Boosting competence

It is widely accepted in management circles that coaching is an important instrument in personnel development. However, it is still seldom used in development cooperation. InWent applied personal counselling to qualify senior staff of Tanzania’s decentralisation programme to devolve government powers to regional and local levels.

[ By Sabine Horst and Klaus Althoff ]

“Coaching has helped me assess my skills and knowledge better,” says Halima Kasungu. She works as Principal Information Officer in the Prime Minister’s Office – Regional Administration and Local Government (PMO-RALG). “I have become better at setting priorities and I am able to plan more efficiently and effectively. I have learned how to develop a vision, objectives and strategies.” Since late 2008, she and five other senior staff have been taking part in the coaching pilot group organised by InWEnt.

For some time, InWEnt has been helping the government in Tanzania to improve management in local government in a systematic manner. It became evident time and again that inadequate leadership hampers development. The reason is quite common: many senior officers have never enjoyed the kind of formal training that would prepare them for positions of responsibility.

Coaching – intensive personal counselling (see box) – is a useful instrument to rise to this challenge. Permanent Secretary Maimuna K. Tarishi, her deputy and four departmental directors joined the pilot group. The dbb academy and the Management Academy of Baden-Württemberg became partners in this programme.

Change of perspective

So how does coaching work? Consider a client (“coachee”), for example, who would like to improve internal horizontal communication. The first step is to identify what she can do herself to achieve her goal. At the same time, it will become clear what limits she is facing in her role and in view of her field of authority. Next, troubling settings are considered from different angles, taking into account the perspective of other people. That in itself, may prove helpful in the sense of changing the coachee’s approach. Ultimately, coaching leads to an understanding of what kind of solution will work best for everybody involved, and that win-win solution is then strived for in practice.

Coaches encourage clients to find analogies for their worry outside the work context. By doing so, coachees understand what value system they base their action on. Becoming aware of what really matters to them, they can mobilise additional strengths. They also learn to identify similar situations, on which they have influence. Experiences of this kind are important resources for constructively dealing with all sorts of concerns.

Coachees appreciate the use of analogies, metaphors and internal images to evaluate the work as well as the holistic approach: “Through coaching, I have learned to see my life as if it were a house made up of various parts. The quality of the individual parts determines the strength of the whole house,” reports Selestine Saligen Nchimbi, the head of the department’s legal office. “The challenge lies in finding the right configuration.”

Practical experience

An orientation workshop was held to make the pilot group familiar with the process. The participants assessed their skills and resources themselves, presented their concerns and chose their future coach. It became obvious just how much the personal relationship matters in coaching sessions, during which problematic and confidential issues are discussed.

Next, coaches and clients gathered some practical experiences. Despite the preliminary work, many still did not have a clear understanding of exactly what would happen during coaching. Many participants felt somewhat shy at the outset because coaching touches upon personal experiences and emotions. However, the practical side was well received – above all because tangible results became obvious immediately.

There were challenges, of course. For example, it became apparent that one aspect of coaching as an instrument for senior staff development, which is assumed to be an advantage, is a weakness too: by its very nature, coaching focuses on the clients as individuals. It is cost-intensive, because individual coaches are needed.

Moreover, coaching sessions had to be planned and co-ordinated well to balance costs with the packed schedules of the senior staff who were coached. The coach’s expertise is of no use if sessions do not take place because a coachee is delayed at short notice. To avoid idle time, each coach therefore had several coachees. Flexible time frames and group sessions proved useful too.

Long intervals between the individual sessions, however, were not a problem. Anke Weigend, a coach from the dbb academy, observed: “Although there was a period of over three months between my first and the second trip to Tanzania, it was not difficult to link back to the results from the first phase. An atmosphere of trust was immediately created.”

The coachees emphasised the following points as particularly positive:
– personal responsibility,
– fast and tangible results,
– awareness of their own resources and thus the encouragement of self-reliance,
– meeting the coach “eye to eye” and
– learning new methods and techniques, which could immediately be put into practice in their daily work.

One participant used the following analogy, aptly summing up the situation: “We are all in the same boat, going through calm as well as rough waters, and we do not know exactly what lies ahead of us. We will only reach shore safely if we all know the goal, perform our individual tasks, and work together as a crew in a trusting manner. We share responsibility for doing so.”

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