you might want to use a version of the 14 team practices as shown on my website (RiverRhee, 2017).  Or you could facilitate a conversation amongst team members, using the wheel, to identify and evaluate the team norms or values (Goleman et al, 2018 and Goodman, 2018) that will help the team to be at its best.


There is a lot of scope for managers to have a coaching style conversation with individual direct reports, or with their team as a whole.  Visual thinking tools such as “the wheel of anything” can help to create a more energetic and productive conversation.  What tools are you already using?  Which ones will you now consider?



Barefoot Coaching (2020) Post Graduate Certificate in Business and Personal Coaching

Buzan, T. and Buzan B. (2000). The Mind Map Book. (Millenium Edition) BBC Worldwide Limited.

De Bono, E. (2006) Thinking Course: Powerful Tools to Transform your Thinking. BBC Active

De Bono, E. (2016) Six Thinking Hats. Penguin Life

Goleman, D. et al (2017)  Building blocks of emotional intelligence. 11. Teamwork: a primer. Key Step Media. More than Sound

Goodman, E. (2015) (accessed 13th April 2020)

Goodman, E. (2015) The Effective Team’s Operational Excellence Workbook. RiverRhee Publishing

Goodman, E. (2016) The Effective Team’s Knowledge Management Workbook. RiverRhee Publishing

Goodman, E. (2018) (Accessed 13th April, 2020)

Human Givens (2018)

RiverRhee (2017) (Accessed 13th April 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 one-to-one 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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