I stopped being a Works Council trainer years ago; my role has gradually changed into that of a coach, coaching Works Councils and collaborative teams. And as a coach, I have three roles.
For 16 years, I’ve signed countless logbooks at reception desks (nowadays they’re increasingly automated systems by the way). I’ve also tasted just about every type of coffee (freshly brewed to machine-brewed) that exists in the Netherlands. And I have met and worked with numerous Works Council members and Directors.
What was the common factor in all those conversations with Works Council members? I had three roles. Sometimes I performed just one of the roles, but much more often, it was a combination or all three roles at once. Let me explain which roles they are.
1. the role of independent coach
“Finally, someone who visits the Works Council and knows how the Works Council operates. As Works Council members, we can tell you about the operation of the Works Council and our relationship with the management. Because normally we only talk to each other about Works Council issues. We’re glad to have you here!”
my role as a coach?
Hearing and listening. And in the meantime, assessing the current state of affairs. But above all: I try not to have an opinion about what is going on. I ask questions to get things clarified; not just for myself, but for the Works Council members. Telling their story to an outsider is different, and it often leads to them answering the questions they have been asking themselves. When I leave, some changes have often already been taking place, without the members realising it at that time.
what is next?
In this independent role, a conversation with the Director can also be helpful. It often helps to know what their view of the situation is, and how they would like to see it improved. As an independent coach, I am not trying to influence the Works Council (or the Director) with my opinion; however, I do ask questions about their roles and responsibilities. I tell them what I see happening, based on my knowledge and experience. I make sure that behaviours and their effects are discussed in an open and non-confrontational manner.
2. the role of coach/advisor
“As the Works Council, we have many questions. Questions about our relationship with the organisation’s management. How can or should we deal with the differences within the Works Council? How can we get more information from the employees? And what about the interpretation and application of laws and regulations? How do we do all that?”
my role as a coach?
I listen and ask questions. Sometimes, questions are not asked directly, but lie hidden in the stories the Works Council members tell. And their answers, appropriate within their own knowledge, skills and the culture of the organisation, often lie hidden there too. But my questions (and especially me continuously asking them for every answer) give the Works Council members more and more clarity about their situation.
As a coach/advisor, I help the members of the Works Council to find the fastest way to come up with practical solutions. These solutions strive to achieve a balanced approach, to be able to operate independently. I try to ensure that the Works Council does everything it can to be a stable entity. Sometimes, the fastest way to achieve that is a collaboration session of one or two days; other times it can be coaching on the job, or just being available as a coach/advisor if there is something (else) the Works Council needs help with.
what is next?
As a coach, I also occasionally switch to the role of advisor. I can advise on how to write a letter or how to communicate with the employees more effectively, in a way that suits the organisation. The advice may be about communication (skills and styles), but also about legal advice or examples of best practices in other, similar, organisations.
This advice is practical and immediately applicable. But after that advice, I get back into the coaching role with the question ‘what do you want to do with this advice?’ or ‘how can you apply this advice in your situation?’ I then guide the group towards creating its own solutions.
In this role, I am often asked to assist in large(r) requests for advice or consent. The content of the requests or what the groups want to do with them is of no interest to me. My goal is to ensure that the decision-making process is performed correctly and carefully, making sure that it is ultimately the most beneficial for all parties.
3. the role of supervisor/coach
“What should we do with the Director? He doesn’t understand us. We tried everything, but we can’t get through to him. Internally too, within the Works Council, we continue to see great differences: some members do nothing, and others do everything! This cannot go on any longer, but talking about it doesn’t seem to help one bit. It all stays the same, no matter what we do.”
my role as a coach?
While I provide guidance, I also try to separate the process from the content. I try to clearly distinguish between Process, Connection and Communication on the one hand and the content and purpose on the other.
How do I do that as a coach? I try to show them their own behaviour and skills. I provide them with straightforward methods. I provide short explanations of the background of communication (styles) or how other companies address issues. But mainly I let the group take action, letting them actually experience it.
what is next?
Often, I also perform the role of supervisor/coach in discussions between the Works Council and the Director and/or the management team. My role is to ensure that all parties understand each other and are heard. Sometimes, it is merely a matter of using different words, a different language register or other terminology. Or simply me asking the question whether everyone understands what has just been said. That always gives at least one of the participants the courage to answer truthfully.
a coach, but not a trainer?
The Internet and social media provide lots of information. A quick Google search will give you a video, a diagram or a complete explanation with background information. The demand for lectures on legal texts or the interpretation of regulations (as was the case in training sessions in the past) has thus disappeared altogether. As has my role as a trainer. To be honest, I don’t mind it at all. What remains are the three different roles as a Works Council coach that I have described here.
The single meeting days or multiple day sessions (which we still often call Works Council training for convenience’s sake) are usually about learning things you cannot find in a booklet or on Google: who is the other party involved and how can we best work together? It is, in essence, a matter of getting to know each other and doing things together.
You have to do things yourself. And in my roles as a coach, I can help you speed up that process!
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