A high-performing team through COVID-19

What makes a high-performing team – and how does team ethos impact delivery?


Coaching Through COVID

Coaching Through COVID is the new name for COVID-19 Rapid Response Coaching (see my blog here). This pro bono coaching is for NHS staff in order to support them to find meaning, learning and growth from their experiences, attend to their own wellbeing, and deliver sustainable care to those they serve.


Speed of response

By 29th April 2020 – six weeks after the programme was set up, and five weeks after start of the first lockdown in the UK, with hospital admissions rising alarmingly – 47 people had had at least one coaching session, and the feedback has been very positive from coachees who, for the most part, had never had any contact with coaching, but who recognised that they needed what it offered them.

All those requesting coaching are being rapidly matched to a coach, and are being contacted by their coach within 24 hours of the match.  Coaching is invariably getting under way within days of the first contact between coach and coachee – and the programme is about to expand into another Trust and another hospital within the Trust which is the site of the initial pilot.


A high-quality resource

While it’s still early days, this programme is without question delivering value at a time of considerable stress, anxiety and exhaustion for those NHS staff dealing with COVID-19, including doctors and nurses, midwives and porters, matrons and executives – and many others.  The coaching approach means we’re recruiting high-quality coaches at an advanced stage of coaching maturity, supported by teams of wellbeing and trauma specialists.  These coaches can provide a skilled listening ear and the capacity to hold the space for whatever the coachee wants to address, without necessarily having any coaching objectives or being attached to a particular process.  What coachees bring can include distress, anxiety, overwhelm and sometimes trauma. Inevitably it includes a sense of lack of control and deep uncertainty, which they experience as unfamiliar and which can be very uncomfortable.


A high-performing team

The Coaching Through COVID team has evidenced a high level of performance since its earliest moments, albeit many of the team members hadn’t previously known each other.  It’s interesting to reflect on the relationship between the way in which the team (all of whom are giving their services pro bono) functions and why we perform at the level we do.


Team ethos and leadership

The team shares a clear purpose, to which all team members are passionately committed.  While the need is clear, nothing is assumed about that need, as it may change over time or over particular groups of coachees: the coachees’ needs give us our agenda, and our response is to be pulled rather than to push.

We are privileged to experience humble and inspiring leadership from Mark McMordie, constantly with an eye both on the present and the future, with a focus on both the big picture (a systemic, creative and far-reaching view) and the operational detail to implement it, and attention paid to team members’ wellbeing and self-care so that we can sustain ourselves as well as the programme.  This is distributed leadership in action, with all team members feeling free and trusted to take initiative.

There are no empires or egos, and no claim to ownership of any part of the programme.

Processes are as simple and efficient as they can possibly be.


Psychological safety, compassion, and self-compassion

The team functions with a high level of psychological safety, compassion, self-compassion, listening to each other, and the agility that comes from the capacity to constantly learn and adjust.  This means team members are comfortable expressing and being themselves, without fear of retribution for mistakes or concerns they express – so that levels of trust are high and anything that may be going wrong can be addressed early.

One of the results of the team ethos is that we’ve been able to smoothly and quickly serve our client group, enabling coachees to step back, pause, take stock, gather themselves together, re-resource themselves and get back into the fray.


The programme

Key to our success to date has been a champion within the client group of the Trust where we’ve run our pilot – a champion who’s known and trusted within her anaesthetics department, who consistently promotes and represents the programme in various forums, and who can translate messages from that client group back to the team so that we, in turn, can re-shape the offer on an ongoing basis.

The project was launched on the basis of the WHO recommendation for speed not perfection: as long as we’re doing no harm, we believe it’s better to act where we see the need than to wait until we’re sure we’re right. The World Health Organisation’s (WHO) emergencies programme Executive Director Michael Ryan has stressed that “perfection is the enemy of the good,” and if people worry about being “right” over responding quickly, the virus will be more difficult to contain and combat.  Equally, we believe that the impact on those caring for COVID-19 patients (both directly and indirectly) needs to be recognised as soon as it emerges (which will very likely mean also for some time once the peak – or peaks – of the pandemic has passed).



Coachees’ feedback has mentioned both how responsive coaches have been to the demands of their crazy schedules and what a significant difference their coaching has made to how they resource themselves, how they stay resilient, and how they manage demands and dilemmas which may be both new and complex.  They’ve said:

Just wanted to highly recommend this programme: I’ve just had my 2nd session with my coach and all the misconceptions that I had about coaching have disappeared. I’ve found the programme really helpful so far and it has definitely helped me find order in the chaos!’

‘Having had my second coaching session yesterday, I am amazed by what the programme offers. Pure life changer and I’m so pleased I signed up. ? Suddenly, I can identify resources already available to me that I can utilise to build resilience.’

‘Just wanted to say that I feel like I’ve really struck gold with my coach. Had my second session yesterday and felt so much better afterwards.’


What next?

While we’re enormously encouraged by our success to date, we’re constantly on a path of learning, experimenting, learning from the experiment, adapting, learning and experimenting again.  We’re focused on reaching as many people as possible with a high-quality service – and we’ll be here for as long as the need is here.


If you’re an NHS worker and you’d like to sign up to be coached, please click here

If you’re a coach and you’d like to offer your services on this programme, please complete and submit this coach application form


Photo by The National Guard via Compfight

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